At the 20th anniversary celebration of La Casa Latina cultural center, alumni speakers gave motivational talks on the importance of students taking advantage of resources to help them find a home at Penn. The dinner event took place the evening of Sept. 20 at Bodek Lounge and was crowded with about four dozen people seated at banquet tables.
Throughout the dinner, speakers urged students to take action on campus and urged alumni to support current students in their work.
1977 Penn Law School graduate Gilbert Casellas, who took part in the founding of La Casa Latina, encouraged alumni to be vocal in encouraging students to make their voices heard and to give back to La Casa. Casellas was previously a trustee emeritus and said that it was important for alumni to contribute to Penn as one is an alumnus for way longer than one is a student.
In his speech, Casellas also emphasized the need for current students to be active and to partake in what is offered to them. He said it is easy to sometimes feel isolated or like an “appendage of the University." He told students that they “are not just part of a great university [but that] this is a great university because [they] are here.”
2011 Wharton graduate Wendy De La Rosa, the keynote speaker at the event, spoke about how the lessons she learned at Penn prompted her to become the person she is today.
De La Rosa said she grew up in an apartment in the Bronx. She said that upon coming to Penn, she felt ashamed and overwhelmed by the amount of wealth and social status.
She said she soon realized, however, that she was just as entitled to be there as anybody else. She then took advantage of her own power to make a difference on campus and get involved in organizations such as La Casa Latina to spread cultural awareness and celebrate her identity.
She encouraged students to take ownership of their time and experience in college.
"The world opens up to you when you share your story. Your story is your power," she said. "It is who you are and what shapes you and at the end of the day it is all you have."
In their speeches, both alumni emphasized the fact that the power lies in the hands of the students. They said even though the established, vibrant, and progressive community of La Casa shows how far cultural inclusion has come, a long path to a completely inclusive understanding of cultural identities remain.
College sophomore Diego Caceres, who is the chair of admissions in the Latinx Coalition, said that he was attending the event because he was deeply involved in the club. He said that La Casa Latina not only provides students with fun events celebrating different music and food, but is also an emotionally supportive atmosphere.
First-year Graduate School of Education student Luis Morales-Navarro said he attended the event because it was the 20th anniversary celebration and because he is involved with La Casa. He said La Casa serves as a unifying house for both graduates and undergraduates to get involved on campus together and celebrate a shared identity.