In 1989 Eugene Rodriguez and Berenice Zuniga-Yap received an artist in residence grant from the California Arts Council. Their goal was to create a family-like environment where young people could learn and explore traditional Mexican music and dance; the result was Los Cenzontles.
The early 1990s were a time of growing tension and spiraling social problems among the local youth in San Pablo and Richmond. In 1994, the tragic death of 15 year-old San Pablo girl Cicilia Rios, a close friend of many Cenzontles, prompted Eugene Rodriguez to incorporate Los Cenzontles as a non-profit. He felt strongly that the time-tested strength of our traditions could be used as a vehicle to express the grief that many youth in the community felt for Cecy’s death.
In June of 1994, and with the help of local community activist Alicia Marines, Eugene opened the new Los Cenzontles at Maple Hall in San Pablo. Within the first week Los Cenzontles has an enrollment of 175 students! What began as a performing group with two teachers and visiting artists now became a program with a growing faculty operating five days a week.
In 1998, the City Manager of San Pablo, Rory Robinson, and landlord Al Dias generously made a storefront available to Los Cenzontles at Dias Plaza. Scores of community volunteers spent hundreds of hours to make the space the beautiful little jewel that it is today.
Today, Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center continues to deepen and strengthen its programming. We are most proud that most of our staff and half of our faculty is comprised of local young people who have grown up in the program.