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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

La Casita’s New Exhibit Celebrates a Decade of Cultural Engagement in CNY

The opening of “Heart of the Barrio/Corazón del Barrio” kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 by reflecting on the center’s 10-year journey.

Sept. 7, 2021, by A&S News Staff

SU students with Children at La Casita..JPG
Syracuse University students and alumni facilitating a dual language reading program with children at La Casita.

Hands-on learning and cultural exchange are the hallmarks of learning in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S). One of the best-known examples of these unique opportunities is La Casita Cultural Center, where for the past decade students from A&S and across Syracuse University have interned, worked, conducted research and volunteered—enhancing their education while strengthening and celebrating Latinx culture.

The 2021-22 academic year marks the 10th anniversary of La Casita Cultural Center, and the organization will commemorate the occasion with the opening of a new exhibit, Corazón del Barrio (Heart of the Barrio). The exhibit honors the community of artists, educators, students and families who have been a part of La Casita’s history. The opening reception and launch of the exhibit on September 18 will coincide with 2021 National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15).

A History of Cultural Exchange

With support from the College of Arts and Sciences, La Casita Cultural Center was established in 2011 through a collaborative effort led by Silvio Torres Saillant, professor of English and Dean’s Professor of the Humanities in A&S. Saillant, then director of the Syracuse University Latino-Latin American Studies Program (LLAS), teamed up with a group of LLAS faculty members and Hispanic serving community organizations and partners across the City of Syracuse. They established the first and only Latinx cultural center in Central New York with consistent year-round programming. The center includes an art gallery, workshop and auditorium space, a bilingual library, and a digital “Cultural Memory Archive,” where the history and experiences of Latinos in the Central New York region are documented and shared.

Detail of a graffiti art installation at La Casita
Detail of a graffiti art installation on view at La Casita. Local artist and member of La Casita staff Bennie Guzman was joined by a group of Syracuse-area teens on the project.

The model concept for La Casita can be traced to Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx, where in the 1970s, José (Chema) Soto set out to repurpose an abandoned space and develop a center (today, Centro Cultural Ricón Criollo) for Latinx communities to gather, and celebrate their culture and traditions. For La Casita to best serve the Syracuse community and engage with its audience, primarily Syracuse University Latinx students, local artists, educators and urban families, the center is located in the city’s Near Westside neighborhood.

Since its opening, La Casita has become an active center for experiential learning, participatory research, cultural heritage preservation, social activism and open dialogue where the characters and values of “Latinidad” (a shared Latinx cultural identity) are examined through personal and collective experiences.

La Casita By The Numbers

  • Nearly 200 Syracuse University students engage with La Casita through volunteering and co-curricular activity each year.
  • In the last 10 years, over 1,000 students have worked in areas of programming, administration, education, communications and community engagement.
  • 50% of the University students engaged each year participate in internships, course-related projects, independent studies, research and service-learning.
  • 540 co-curricular projects by University students have been completed to date.

An Exhibit 10 Years in the Making

La Casita’s new exhibit, Corazón del Barrio (Heart of the Barrio), will feature photos, videos, publications, art, and memorabilia collected and preserved by La Casita for the past 10 years.

Tere Paniagua, executive director of the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community in A&S, says the goal of the exhibit is to honor the people who have devoted their time, energy, talents and histories to La Casita.

Ana Sofia Aponte and Roxana Alondra Mendoza at La Casita.
Syracuse University students Ana Sofia Aponte '24 (College of Visual and Performing Arts) and Roxana Alondra Mendoza '24 (College of Arts and Sciences) both volunteer at La Casita.

“Our students, faculty, staff, local residents and artists, put their heart in everything they do here, and they are the heart of the barrio,” she says. “This fall, as we return to in-person programming and begin to heal from the public health crisis experienced last year, the center’s programs will focus on healing through creativity and artistic expression.”

The Corazón del Barrio (Heart of the Barrio) program will also include community dialogues, the release of a new children’s book that comprises five years of dual-language writing and illustration workshops where the authors and graphic artists are the children participating in the programs, as well as the release of a new publication produced by the Teen Writing Program offered this past summer, a 90-page book titled “My Life In Syracuse,” edited by Zakery Muñoz, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric and Composition in A&S.

Exterior view of La Casita Cultural Center.

The exhibit’s opening reception on September 18 is from 6 to 8 p.m. and people can attend in-person at La Casita (109 Otisco St., Syracuse NY 13204) or view it virtually via Zoom. The opening festivities will include a tour of the exhibit, live performance by Colombian violinist, Sara Silva G’06 (College of Visual and Performing Arts), in a duet with Cuban classical guitarist and soprano, Liamna Pestana ’21 (VPA); a spoken word performance by Noel Quiñones, live salsa music by Henry Rosado and his Grupo Boricua and live performance by the Syracuse-based dancers of Dominique’s Dance Creations. Admission to this event is free. Guests in attendance will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test and use of masks will be required. More details and an online registration link are available through La Casita’s Facebook event page.

The opening event is part of the Syracuse University Humanities Center’s 2021 Syracuse Symposium, “Conventions.”

Support for La Casita comes from A&S, the Latino-Latin American Studies Program, the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community, the Office of Community Engagement, PLACA (Program on Latin America and the Caribbean, Maxwell School) and the Syracuse University Humanities Center.