Hoping for Help for Tia Chucha’s

It’s difficult to conceive of Sylmar as a literary mecca. Home to predominantly working class Latino residents in the northeast San Fernando Valley, Sylmar boasts a plethora of fast food joints and a string of auto repair shops — but bookstores? Sadly, it’s about to lose its only one.

And the shop in peril, Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural, is far more to the community it serves than just a place to browse the printed word — it’s also a colorful art gallery, dynamic performance space, meeting place, after-school program, screening room, gift shop, coffee bar and Internet café. During a recent visit to this “dream of community empowerment,” created in 2001 by three local residents — Trini Rodriguez, her husband, Luis, and brother-in-law, Enrique Sanchez — it was clear that Tia Chucha’s clientele is as wide-ranging as it’s mission. A mom browsed books with her toddler as a longhaired senior navigated the rows in his wheelchair and an art class settled in with sketchpads, all to the plinking of a spiky haired teen performer tuning a guitar.

As in the rest of LA, rents have skyrocketed here behind the Pizza Hut. Luis, a veteran of gang warfare and an eloquent Xicano writer, tried to convince building owners that Tia Chucha’s is a “culturally important, vital institution.” “I think they understood it,” he laments, “but the money just speaks louder.” Now this lovingly-hewn nonprofit is slated to be supplanted by a high-tech laundromat.

A temporary, smaller haven has been found in nearby Lake View Terrace. It won’t hold the crowds of up to 400 that have come for high profile authors like Sandra Cisneros, but if Tia Chucha’s can work out the details, it’s large enough to hold the dream until a better permanent space opens up.

At the second anniversary celebration, one guest wrote, “We need the hope you offer.” To help keep the hope alive, stay abreast of fundraiser events at tiachucha.com, or mail donations to Tia Chucha Centro Cultural, POB 328, San Fernando, CA 91341.
— Abigail Lewis

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