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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Open Doors, Open Arms: Casa Latina Welcomes All

Casa Latina´s coordinator, Francisco Toro, serves up some tasty grub at Casa´s open house last week. - Photo by Tony Naro
Casa Latina´s coordinator, Francisco Toro, serves up some tasty grub at Casa´s open house last week. – Photo by Tony Naro

“Otra, otra noche otra, aye quiquiquiquiquiriqui…” The rhythm of this kumbia-reggae Colombian pop song echoed off of the bare walls of the brand new Campus Center. Not only was this remix blaring from radios all over cities and towns of the world, from Manhattan to Los Angeles, Acapulco to Buenos Aires, but it could also be heard in the new Casa Latina quarter of Student Life.The arresting array of bass and beats, along with the aroma of garlic, cilantro, and saffron flavored dishes, intrigued over 100 wandering students, staff, and faculty that experienced the Latino student center’s Open House during the stressful midterm week before spring break.

The Wednesday, March 10 Open House featured Latino music and food as well as friendly discussion and orientation with Casa staff and volunteers. Guests moved their hips and smiled as their heads bobbed to salsa, bacchata, and merengue hits. The music filled the bare space with color and flavor, and the cuisine contributed to the upbeat atmosphere. Francisco Toro, club coordinator, stated, “Casa brings out all the best of Latin cultures,” and the food choice, reflecting the diversity and plurality of the word Latino, attested to just that.

The cuisine Casa provided was mouth watering. Nothing and everything would fill guests up. Just a glance at the cornucopia of dishes-rice and beans, a variety of meats, salads, plantains, potatoes and appetizers-was enough to make taste buds run wild. Provided by El Oriental de Cuba in Jamaica Plain, the most popular food was the empanadas and the Cuban sandwiches. Who could resist a delicious chicken and cheese patty, wrapped in a thin layer of dough, folded into the shape of a crescent moon, and then lightly friend until golden brown and crispy around the edges?

The Cuban sandwiches were so popular that they were gone within an hour of the first wave of guests.Toro referred to this tasty sandwich as a “Miami Venture,” made with Cuban ingredients, yet popularized by Miami Cubans after the large influx of Cuban immigrants to the United States in the 1950s. In case you are wondering what a Cuban-style sandwich is, it is sliced roast pork, ham, American cheese, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, and mayonnaise packed into long loaves of Cuban bread, similar to a French baguette, then wrapped and baked in palmetto leaves.

During this celebration of Latino culture and spirit, students also discussed Casa’s mission and current plans. Casa Latina provides support in an academic setting that can otherwise be challenging for minority students to find. It is a place where new and old students can chat and interact, where students can come into contact with Latino faculty, learn about academic opportunities, and receive guidance. Casa also stresses community service and outreach. Currently, Toro, with assistant coordinator Gina Rojas, is heading a recruitment drive in local high schools with large Latino populations, such as Chelsea High, which is 82 percent Latino. The drive involves speaking to high school students and offering them advice and support as they prepare for college. These students are invited to spend a day on campus, and to experience Casa events such as the Cinco de Mayo Spring Fest. Casa as usual is planning another spectacular show for the entire UMass community. Casa Latina is located on the third floor of the Campus Center in Student Life.