La Peña Cultural Center

Coordinates: 37°51′19″N 122°15′57″W / 37.85515°N 122.26584°W / 37.85515; -122.26584
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La Peña Cultural Center or La Peña for short, is a multicultural center in the United States. It was founded in 1975 by Latin American and Californian allies in Berkeley, California in response to the 1973 coup d'état in Chile, or golpe de estado.[1][2] The center was a focal point for the opposition-in-exile to dictator Augusto Pinochet during his rule, and later evolved into a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote peace, social justice and community action through cultural arts, education and community action. La Peña is located at 3105 Shattuck Avenue in the Ashby neighborhood of South Berkeley, California


Founding members included: five Americans (Eric Leenson, Kevin Duncan, Craig McCaleb, Janis Teruggi, and Kay Cole), and three Chilean expatriates (Hugo Brenni, Patricia Brenni, and Juan Orson). Some of the founders were connected to Non-Intervention in Chile (NICH), a group was dedicated to supporting the Allende government and exposing the U.S. government's actions to undermine it. The center was a focal point for the opposition-in-exile to dictator Augusto Pinochet during his rule.

As a cultural center La Peña was founded with the belief that art and culture should play an activist role and that the center serves as a community gathering place, artist center, entertainment venue, and as a meeting place that aims to build community through artists and social activism.[3]

Since its official founding in 1975, La Peña has become the home, hub and catalyst for dozens of Bay Area communities, offering classes and events rooted in distinct cultural traditions from the Americas and the Caribbean. Classes include: Puerto Rican Bomba y Plena, Afro-Peruvian cajon and dance, Capoeira Angola from Brazil, Son Jarocho jarana & zapateo from Mexico, Cuban Charanga and Salsa student ensembles, and more.


Café Valparaíso and its eclectic décor

The original restaurant was added in the year 1976, and was later known as Café Valparaíso. It became part of the neighborhood's Gourmet Ghetto and is award-winning.[4] It is also known as Café de la Peña.[5] The cafe also sells endemic Chilean foodstuffs and novelties. Valpo's menu focuses heavily on Chilean empanadas.[5] The menu evolved over the years adding other Latin American cuisine such as food from Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru.[5] The menu does however continue serving many Chilean dishes such as humitas.[5] In the mid 2010s the cafe left La Peña and relocated to Solano Avenue in nearby Albany folding in 2018 due to "personal reasons".[6]


In 2005 the center was noted for its involvement in and being a center of several forms of art forms that descended from African slaves in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean.[7] These were lessons in and performances of two dances.[7] These dances are the percussion driven plena and bomba.[7] The peña also has its own music groups: La Peña Chorus and Lab Hip Hop Ensemble.[8] It has also been noted for its Little Friends of La Peña concert series of bilingual children's musical offerings.[9]


The center is an annual gathering place for the Chilean diaspora, with meetings and celebrations for Chilean independence's fiestas patrias, Christmas, and the anniversary of the 1973 Chilean coup d'état.

La Peña is a registered 501(c)3 charity with tax exempt status that focuses on promoting the arts, and the building's façade is covered in a Nueva Canción inspired mural. The center teaches lessons on traditional Chilean music, art, etc. and also branches out into other Latin American and Spanish language fields with a focus on things South American. The space is also used as a fund-raising venue for local causes such as supporting the KPFA radio station and relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.[10][11][12]


In 2010 La Peña hosted the Mano a Mano (Hand in Hand) benefit for the victims of the 2010 Chile earthquake that hoped to generate $US10,000 in donations.[13]


  1. ^ Chile's First Female President to Teach Seminar at UC Berkeley[permanent dead link]. Alisha Azevedo. The Daily Californian. 02-18-2011. Retrieved 02-19-2011.
  2. ^ ¿Qué es la peña? (in Spanish) (What is La Peña?)
  3. ^ Viva La Pena, Contra Costa Times, 05-06-2010, access date 05-01-2012[verification needed]
  4. ^ La Peña Turns Thirty with a Street Fair, Patrick Hodge, San Francisco Chronicle, 11-06-2005, 05-01-2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Chef Adds New Zest At La Pena Center, Kim Severson, San Francisco Chronicle, 06-08-1999, access date 05-12-2012
  6. ^ East Bay restaurants that opened and closed in April, Berkeleyside
  7. ^ a b c Berkeley: Bay Area Puerto Ricans bring bomba to La Peña, Andrew Gilbert, San Francisco Chronicle, 29-6-2005, access date 05-01-2012
  8. ^ La Peña turning 31, San Francisco Chronicle, 08-06-2006, access date 05-01-2012
  9. ^ Jose-Luis Orozco: Latin children's music at La Peña, Matt Villano, 09-29-2011, San Francisco Chronicle, access date 05-01-2011
  10. ^ Why not celebrate Nadra Foster and the Black community on KPFA, San Francisco Bayview Daily
  11. ^ Martha Toledo Sings at La Peña. Ken Bullock. Berkeley Daily Planet. 25-09-2008. Retrieved 18-01-2011.
  12. ^ Cuban 5 Exhibit Opens at La Peña Cultural Center. Riya Bitarcharjee. Berkeley Daily Planet. 13-08-2009. Retrieved 17-01-2011.
  13. ^ Berkeley's La Peña Hosts Benefit for Chile. Riya Bhattacharjee. Berkeley Daily Planet. 04-03-2010. Retrieved 17-01-2011.

External links[edit]

External image
image icon La Peña façade as seen from across Shattuck Avenue.

37°51′19″N 122°15′57″W / 37.85515°N 122.26584°W / 37.85515; -122.26584