By Anthony Guerrero
There is a small town in the center of the San Luis Valley and its location has gifted it with the name Center, Colorado. It is also not uncommon to hear the Spanish pronunciation, Centro since it is populated by a very large Hispanic and immigrant population.
Center was incorporated on January 19, 1907. It has a population of 2,271 as of the 2012 census. That population generally swells by an additional 800 to 1,000 in the summer months due to migrant farmworkers. Close to 90 percent of residents are of Latino descent and a little over 10 percent are Caucasian.
Center resides primarily in Saguache County, and interestingly enough, a small portion, south of Colo. Highway 112 is located in Rio Grande County.
The town is easily identified by the large water tower displaying its name hovering over, letting every visitor know where they are.
Center is not really a tourist destination although there are great opportunities to experience regional culture. The town is mostly the home to hard-working families who help sustain the San Luis Valley’s lifeblood, the agricultural industry.
It is home to one bank, one school, a post office, a dance hall, the preferred Catholic church among other denominations, a popular Alta Convenience gas station, two parks, a few other businesses and multiple restaurants.
In the summer, van loads of lettuce and carrot workers are dropped off at the Tierra Nueva apartments, designed for migrant farmworkers. In the fall it is a similar scene during the potato harvest with produce trucks driving through town and the county roads.
Hispanic families are also the main business owners. Most of the restaurants serve Mexican food. One popular choice for locals is the one actually located inside the Tierra Nueva apartment complex, El Aztec de Oro, where a tasty Mexican buffet is available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tierra Nueva is a national leader in the concept to offer affordable and quality living conditions to migrant farmworkers. Before this housing was offered, many farmworkers in the area lived in poor conditions.
A short-lived strike in Center in 1971 by local lettuce workers and members of the United Farm Workers of America – along with a corresponding boycott of the company’s produce in other places – was led by labor activist Ceasar Chavez and his allies.
The Fineman company, a major grower-packer-shipper in the San Luis Valley at the time, agreed to pay higher wages and provide other services to workers.
In recent years, according to the town government website and related newspaper articles, there has been an effort to offer more attractions in the town. In 2017 the Center Summer Concert Series was held at the newly developed Casa Blanca Memorial Park.
The park will also soon be the home to a memorial wall in honor of local veterans. The town of Center is working hard to get names for the wall and has applied for a grant to help purchase bricks for the wall.
A Center Town Survey was recently conducted. The town reports that respondents want some additional main street, recreational and tourism development and that citizens love the small, quiet, safe and peaceful atmosphere.
Anthony Guerrero is an award-winning journalist from the San Luis Valley. He recently attempted to escape journalism but did not succeed.