A Santa Maria Valley arts and cultural center has rallied supporters after experiencing what the organization called a racist verbal attack and vandalism.  

Corazón del Pueblo: The Cultural and Creative Arts Center of the Santa Maria Valley contended the incident damaged an art panel displaying archives of the “Don’t Believe the Hype” hip-hop exhibit. 

The incident also damaged the center’s floor, and the person involved “physically threatened our employee while aggressively shouting racial stereotypes about Latinx communities,” Corazón del Pueblo said in a press release.

“The next day, our beloved Latinx Little Library, which showcases Spanish language books, Latinx and Indigenous authors, as well as community resources, was forcibly dug out and dumped in the building’s plaza next to Heritage Square,” the group’s press release said.

The incident allegedly started with a dispute between someone else in the building and Corazón del Pueblo representatives over a couch and art display in a shared hallway at the multi-tenant Haslam building at 124 W. Main St. 

Afterward, the floor had a gash and the art display was damaged, Corazón del Pueblo Executive Director Alex Espinoza-Kulick said. 

Police were called, but the dispatch entries don’t mention any racism allegation and have suggested the incident is a civil matter. 

There’s no evidence of who removed the little free library, and it is unclear whether that removal is connected to the first incident, which occurred the previous day. 

Espinoza-Kulick contended that the process to get it out of the ground would require tools.

The allegations of vandalism and a verbal attack with racist language prompted some people to speak during the public comment period at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. 

Corazón del Pueblo’s Latinx Little Library was removed from the ground in what the organization says was an act of vandalism.

Corazón del Pueblo’s Latinx Little Library was removed from the ground in what the organization says was an act of vandalism. (Corazón del Pueblo photo)

“It’s a hate issue, and we see a lot of it in our country. … Here we are right at the grassroots, I think we need to stand up and speak against any such acts,” Virginia Perry Souza told the council.

“These acts of racism cannot be tolerated and I implore our city leaders to speak out on this, condemn the behavior and work together with the arts center and other similar groups to implement and promote programs and services that celebrate our diverse cultures and prevent violence in our community,” resident Laura Selken added. 

A number of representatives for other museums across Santa Barbara County have signed a letter in support of Corazón del Pueblo. 

“The vandalism and racism directed towards Corazón del Pueblo is an act of hate that we condemn, and one we hope the entire community rejects,” they wrote in the letter released Thursday.

In response to the free library’s removal, Corazón del Pueblo intends to host a reinstallation event to restore it, and convene a community forum on violence prevention.

The event will start at 2 p.m. on Jan. 29 in the plaza behind 124 W. Main St. (between Heritage Square and Lincoln Street). 

Donations to support Corazón del Pueblo may be made via PayPal by clicking here or on Venmo @culturalandcreativearts. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.