Recently I had the pleasure of feeling in community with my fellow Latino Yalies on campus during Hispanic Heritage Month, spanning from September 15th to October 15th. My mom was quick to text me the morning of the 15th to say “Happy Nicaraguan Independence Day!” I was happy to celebrate over the phone with my mom, but also ready to properly enjoy the 30 days ahead with people on campus.
There are a lot of opportunities for Yale students to interact with clubs, organizations, and general communities on campus that are meant for students with specific identities which can include race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and more. My experience with these affinity groups has been primarily through those catered to Latines, and I looked out to these groups to guide me for Latine Heritage Month.
A picture of La Casa, located at 301 Crown Street
There is a physical space on campus that caters to Yale Latinos (which also sells fun shirts with the slogan that you can see in the first photo) known as “La Casa.” Officially known as “La Casa Cultural de Julia de Burgos,” this is a center run by and for Latinos to try and maintain a cultural community in a new place. Coming to Yale can be daunting for a lot of reasons, but I was particularly scared of feeling disconnected from my ethnic community once I got here. La Casa helped me not lose that connection, and even learn new ways to embrace and think about my Latinidad. There are multiple cultural centers on campus, with the cultural centers for Asian and Native American students being right next door to La Casa!
La Casa hosts several events year-round, but Latine Heritage Month presents even more events for students. Among these is the “La Casa Retreat,” the single most attended event La Casa hosts each year as a kickoff to the heritage month. Latino students from every corner of campus come together in community and enjoy a Saturday out on a campsite. I have been very unlucky to have not been able to attend the retreat in my time at Yale, as my first two years the retreat was canceled due to COVID, and then I was away in time for my third year. This year, however, I made it! I was able to attend and experience the joy that is a rural Connecticut lake site full of Latinos.
S’mores! plus others pictured toasting their soon-to-be s’mores
The best way to describe the retreat is to compare it to a summer camp, and I’ve run my fair share of summer camps so I know what I’m talking about. If you have ever been to one, the familiar arts and crafts, group photos, and “get to know each other” activities were on full display here in the best way. I can say that I did successfully meet people, as well as reunite with friends I had not seen in some time, which I suppose was the intention of the retreat. Running around a big field with college and graduate students is both surreal and pure unadulterated joy. Also summer camp-like was the prepackaged lunches we were given, which were also dietary friendly! It was also a particularly sunny day, so truly summer vibes all around. Finally, we had s’mores. Do you remember the last time you had a s’more? Well I didn’t but now I have photo evidence of my s’more and I remain very proud of my delicious creation.
Within this wholesomeness, the day concluded with the big group sitting around a campfire and letting seniors reflect on their time at Yale and share wisdom with the group. This was an emotional period, with many personal stories and anecdotes invoking tears from both speakers and audience alike. The main takeaway from the seniors–and from me–was that of gratitude. Everyone expressed gratitude to their friends in the audience, to La Casa and its staff, and to the Latine community. We are here despite Yale’s history, and we are making spaces that cater to us and hold our community together and ultimately make the university a better place. Although Hispanic Heritage Month is now over, I look forward to continuing to hold this gratitude in my heart and walk around proudly with my Yale Latina shirt as I attend future La Casa events.