The old house at East Madison and 15th street in Brownsville might look like a building in stages of decay. Some of the letters on the east side of the building are fading away. It reads “Carlotta K. Petrina.”
Petrina was an artist from New York who moved to this part of South Texas many years ago. But inside the brick structure that served as her home until she died in 1997 at the age of 96 is a different world.
Dozens of youngsters and adults can be seen throughout the building chatting, dancing or playing a musical instrument. Many of them had never had this musical experience but are eager to learn.
The house turned Carlotta K. Petrina Cultural Center is more than 100 years old. Hilda Lesdema inherited the building. The Brownsville woman conceived the idea of turning it into an educational and cultural place largely for people with economic need. After all, the house is in one of the oldest areas of the city which Ledesma likes to call rich in culture.
Anyone going into the center will be amazed to see so much activity inside its walls. A picture of the New Yorker hangs on one of the walls along with paintings and other works of arts. Alejandro Cruz, the center’s director, states they offer a variety of services five days a week.
A 100-year-old home comes to life
Cruz says veteran musicians and artists give lessons to anyone eager to learn. Musical instruments, painting and folkloric dancing are offerings at the Carlotta K. Petrina Cultural Center. Those who would like to enjoy a better life through different means such as qigong tiachi also benefit. Music lessons include piano, violin, cello and guitar. The center is also about to add the accordion, Tejano music lessons, choir and ballroom dancing .
Cruz said anyone is welcome to sign up for any of the lessons. He also emphasizes the center appreciates any donation. In fact, Ledesma said the old building is in such a state of deterioration that they are about to start a campaign to raise about $185,000.
“Yes, this building is 100 years old,” she said. “The idea is to fix it up so it’s good to go for another 100 years.”
Ledesma said some of the classes they offer are for both youngsters and adults. In some cases, she added, they charge a modest fee of $10 per class. She said the center opened with a handful of students. It now has about 250 youngsters and adults. Among those getting the benefit of the center is Maria Ruelas.
“I have been taking folkloric dance lessons for more than a year,” she said. “I bring my two boys who are in the Estudiantina and, while they are here, I take my dance lessons.”
Ruelas went into a large room where about a dozen women dance to folkloric music under the instruction of Guillermo Vega.
Nurturing budding artists
In another room, six students take the advanced guitar lesson from Juan Torres, an instructor who has been at the center since its opening in 2011. Asked if they knew or have an idea about strumming a guitar, they all said in unison, “No.”
Lorraine Castro said one day she told her daughter she would like to learn to play guitar. She gave her a guitar like the one for sale at some Mexican curio shops.
“Here I am today,” she said, after the group played El Mariachi. “We have been coming here for more than a year now.”
Dora Sanchez, another guitar player student, said you have to like what you are doing.
At the guitar for beginners class, Cruz told two students to be ready for the next class by practicing.
“What good does it do if you practice the Monday before Tuesday’s class?” he said. ”You have to do it regularly.”
The Carlotta K. Petrina Cultural Center hosts a number of events that go according to the time of year. They also host festivals and other events such as art exhibits.