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The hub of diversity

The Ethnic Cultural Center (ECC) is not only a building on Brooklyn Avenue, it is a collection of people and emotions, captured in rooms, murals and an atmosphere of diversity.

Each of the ECC's four main rooms -- the Black Room, the Asian Room, the Native American Room and the Latino Room -- have mural on the wall that have come to define the center.

"The murals are representative of culture and that is everything the center is about," said Victor Flores, ECC assistant director.

The Asian Room mural depicts the visages of 10 Asian Americans, ranging from Cereino Garcia, middleweight boxing champion of the world, to a nameless Chinese laborer who mined and built railroad tracks in the American west.

"Awareness of our forefathers -- and of ourselves -- isn't just the stuff of some '60's power movement, but a concrete reality that we must deal with every day," said Jesse Reyes, artist of the Asian Room mural.

The mural for the Black Room was inspired by the spirit, minds and office labor of the black women who helped found the first black student union at the UW, according to artist Eddie Walker.

"This mural continues to testify to the unsung heroines of a people, still in search, and still fighting for freedom, dignity and respect," said Walker.

The ECC itself had to be fought for. Coming out of the 1960s and the civil-rights movement, UW's minorities felt the need for a place they could call home, according to Flores. These students communicated this need very clearly to the administration.

In 1968, the Black Student Union took over the UW administration building and demanded $50,000 to develop the Office of Minority Affairs and recruit minorities. When the money was received, the BSU began actively recruiting American Indians from reservations and Chicanos from Eastern Washington. The demands of BSU and other minorities also led to the construction of the ECC in 1971.

"The ECC is really here as a result of the struggles of the people of color and more specifically, of the African-Americans," said Miguel Bocanegra of Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), the Latino student group.

There are now 24 student organizations housed in the ECC and 40 other groups registered to use the facility. Last year, the center received approximately 76,000 visits from students, faculty and the community and there are more than 3,000 routine student users, according to assistant director Victor Flores.

"Some organizations are political, some are social, some are cultural and some have a combination of all those things," said Flores.

The sheer number of groups who use the center makes it a hive of activity every day of the week, including Sunday, when a mariachi group practices.

"The ECC has an activist-oriented take-your-future-into-your-own-hands atmosphere," said Constance Daruthayan of Campus Radical Women, pointing out that there is no similar feeling at the HUB.

But the original facility was not designed for the type of programs and events that are common today. During the center's early years, there was a ping-pong table and games room, which made the purpose of the ECC more of a "hang out" according to Flores.

The center's new focus is on enhancing minority-student leadership and group organization, according to Flores. This includes helping groups plan cultural events such as the Cambodian New Year and Filipino Night.

MEChA has used the ECC's help to plan many events, including a three-day workshop for minority high school students that occurred this month. Teresa Mosqueda, MEChA high school and community outreach co-coordinator, points out that projects such as this would be much more difficult without the services of the ECC.

"This facility is dedicated just to the use of organizing," said Mosqueda.

It was this organizing that resulted in the renovation which, like the founding of the center, was also student initiated. The ECC was built off campus in what was intended to be a 10-year facility. Thirty years later, the ECC is using the same building. Not only had the ECC become too small, but many parts of the building, such as the sewer system, were falling into disrepair. In spring 1999, a student-initiated proposal to the administration to increase minority outreach recommended the renovation of the ECC as a way of demonstrating the UW's dedication to the minority community.

President McCormick authorized $1.5 million in funding for structural improvements. In May 2000, an additional $250,000 was granted for theater improvements.

Since only $1.75 million was available, the ECC decided to focus on maximizing space. The building was originally four independent wings, with one room in each and an open courtyard in the middle. The renovation created an enclosed central room.

While the Black Room was expanded to fit 110 people, both the Asian Room and the Latino Room traded size for usability. The rooms lost square footage so halls leading to the offices on the back of the wings could be built. The hallway links provide the ability for students to interact from the wings and keeps meeting from being interrupted by passersby. Most students consider this a good tradeoff.

"We can come together, walk between rooms and share important issues," said Mosqueda.

The limited funds also meant some improvements could not be made, such as a renovation of the kitchens, which had to keep their 1970's design and bright orange color. However, some unfunded portions of the renovation were deemed too important to ignore, resulting in the ECC spending approximately $9,000 its own money for items such as carpeting in the student offices.

The theater renovations were more technical than physical, including a new lighting grid, new technical booth, and new heating and cooling systems.

The renovation was completed Aug. 27, adding 3,000 square feet of usable space and increasing the ECC's ability to serve students.

"We are glad to be home," said Flores, pointing out that it was difficult to serve students from the temporary building behind the UW Medical Center and Fisheries Building.

The return to the renovated ECC, with more space and a front desk, has restored the ability of the ECC to serve students, according to Paulette Jordan of First Nations, the American Indian Student Association.

Without the ECC this past year, First Nations was less unorganized, according to Jordan, since it had to jump from room to room depending on what was available.

"Even more frustrating is that if we wanted to work with other groups, it was like finding Waldo," said Jordan. "All group meetings were spread throughout the University campus."

Jordan believes the new renovations, couches, computers and programs, in addition to the familiar, has added a feeling of comfort that makes the ECC almost like a second home.

"Speaking in terms of ethnic races, the ECC is a good step, and the way the ECC has been restructured, is an even better step," said Jordan. "The ECC has become a place for diverse people of color, or ethnic background, to unite under one roof."

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