Courtesy of Eileen Galvez

La Casa Cultural hosted its inaugural Bienvenida last Friday, the only Camp Yale event conducted entirely in Spanish.

Over 50 people attended the pilot event, which took place during lunchtime at St. Thomas More Chapel and was open to students and anyone they wished to invite, said La Casa director Eileen Galvez. At the orientation, attendees had lunch and heard from a panel of students, including Oscar Lopez ’20, Jorge Anaya ’19, Ivetty Estepan ’18 and Andrea Aspajo ’20, who discussed Latinx identity at Yale and the transition into college.

“We will most definitely continue this next year and make it a Yale tradition!” Galvez wrote in an email to the News. “We now have a base to work off of and look forward to improving and to continue to think of various ways to be inclusive of our students’ Spanish speaking loved ones.”

Galvez said she had the idea for the event after attending a conference in November where she heard from Stephanie Cuevas, a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University researching the experiences of Latinx parents and families of undocumented college students. In her research, Cueva found that many Latinx students often feel isolated when transitioning into college because many of their family members are ultimately excluded from the process, Galvez said.

La Casa leadership scheduled the event for move-in day to reach as many families as possible, given that many would likely not return to Yale until their children’s graduation. Attendees enjoyed a meal of Puerto Rican pernil, or a slow-roasted marinated pork dish, as well as chicken, rice and maduros — fried sweet plantains, which Galvez said is a common meal served at La Casa.

“While seemingly a simple choice, many of our families outside of the region are unfamiliar with local cuisine,” Galvez said. “This gives them a sense that their student will learn about various cultures in and outside of the classroom.”

Anaya, a current Woodbridge Fellow at the Yale College Dean’s Office and the Center for Teaching and Learning and a panelist at Friday’s event, said that such an orientation would have been very helpful to his parents — who were born and raised in Mexico — had it existed when he was a first year at Yale.

Anaya added that he believes this event and others like it are “very important to show that the demographics of Yale are changing,” and signals that Yale is moving toward a “more progressive and inclusive environment.” Still, Anaya noted that it would be good for administrators to take more steps toward inclusivity, such as making University communications with families available in languages other than English.

Aspajo, another panelist, underscored the importance of such an orientation, especially for first-generation and low-income Latinx families who are not part of networks of people who know a lot about institutions like Yale.

“Just because this [college transition] process as a whole is so narrow — so new to a family from that background — it really is like going in blind,” Aspajo said. “It really makes a student take it all on themselves. They have to take full responsibility because no one else in their family has really been exposed to this information in a way they can understand.”

Aspajo added that it was also important that the event gave families a chance to connect with one another and get a sense of the community, given the detachment many immigrant families feel from their children who are attending prestigious institutions.

Beyond the in-person orientation, which La Casa plans to host again next year, leaders are also looking into developing online orientation materials for Spanish-speaking families, Galvez said.

La Casa Cultural opened at its current location on Crown Street in 1977.

Asha Prihar |

Asha Prihar served as managing editor of the News during the 2019-20 academic year. Before that, she covered community service, Yale's professional schools and undergraduate student life as a staff reporter. She is a senior in Silliman College studying political science.