La Peña Welcomes New Communications Manager

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La Peña is proud to welcome Natalia Neira Retamal as Communications Manager. She brings a wealth of experience and skills to the role, having worked as both Editor and Marketing Manager at the Santiago Times in Chile, and as Multimedia & Marketing Executive at the Dallas Observer. Born in Temuco, Chile, Natalia moved to the US with her parents and sister when she was 7 years old. She grew up in Dallas, Texas where she studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of North Texas. We wish her the best as she takes command of reorganizing La Peña’s communication strategy to better serve our diverse communities who make La Peña their home.

Dear La Peña community,

It is a privilege to be entrusted with the Communications Manager role at La Peña. I was lured to the center because of its incredible social justice ties to Chile and the space it provides for all communities fighting for dignity, respect and understanding everyday. Soon after I learned about the center, I began to volunteer with La Peña’s communications efforts.natalia bio pic

After meeting so many of you wonderful and passionate people that make this center feel alive and vibrant, I felt compelled to capture the essence of La Peña in promoting all of our amazing events and classes. I am so excited to be designing and implementing new communications strategies in order to improve and drive more traffic to La Peña’s website, expand our list of email subscribers, grow our relationship with local media, increase our presence in the Bay Area and more. My hope is that these new communications strategies will increase attendance at our events and classes, and contribute to a sustainable and robust future at La Peña!

There is a lot of work to be done, but the center’s mission and people keep me energized and inspired.  I am grateful to be a part of this community and look forward to meeting more of you as we continue to build together.

En solidaridad,

Natalia Neira Retamal

P.S. If you are interested in becoming a Communications Intern, please email your resume and cover letter to


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On Feb. 4, 2016 a major protest against the displacement of homeless people was held in San Francisco – AKA, Super Bowl City. Officials have been “cleaning up” the streets because of the Super Bowl and our very own Curator, Craig Campbell, was there to report on the protest. He is also pictured in the photo below, holding the sign “Your Party Is Their Misery”.    If you would like to submit a blog post about what is happening in your community, please email:

Craig Campbell, Curator at La Peña Cultural Center, 2016

Pictured on left: Craig Campbell, Curator at La Peña Cultural Center. Dozens protested what they say is San Francisco mayor Ed Lee’s plan to push homeless people out of where Super Bowl festivities are being held. Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

Tackle Homelessness, NOT the Homeless

By Craig Campbell, La Peña Curator

Economic inequality has been the source of discontent for many in the Bay Area. It has driven out much of the San Francisco population from SF as well as much of the Oakland population. This has turned San Francisco in a more expensive city to live than Manhattan, New York, and Oakland into the city with the highest growing housing prices in the USA in 2015.

This all came to a head with the San Francisco hosting the Super Bowl party. For the residents, this was not an event that was held for San Francisco. One issue is that the super Bowl is being held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The bigger issue is the demographic of the individuals attending the event. On Jan. 27 the cheapest tickets for the Super Bowl was $3,989, while the most expensive tickets were $21,402. These became the economic marker for the population invited to celebrate at the Super Bowl party in San Francisco. The event would cost the taxpayers in San Francisco nearly $5,000,000.

With this in mind Mayor Ed Lee set to clear out the homeless population in San Francisco to maintain the image he has so carefully curated. This protest was a gathering of the San Francisco/Bay Area population in defiance of this new SF culture. This is the list of grievances listed by The Coalition on Homelessness and Broke Ass Stuart, the hosts of this event:
• There are over 7,000 homeless people on any one night in San Francisco
• There is only 1 shelter bed for every 5.5 homeless people
• The majority of the homeless population were San Franciscans before they were homeless
• Studies show it is cheaper to house someone rather than keep them homeless
• San Francisco has more anti-homeless laws than any other city in California
• Last year, 11,000 citations were given to homeless people
• When citations can’t be paid they lead to warrants, loss of access to housing and more
• There is 3,300 homeless children in San Francisco, 61% of homeless adults have a disability, 30% are LGBTQ, and the majority are people of color

On the post analysis of the protest, this demonstration was effective. It brought attention to an issue that has and continues to effect people as economic inequality changes the landscape of major cities around the world. Seeing Bay Area faces in The Guardian in the UK not only reflect on San Francisco disparities, but also reflects the discontent of housing problems in London.

Get involved.
Contact Mayor Ed Lee at (415) 554-6141 or
Also keep your local population safe. Call your local officials to make sure this doesn’t happen in your community. Keep your elected officials accountable.

