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A Decade to Celebrate: La Casita Cultural Center
La Casita Cultural Center hosted a reception Sept. 18 for the opening of a new exhibition, “Corazón del Barrio (Heart of the Barrio),” celebrating the center’s 10th anniversary. The exhibition’s opening reception, held in person and via Zoom, coincided with the launch of 2021 National Hispanic Heritage Month, observed mid-September through mid-October.
Evident throughout the celebration was a profound sense of family, community, history and rich cultural heritage. Photographs, artwork, images and artifacts covered the walls and display spaces in colorful collage. Multiple small display shelves of vibrant folk art showed snippets reflective of Hispanic culture.
Expressions of gratitude abounded among the collection. Stories of students finding their home away from home at La Casita told of journeys and learning, of building bridges and finding the true meaning of collaborative community. And not just students volunteer and participate at La Casita. Add in faculty, area residents, artists, dancers, performers and musicians.
The opening event included food, music, dance and even a spoken word performance by poet Noel Quiñones, a Puerto Rican writer, educator and community organizer from the Bronx.
So many people, so much memorabilia! Ten years of memorabilia—not your ordinary collection—this is La Casita’s Cultural Memory Archive. Working with Syracuse University Libraries, La Casita has undertaken an effort to digitize and widen access to numerous pieces of their archive, reflective of the history, cultural heritage and experience of Central and Upstate New York’s Latinx/Hispanic communities. The digitized material aids preservation and research purposes within the New York Heritage Digital Collections. Here at La Casita, much of it is now on display.
The goal of “Corazón del Barrio (Heart of the Barrio),” according to Tere Paniagua, executive director of the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-curator of the exhibition, is to honor the people who contributed to La Casita over the past decade, giving from their hearts, devoting time and their stories to that shared and common space.
And the hearts are everywhere, built right into La Casita. From the large milagro heart rendering over the entryway, created by artist Bennie Guzmán in Syracuse University colors, to the many smaller hearts interspersed among the frames and displayed images and artworks. Guzmán, a media and communications professional at La Casita, focuses his art on the narratives and lived experiences of marginalized communities.
Ten years ago, La Casita co-founders Inmaculada Lara-Bonilla and Silvio Torres-Saillant, both faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences at the time, might only have imagined how far a bridge La Casita would travel. And it has, with strength of heart, with all its hearts. “Corazón del Barrio” comes highly recommended from this quarter.
The opening event was part of this year’s Syracuse Symposium series, “Conventions.” Support also comes from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Latino-Latin American Studies Program, the Office of Cultural Engagement for the Hispanic Community, PLACA (Program on Latin America and the Caribbean, Maxwell School) and the Syracuse University Humanities Center.
Located at 109 Otisco Street in Syracuse, La Casita Cultural Center’s regular hours are Monday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The center is closed Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The exhibition will run through April 2022. In compliance with public health guidelines and protocols, La Casita’s Art Gallery and facilities currently offer guided visits and talks by appointment only. Proof of vaccination against COVID or a negative COVID test of 48 hours or less is required. Face coverings and social distancing are also required. The gallery offers live or recorded virtual tours of its exhibits. Please contact La Casita via email for more details.