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Open mic night at Flowers of Fire. Photo by Evelyn Martinez

Open mic night at Flowers of Fire. Photo by Evelyn Martinez

The stage at Corazón del Pueblo is level with the floor, and all that sets it apart is the continuously changing color of a spotlight and a conspicuous microphone near a long wall adorned with political cartoons. The audience sits silently as Sonia Polo’s words drown out the noise from the street.

“She sat in her living room and looked around,” Polo recited from her own poem. “What was special about the chair that she sat on? What was special about the clothes she had on? What was special about the chips she was about to eat? Or the flops dangling on her feet?”

It’s a typical scene at “Flowers of Fire,” a spoken word event held on second and fourth Wednesdays at Corazón del Pueblo, 2003 East First Street. Both the event and the community center where it is held hold important places within the lives and hearts of many local residents and artists.

A unique space

Corazón del Pueblo was founded nearly four years ago. The name translates as “heart of the community” and reflects the goal of the center. According to Leo Rodríguez, 19, the center’s youngest board member, there is no other place like it in Boyle Heights.

The center is more than just a small building in a small community. It’s a place where people can express themselves or learn something new, says Paco Rodríguez, 36, a founding board member (no relation to Leo).

Besides hosting Flowers of Fire, Corazón del Pueblo offers many enrichment courses, such as self-defense, Jiu Jitsu, Nahuatl studies, men’s and women’s circles and even a weekly conga class.

Previously, the space was home to Brooklyn & Boyle, a print and online magazine, which has moved. The center has grown into a daily gathering space, which has helped inspire others.

“Their growth helped me grow,” says Matt Sedillo, a professional poet who began his career at Corazón del Pueblo’s first Flowers of Fire event. “I mean, they grew on their own. They did their own thing in the community and exploded into what they are, but their growth actually helped me.”

Along with offering classes and social networking opportunities, Corazón del Pueblo also allows people and organizations to hold fundraisers in its space for a small fee.

Those who frequent Corazón del Pueblo feel a strong sense of connection to the center, one that is shared by its leaders and contributors.

‘Good vibe’

Leo says his love for his community led him to accept the offer to become one of the 11 board members. “I love Boyle Heights,” he says. “I love East L.A. I love where I’m from. It’s simply for the love of my community and for the people that come here. It’s a really good vibe.”

When the magazine Brooklyn & Boyle moved from the space in 2009, a small group of Boyle Heights residents banded together to create something new.

“We weren’t sure about the ultimate vision, but we knew we needed a community center,” says Paco.

No matter the age, gender, religion, economic class or ethnicity, Corazon is open to all and can be a safe haven for people needing a place to be themselves, says Leo.

Sedillo says at Corazon del Pueblo, “They create this atmosphere released within their four walls. What’s really important is the energy that everyone brings.”

Paco works during the day, and Leo goes to school, but Paco says the center provides a place for them to go at night to build community and express themselves. “We are able to freely build something, with our heart rather than with just our mind,” Paco says.

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