On August 16, the Resource Center of the Americas announced that it was closing its doors “due to continuing and insurmountable financial challenges.” The Resource Center, the Bookstore of the Americas and the cafe (operated by La Loma) all closed. The decision was reached at an emergency board meeting in the morning, and staff was notified at a special meeting immediately following the board meeting.
Financial troubles had dogged the Resource Center for several years, with previous rounds of lay-offs and budget cuts taking place several times since 2004.
The Resource Center was founded in 1983, focusing initially on Central America, where the U.S. was funding a contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and where right-wing governments in Guatemala and El Salvador were engaged in genocidal civil wars. Over the years, the focus expanded to all of Latin America and issues of globalization. In recent years, much of the Resource Center’s work focused on Latin American immigrants in the United States.
Many Minnesota organizations focus on Latin America: sister city and sister state relationships such as Project Minnesota-León; organizations providing direct aid such as Friends of the Orphans or Mano a Mano; church-related sister parish or solidarity groups; and human rights activists such as Witness for Peace or School of the Americas Watch. The Resource Center’s focus was political rather than charitable, but it worked with a broad spectrum of organizations and individuals.
Emphasizing outreach to schools and teachers, the Resource Center published nine original curricula over the years, including Child Labor Is Not Cheap, Many Faces of Mexico; and Latino Voices: Stories of Immigrants and Their Impact on a Community. Educational programming included political speakers at Saturday morning gatherings, English classes for new immigrants, Spanish classes taught by native speakers, and workshops for students and educators. The closing announcement said that tuition already paid for fall quarter Spanish classes will be refunded.
Labor solidarity and opposition to free trade agreements were prominent areas of work for the Resource Center. Its Centro de Derechos Laborales (Workers Rights Center), directed by Teresa Ortiz, offered advocacy and organizing assistance to immigrant workers. Organizing efforts also focused on opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and to proposals for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
“It’s a really sad day to see an important community institution not make it financially,” said Pam Costain, Resource Center director from 1988-2002. “This organization played a really important role in linking people in our community with people across the hemisphere. We were on the cutting edge of many things which are now commonplace– from globalization to the new face of immigration in Minnesota to a redefinition of human rights to include economic and social rights … It’s very hard to see it go.”
The Resource Center board of directors said that they would “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.” A membership meeting in January will make further decisions on the future of the organization.
Mary Turck is the editor of the TC Daily Planet. She volunteered at the Resource Center of the Americas for 22 years and was on staff as editor of its newsletter and website from 2003-2006.