Artist Activist Lewis Suzuki Dies at 95

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La Peña is sad to announce the passing of activist artist Lewis Suzuki. Lewis was inducted into La Peña’s Hall of Fame in 2011. At the reception honoring him, Lewis said, “We are the richest country in the world, but there are many people who can’t get health care or who can’t afford to pay for college … Let’s get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. One day we will have peace, where U.S. troops are not overseas and we can have freedom throughout the world.”

Lewis’ artwork reflected much of his passion for peace and social justice. “Suzuki became politically active in issues of peace and justice, and believed in the role of art in furthering these causes. He traveled to Hiroshima, which had been devastated by an atomic bomb, and would later create a graphic work, “No More Hiroshimas,” and other peace posters for the American Friends Service Committee. Suzuki’s bold and imaginative use of color won him numerous awards, including two at the Society of Western Artists show at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. He served on the Berkeley Art Commission and was recognized by the City of Berkeley in 2010. Until recently, he continued to work at his studio on Grant Street in Berkeley, participating in such events as East Bay Open Studios and Berkeley Artisans Holiday Open Studios.” – Rafu Shimpu Los Angeles Daily News, Jan. 28, 2016

A Place of Inclusion

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Hello La Peña Community,

Sabemos que en esta lucha se nos puede ir la vida; pero la continuaremos HASTALA VICTORIA  FINAL. 1975. La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley. La Peña Archive. 22 Jun. 2015.

Sabemos que en esta lucha se nos puede ir la vida; pero la continuaremos HASTALA VICTORIA
FINAL. 1975. La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley. La Peña Archive. 22 Jun. 2015.


My name is Devenni, and I am new member to the community, working as an intern for La Peña. Like many who have come before me, I can say that my experience here so far has been nothing less than invigorating. What do I mean by that? I mean my time here has introduced me to a new world; a place where people from all walks of life and many different backgrounds come together and share ideas and experiences. The space here feels safe. I see all kinds of artists and performers come in and out, expressing themselves, sharing their stories, giving us all a piece of their inner talent. I look forward to the days I come into the center, I like and admire the people I work alongside. The obvious conclusion is that the cultural center represents exactly what it stands for: inclusion.

I recently read a report written by one of La Peña’s former interns, in the report she describes the history and founding of the cultural center. Built after the coup in Chile, this center has been a refuge for political asylum. From its foundation the center has been a place of inclusion, turning no one away, and upholding those standards to this day. What a beautiful thing. It’s rare to see places like this, rich in its history and political activism, still thriving. The center is small gem in the heart Berkeley, CA.

Of course, I cannot continue without giving credit to the former intern who wrote the report. What she captured in that report shed a light on the continual progress and effort La Peña makes in reaching out to communities of all kinds, no boundaries, no limits. And it is evident not only in her words but in her dedication to create it. I encourage you all to read it. Inside you will find Jocie’s (La Peña’s very own Operations and Programming manager) own experience and story of inclusion:

Chile. 1984. La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley. La Peña Archive. 22 Jun. 2015.

Maley Marty. Untitled. 1991. La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley. La Peña Archive. 22 Jun. 2015.

Maley Marty. Untitled. 1991. La Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley. La Peña Archive. 22 Jun. 2015.










Violence, Hip Hop and Racial Profiling

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Dear La Peña community,

Last weekend, an unidentified shooter fired shots near La Peña Cultural Center while La Peña was holding a Hip Hop show. Luckily no one was hurt. The center had 3 security guards for the event making sure that all was under control. I myself was present and responded to texts from our immediate neighbors. We are very concerned about violence in the area, particularly for our patrons walking at night to their cars and BART. La Peña has striven to be a force for positive change in the area for over 40 years and we regularly communicate with local authorities to improve the safety and upkeep of our sidewalks and streets.

While the Hip Hop show on Saturday did not convey La Peña’s political message and focused more on materialist concerns important to the young people at the show, La Peña continues to be an intergenerational cultural center that features Hip Hop dances for teens and young adults. For teen events, we require parent chaperones and for adult concerts, security. At least one staff member is always present.

