Cloverdale mayor Marta Cruz describes the community room in the Cloverdale Family Apartments as the “center of activities” for the city’s Latino community. Over the years, it’s served as the site of Cesar Chavez Day celebrations, back-to-school book drives and even a cooling center for the community’s elders. Now, it’s a space for the fine arts, thanks to its newest addition — a piano.
The piano was donated by Petra DeJesus, a former San Francisco Police Commissioner who was connected to Cruz through mutual friends. Shipping costs were covered by funds left over from this year’s Ceaser Chavez celebration, hosted in the same room in which the piano now resides. Community member Madeline Wallace paid for a professional tuner to come tune the instrument once it reached its new home.
Cloverdale Family Apartments houses 32 rent-restricted affordable units, home to many Latino farm workers and their families.
“To me, (these apartments are) a great opportunity for the working people, because as you know, the expenses are very high when it comes to rental and transportation,” Cruz said. “So this is great that the people who work in the fields can have a decent place to live for their children.”
Since the piano arrived, Cruz has been looking for musicians within the Cloverdale community who would be interested in donating a couple hours a week to provide music lessons for the children living there.
The piano provides a crucial access to the musical arts for the apartment’s residents, Cruz said, since families wouldn’t have to pay for private lessons or worry about transportation — kids could get music lessons in their own building, for no cost.
Ultimately, her vision was for young people in the Cloverdale Family Apartments to get exposed to a broad spectrum of music from across genres, cultures and generations.
“You know, just people from all over the world, and the different interests that they have in music and how they all started, for kids to see that they could also become — if they chose, if they have the talent and the inclination — a musician,” she said.
Cruz’s own arts education goes back to her time as a student at Indiana University, during which she had a circle of artistically-minded friends with roots in Latin America — many of whom went on to pursue professional careers in the arts, in ballet, opera and classical music. She herself plays the Cuatro, a string instrument that originated in Puerto Rico, where Cruz herself is originally from.
While she initially wants to prioritize offering lessons to kids living in the Family Apartments, ultimately, Cruz — who calls herself “a council member for all people” — envisions opening up lessons to other young people in the Cloverdale community.
“To me it is essential that all children interact with one another, and that all children learn of the beauty of other cultures and the language and the tradition,” she said.
The piano’s arrival had garnered attention even from the apartment’s adults, some of whom had asked Cruz if lessons would be available to them as well.
“We are all beginners at something that we'd like, at some point in our lives, either when we're young, when we are teenagers, or as adults,” she said, chuckling. “You know, there's never a limit to when you can learn something.”