To celebrate Cesar Chavez Day, we’re sharing the story of the School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza, a grantee of our Performing Arts Program. The plaza sits squarely in San Jose’s Mayfair, a historically Latino neighborhood where Cesar Chavez grew up and where he led the first of the boycotts for farmworker rights that he organized in the 1960s.

When the plaza was built in 1999, its backers saw it mainly as a performance venue: a “Latino Lincoln Center.” A decade later, the city of San Jose decided to make a change, and established the School of Arts and Culture at MHP in 2011 to provide new leadership for the plaza:

The new vision for the plaza focused on arts education—and in particular the traditional arts of Mexico and the Latino diaspora—as a means to help young people grow as individuals, to build important skills like creative problem-solving and collaboration, all while fostering cultural knowledge. “In this community, but I would say throughout most of American culture, we consume the arts—it’s entertainment,” said Lilia Agüero, the school’s director of education. “But here, you can learn to be a maker, and that instills, I think, a sense that you can do things.”

Today, the plaza’s classrooms buzz with the sounds of people engaged in creating artguitar lessons, baile folklórico, ceramics, and painting. Children learn what they are capable of while connecting with their heritage. And the community has a place where its children can be safe, and where it can celebrate art and culturea refuge in the heart of the neighborhood.

We hope you’ll take the time to read the whole thing. (And don’t miss the video!)