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Fighting the good fight 

Conway communal house La Lucha serves up food, music and social change.

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If you've never been to La Lucha, it's difficult at first to understand exactly what it is. You could call it a community space, which sounds a bit unusual, even to the more open-minded citizens of Conway, where it's located.

First off, it's a house — the home of Sandra Leyva and Shawn Goicoechea, 23 and 24, both of whom graduated from the University of Washington at Seattle in 2008 with degrees in Comparative History of Ideas. After leaving school they traveled for a few months before coming to Conway, where they moved into an ordinary house on the corner of Prince and Donaghey last summer.

Unlike most ordinary homes, however, Leyva and Goicoechea have opened up the bottom floor of their house to the public. Among other things, they serve food, display works by local artists, and provide a place to play for bands that come through town. They say they're not running a business, though; they consider La Lucha an effort to bring people together and raise consciousness about local and global issues.

"La Lucha" is Spanish for "the struggle," and implies the everyday labor to make a living. The name was chosen in the hopes that La Lucha can make a difference in a broader struggle to provoke social change. "We want to find a way to get people together who have similar goals and worldviews," Goicoechea explained. "Doing that will slowly allow people to form networks that help them accomplish their goals and expand their worldviews."

Again, if you've never been to La Lucha, this can sound ridiculous. Even if you have been to La Lucha, and find it pleasantly not what you expected — clean, cozy, a kind of socialist salon — it can still seem hopelessly naive. Leyva and Goicoechea understand that what they're doing is definitely a "struggle," and they have the 20-something gusto to make even just a splash of difference in a oceanic world.

And why in Conway? Leyva and Goicoechea originally considered small college towns all over the country, and almost decided on Fayetteville. Then they discovered Conway, and chose to move there because it had the lowest cost of living near a student population.

Experiments like La Lucha are probably far more common in bigger cities, where sustainable living efforts are more popular and easier to achieve. But Leyva and Goicoechea said that to get people interested and involved, they wanted to start with something small but still meaningful. In this case, food and music, and so far they've been successful.

"Food has a really good way of bringing people together, and it ties in with many of the bigger problems in the world," Goicoechea said. Each day they offer a different dish, always tasty and varied — one day tempura vegetables, zucchini bread the next, and another day, blueberry pancakes. What's more, the food is prepared with local and in-season ingredients.

"Serving food was one of our original intentions, and when we went shopping for ingredients, we wanted to make sure to buy products that agreed with our values," Leyva said. Since it's opened, La Lucha has become involved with Conway's local food scene, and acts as an alternative pick-up location for Conway Locally Grown, a system that lets customers buy local produce and meat online. It's also the meeting place for the Conway branch of Green Drinks, a group of people who take part in local environmental politics.

La Lucha is never crowded — Leyva said she typically only cooks meals for five or six people a day — although groups of friends will come in all at once to drink tea, flip through 'zines, and just hang out. There are no set prices, but visitors are highly encouraged to give back, either by pitching in with money, time, or talent.

Another draw is the shows that La Lucha books. Touring bands are not paid to play, but there's usually a crowd, and they are given food and a place to stay. La Lucha takes itself seriously as a venue, and wants the bands that perform to be able to have an audience that is willing to listen to their music.

"Music is another way to reinforce the sense of community, and we want to make sure that shows don't become parties where the focus isn't on listening to the band," Leyva said.

This is also why La Lucha is not just another node on the house show circuit that is so popular in Little Rock. It's not a place to come party – they can't serve alcohol, since Faulkner County is dry, and they don't let guests bring alcohol to events. And although they appeal to a fairly hipster crowd, the types of people who come through the door are diverse. Groups like Green Drinks attract older, more professional types, and not all the music played there is from the scene that wears skinny jeans and V-neck tees. "We want a lot of different people," Goicoechea said. "That's the only way we can be successful."

Community and consciousness: These are the two strongest ideas behind La Lucha. It is a space where food, art and information can intersect. It is a space for people to learn about their roles as consumers in a world powered by big industries and fast food. "We don't want people to have the illusion that they have unlimited choice or freedom when it comes to their purchasing power," said Goicoechea. "We want them to realize that by being conscious of what they consume, they are able to understand their impact on the world."

La Lucha, 2035 Prince St., is open noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It's on the web at laluchaspace.com.

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