SALT LAKE CITY — Frank Cordova's eyes filled with tears and his voice took on a tone of reverence Friday as he spoke about Centro Civico Mexicano and those who built it 50 years ago.
Later, he smiled at the possibility of a more modern center that would better meet the needs of the community.
"That building has served thousands and thousands of people," Cordova said of the community center at 155 S. 600 West. "Every weekend, there's something going on there."
This weekend, it's the El Grito celebrations, marking the 201st anniversary of Mexico's independence.
In future years, Utah's oldest nonprofit Hispanic organization hopes to host such events on a completely rebuilt campus on its 2 acre lot. One vision calls for a mixed-use development to occupy the site, with an auditorium surrounded by retail shops, an office tower and housing.
"Rebuilding is not an easy task," said Juan Manuel Ruiz, a member of Centro Civico Mexicano's executive board. "It requires the buy-in of the community — not just the Latino community but the community at large."
Those who formed the organization back in 1939 didn't have that, Cordova said.
"These folks, without help from the state, the federal government or any other tax money, built this with their blood, sweat and tears," he said. "It's been a great asset to this community."
The center was needed at the time to provide Utah's Latino community a place to celebrate their culture and holidays, Cordova said.
And that need still exists today, Ruiz said.
"Sometimes people need to have a place where they feel comfortable, where they can sit down with their kids and tell them stories about their past, their history, their culture and their customs, and do it in their own language, without feeling embarrassed to speak that language," he said.
Center officials plan to conduct surveys at this weekend's El Grito celebration to find out from members of the community what they would like to see at the site.
Fundraising already is under way, though it will become more focused once a vision is agreed upon.
Ruiz said rebuilding Centro Civico Mexicano "will not be an easy process."
"It's going to take several years," he said, "but we're committed to this."
Centro Civico Mexicano's El Grito celebration continues with a street fair a 10 a.m. Saturday. The event will run through Sunday.
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