‘¡Viva La CASA!’ Latinx Center Celebrates its Grand Opening
With joyous mariachi music, delicious pan dulce and a few tears shed from passionate advocates, Cal Poly’s Latinx/e Center for Academic Success and Achievement, known as La CASA, officially opened its doors to the campus community on Thursday, November 10.
La CASA is designed to foster belonging and provide holistic support to students who identify as Latinx so they can thrive while at Cal Poly. Located in Building 52 Room E-22, the facility includes an accessible computer lab and lounge space that regularly hosts culturally relevant workshops and collaborative programming. Since a soft launch in September, the center has already helped students build a community while exploring an inclusive spectrum of cultures, histories and traditions.
“I am genuinely filled with so much alegría,” or happiness, said Daisy Paniagua-Uribe, coordinator for Latinx Initiatives within Student Diversity and Belonging (SDAB). “La CASA has been a labor of love, and it’s beautiful to see the center serve as a home away from home for so many students. This grand opening celebration is just the start of all the wonderful things that are to come.”
At the grand opening celebration, she acknowledged the years of work from students, faculty and alumni that made the space a reality. For the past 12 months, Paniagua-Uribe guided the center’s development by bonding with students and building upon essential events, like the annual State of Latinx event and cultural dialogues.
Four student leaders worked closely with SDAB to refine new programs and organize the new space: agricultural science student Griselda Elizabeth Medrano, computer science student Pablo Gonzalez, chemistry student Britney Lozano-Escareño, and recreation, parks and tourism administration student Esperanza Guinevere Castillo. They championed La CASA’s big ideas and important details, from choosing the center’s vibrant color palette, to ensuring La CASA’s layout was optimal for gatherings centered around food, to honoring the Indigenous roots of many Latinx cultures, often erased by conflict. Each student took to the podium to speak about their experience.
“I was really scared being a first-generation student, Salvadorian American daughter of immigrants,” said Medrano. “Being able to represent that has been very emotional and very difficult. But we are here today, and I can't be more proud of our Latinx community.”
“This is really the start of something that's going to last forever here,” added Gonzalez.
In emotional remarks, SDAB Director Diana Ortiz Giron reflected on the students La CASA serves, who are often the first in their family to attend college. She said she sees past the narratives about these students lacking the right resources and privileges to succeed in higher education.
“It is my personal belief that they come to our institutions with a plethora of assets and forms of capital that sometimes we're not trained to identify: cultural capital, linguistic capital, navigational capital,” she said. “We have to learn how to see them for all of who they are — not just the challenges, not just the struggles — but the ways that they enrich our campus community.”
From the podium, President Jeffrey D. Armstrong praised the center as a key step on the path toward reaching the university’s vision for a welcoming and inclusive campus for all. He said size of Cal Poly’s student population who identifies as Latinx has grown from 12% in 2010 to nearly 20% in 2021. Armstrong expects more than 25% of the student body will identify as Latinx in the next few years, one of the core criteria for Cal Poly to earn an official designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
Professor José Navarro of the Ethnic Studies Department expanded on those demographic trends, linking Cal Poly’s trajectory to its ability to support Latinos, who make up the largest portion of the country’s youngest demographic. Half of all California kindergarteners are Latinos, he noted.
“If we're going be successful as a nation, as a state, and as a university, we need to hitch our wagon to those young people, to Latinos,” Navarro said. “The future is those young people — it's a diverse future, including Latinx folks who are often Indigenous, Afro-Latino, Asian American as well. It's all of us. The future is bright.”
Alumni Victor Rey (Crop Science ’03) and Delfina Medina (Social Sciences ’04) reflected on the challenges they experienced adjusting to life at Cal Poly, and shared hope they feel seeing new resources flourish. They also assured current and future students that there is support in Cal Poly Alumni's revitalized Latinx Community who are there for them now and after graduation.
“Latinx Mustangs: I want you to know that we not only belong here … this is your school too, this is your community too,” said Rey, who was overcome with emotion looking at the crowd. “The work today is definitely paving the way to tomorrow and making it easier for future generations.”
Throughout the celebration, the six-member ensemble Mariachi Real of Oxnard, California, serenaded attendees with traditional music sung in Spanish, accompanied by guitar, trumpet and violin. After the last speaker, attendees enjoyed food from local vendors, including Efren’s Mexican Restaurant and Cubanissimo, and pan dulce from Delicias de Mi Tierra in Nipomo. Student leaders showed students around the new space and encouraged everyone in the Cal Poly community to connect to the events and programs it offers.
La CASA represents the newest addition to Student Diversity and Belonging, a collective of campus resource centers within Student Affairs that aim to provide a home away from home for underrepresented students at Cal Poly. Eight SDAB centers are now open on campus related to gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity, including the Native American and Indigenous Cultural Center that opened last October.
“Like our other community centers in Student Diversity and Belonging, we provide students with opportunities to invest in identity development, to reconnect with their cultural heritage, to feel a sense of pride that comes with knowing where you come from,” said Ortiz Giron.
“Nuestra raíces — our roots — they run deep, and they run wide.”
Keep up with La CASA on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/calpolylatinx/.
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