Last Thursday, we lost a friend and comrade in the quest for social justice and solidarity in the Americas. After almost 25 years of operation, the Minneapolis-based Resource Center of the Americas was forced to close its doors despite years of reluctant and painful lay-offs and budget cuts. All of us at NACLA are heartbroken by the news.
Our organizations share kindred histories. The Resource Center was founded in 1983 during the U.S.-funded contra war against the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. U.S. military intervention also sparked NACLA’s creation in the late 1960s with the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s both organizations took up the urgent mandate of unmasking the lies and hypocrisy of the U.S. counter-revolutionary wars in Central America, providing much of the fodder that launched the U.S.–Central America solidarity movements.
I first became involved with the Resource Center as a contributing news editor for the Resource Center’s award-winning newsletter, Connection to the Americas—a post I held from 2002 until last week.
As a fresh college grad, I searched for a way to stay involved as a writer and activist on Latin American affairs. I wrote the then-editor of The Connection and became part of its virtual army of volunteer news editors. The Connection and its companion website Americas.org was staffed by a paid editor, a volunteer co-editor, and a host of contributing writers and editors working via Internet from around the world.
A year after my first news briefs were published, I was given the job of associate editor of the NACLA Report on the Americas—a position I attained thanks to my work experience with the Resource Center. I owe the organization a tremendous “Thank You” for this professional foundation.
However, all of us concerned with Latin America and U.S. policy toward the region owe the Resource Center of the Americas profound thanks. Better than I can describe, its mission statement eloquently explains why:
“The nonprofit Resource Center of the Americas (of which Americas.Org is a program) is devoted to the notion that everyone, everywhere is entitled to the same fundamental human rights. Our starting point for promoting these rights is learning and teaching about the peoples and countries of the Americas—their history, culture and politics. We focus especially on the global economy, a system in which a minority flourishes while millions of people lack adequate food, shelter and employment.
“Every Resource Center program embodies the principle that education and action go hand in hand. Our educational activities and classes combine with our news coverage to provide the public with an alternative source of information. Armed with that as a tool, our organizing programs work to educate and activate the community around key issues. In this way we empower others to work collectively to create social change both in the United States and Latin America.”
Without a doubt, the Resource Center fulfilled its mission.
In short, its mission statement echoes one of our guiding principles at NACLA: “Making sense of the world will hopefully prompt new efforts to change it.”
On a trip to Minnesota earlier this year, I made a short visit to the Resource Center. I was amazed to see how a solidarity initiative born in a church basement in 1983 had blossomed into a full-blown community organization with several programs embodying its commitment to social justice.
A visitor to the building first encounters a massive, two-story mosaic mural depicting social struggle in the Americas. Inside, on the ground floor, was the Café of the Americas, which was staffed by friendly workers from La Loma Tamales, a family-run Mexican outfit in the Twin Cities. The café served up delicious Latin American recipes and number of fair trade and organic foods.
Mosaic of the Americas: Many Strengths, Many Struggles took shape during the summer of 2001. This cross-border collaboration between artists in Minnesota and Mexico began with an inspirational two-week visit by a pair of veteran muralists based in Morelia, Michoacán, who took a leading role on the project. With the help of hundreds of volunteers, they constructed a beautiful mural with images representing the struggles of the peoples of the Americas, across time and space.
Across the hall from the restaurant is the impressive Bookstore of the Americas, which offers a number of publications on all things Latin America and various activist resources. One of the things I always loved about the Resource Center is that it had a multi-generational mission to its work. Accordingly, the bookstore had a huge number of social justice–oriented children’s books.
The upstairs office space is where the organization hatched its various programs. The Centro de Derechos Laborales (Workers’ Rights Center) took aim at assisting and helping organizing efforts in the local Latino immigrant community. There was also the Labor, Globalization and Human Rights program, which did amazing work in raising awareness and educating the public on the ills of the global economic system.
Staff helped design curricula for teachers and schools in topics as diverse as sweatshops, child labor and immigration among others. The Center gave free English classes to immigrants and affordable Spanish classes to Minnesotans. It also hosted lectures, discussions, films, readings, art displays and all sorts of educational activities, which drew on the Center’s Penny Lernoux library with more than 10,000 titles.
The place also had a program named “YO!” (short for “Youth Organizing Against Sweatshops and Child Labor”) that spearheaded Minnesota’s anti-sweatshop movement in colleges and high schools, winning important victories along the way.
Long before the groundswell of the immigrant rights protest took the nation by storm, the Resource Center was doing methodical organizing work with Minnesota's burgeoning immigrant community. The organization was a touchstone for the subsequent street mobilizations.
The list could go on and on.
Despite these accomplishments, the bottom line finally caught up with the organization. And despite everyone’s best efforts, it was forced to suspend all activities. The board of directors deserves applause for making this difficult decision; it is a decision that ensures the most graceful outcome to a dire situation. All of us know it’s been a hard couple of years for all organizations and publications concerned with social justice.
Above all, the Resource Center’s employees and its members deserve heart-felt recognition and praise for all they have accomplished over the years. But as the refrain goes, “¡La lucha sigue!”
Indeed, it’s not over. The board of directors made a commitment to “work with the Resource Center membership, our past partners and other affiliated organizations to explore ways to continue its mission and key Center programs.”
“In the near term,” the board of directors’ announcement said, “the Center will return to its volunteer roots.” As a membership organization, a meeting will be held with members in January to decide the organization’s future.
So it’s back to the grassroots. After the initial shock of the news—and mourning—it’s time to take stock, make needed adjustments, act in solidarity and move forward. ¡Adelante compañeros!
Teo Ballvé is NACLA’s Web Editor. I would like to extend my personal thanks and solidarity to all the staff and membership of the Resource Center, but a special thanks to editor Scott Chamberlain, former editor Chip Mitchell (who first brought me on) and especially to long-time editor and volunteer Mary Turck for always working her heart out and never rejecting a single story proposal.