A few of La Peña’s neighbors blamed La Peña and the young black and brown men who were at the center, despite the fact that police have not identified the shooter(s). There has been a lively debate on and La Peña staff has been fielding calls and texts from anxious neighbors. To summarize the themes discussed, does Hip Hop music cause violence? Are young black and brown men seen as more dangerous to the South Berkeley community than other young people? Should La Peña continue to book Hip Hop shows? As of yesterday, over 60 neighbors had expressed a diversity of opinions that can be found on To add context to this debate, the October 7th article on the front page of the East Bay Express examines this question from the perspective of Racial Profiling and suggests that white residents are using to call the police on their neighbors and their children, always perceiving them as dangerous outsiders.

My personal belief is that there are very few venues where local teens and young adults can come together in safe spaces. We work very hard at La Peña to create a safe intergenerational space for youth, adults and seniors. Gunshot violence is a serious problem in the United States and Latin America, and has exploded since the 1980s due to the liberalization of small arms restrictions in many countries and the war for the control of contraband drugs. We invite community members to foster constructive dialogue in a spirit of community-building, problem-solving, and compañerismo both on, on our FB page and at La Peña Cultural Center during one of our discussion series.


Aaron Lorenz

Executive Director

La Peña Cultural Center

La Peña at 40: Berkeley cultural institution reinvents itself

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We are so honored to recently be featured in the SF Chronicle, along with a photo of the week, seen below.

La Peña has a rich history – and we are so happy to have shared part of it with the SF Chronicle.  The article features our executive director, Aaron Lorenz, and Paul Chin, current president of the board.

Follow their conversation, trip down memory lane, and hopes for the future!

“It’s a full-circle moment, only not quite a perfect circle. La Peña marked its 40th anniversary this year, and a lot has changed — politically, financially, socially — in those four decades. Now it’s up to him and a small staff of employees and volunteers to chart a course forward for one of Berkeley’s most storied cultural institutions, one that pays homage to the past while recognizing the realities of today.”

Find the full article below.

View the photo of the week here.

A special thanks goes out to Ryan Kost, who conducted the interview, and Scott Strazzante who took the photos.

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We won best venue for Social Justice Performances on the East Bay Express!

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What’s going on at La Peña?

We were recently awarded Best of the East Bay – Best Venue for Social Justice Performances in the East Bay Express.  Shout out to Radix, Smokes Poutinerie, The New Parish, and The Rock Steady, who also won awards!

We wouldn’t have gotten this far without our community! Thank you!


Our award, alongside of the Best of the East Bay issue











Chile at La Peña

During the month of September, La Peña remembers the barbarism of the 1973 military coup in Chile, mourns the deaths, disappearances, and torture of friends and compañeros, reflects on the invasive role of the United States foreign policy in Latin America, and celebrates the militants, solidarity activists, and cultural workers who responded to injustice with their passions and sometimes their lives. On Friday evening, September 11, the Peña community will gather at 6:30 for a shared potluck dinner, ceremonies, music, and compañerismo.

On Saturday morning, September 12, from 10-12am, La Peña will host short presentations and a participatory dialogue: Forty-two years after the coup: Where do we stand?  Topics will include the effects of neoliberalism, current governments and militarism, the cooptation of left politicians, the role of cultural resistance, indigenous cosmovisions and sumac kawsay, ecosocialism, and other radical imaginations of the way forward in old and new forms of community organizing.

On Saturday, September 19th, 12-2pm,  we will screen the documentary “Special Circumstances” on U.S. foreign policy in the 1970’s, the effects of the coup, and the current legacies of Pinochet. Director Hector Salgado will lead a conversation afterward. On Saturday, September 26th,  12-2pm, La Peña will screen the documentary “Archeology of Memory” on exile and the role of public memory and memorial. Director Marilyn Mulford will lead a conversation afterward. Donations requested if affordable to help La Peña carry on.

Pictures from the 4th Annual San Francisco Son Jarocho Festival Workshops

Workshops took place at La Peña from August 11-13.  We offer weekly Son Jarocho workshops in zapateado, jarana, and versada on Wednesdays.  Click here for class schedule.

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Factories in the Fields – August 12

Did you know that workers just hours south of the Bay Area are getting paid starvation wages? Did you hear that these workers waged a historic strike demanding dignity earlier this year? They talked about these issues and more.

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Japanese Obon

Obon is a custom that honors the spirits of one’s ancestors.  It is believed as a day that the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars in Japan. People often return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves.


Taiko Ensemble, “Drum Revolution,” led by Kensuke Sumii started off Japanese Obon by calling to our ancestors’ spirits in the afterlife.


Obon Dancing Experience: Japanese Day of the Dead took place at La Peña on August 15.