The History of Affinity Housing: La Casa
In this blog post, Maia Schwallie '25 details the history of La Casa, a forerunner to the Latinx Cultural Center. Maia works in Quaker & Special Collections as a Documenting Student Life Project student liaison.
Today, Haverford is home to a handful of affinity houses and residential communities. From PANA House to the Black Cultural Center to QHouse, identity-focused housing provides a sense of community and place for students all across Haverford’s campus. Many of these spaces, however, required immense student organizing and difficult interactions with the Haverford Administration before they could exist as they do today.
The Latinx Cultural Center (LCC), located in College Circle and home to student members of the Alliance of Latin American Students (ALAS), particularly, has a rich history that was nearly lost when their original affinity house, La Casa Hispánica, was poised to be sold by Haverford in 2020.
La Casa, an Old English style house on Railroad Ave, is perhaps most known to current Haverford students due to its role as an isolation space for students with Covid in Spring 2022. This house, however, was originally called Spanish House, and it was a space for Spanish-speaking students to live and to engage with Hispanic culture.
Spanish House opened in 1948. In its first year, twelve students called Spanish House home, and these students were responsible for running Spanish Club meetings inside the house, hosting dinners and dances, and generally working to share Spanish language and the culture of Spanish House with the rest of the Haverford student body.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Spanish House was advertised as a residential community for anyone interested in speaking and studying Spanish. Though native speakers and Latinx students frequently resided in Spanish House, the residential space was not necessarily an affinity house for Latinx students at its inception.
Spanish House was eventually renamed “La Casa,” and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, La Casa increasingly served as an affinity house for Latinx students rather than solely a hub of Spanish language learning. La Casa inhabitants continued to share their culture with Haverford students by hosting social and educational events inside the house. The educational component of the house was not lost however, as the Spanish Department used La Casa as a space to teach classes until 1999, when zoning laws barred the residential space from being used simultaneously as an educational site.
La Casa made many impactful contributions to the College, including creating the Spanish-language literary Magazine Crono Pio in 1975, and partially sponsoring activist Cesar Chavez to speak at Haverford in 1991. One of La Casa’s most successful social traditions was a semesterly party called La Fiesta that began in the late 1970s.
La Fiesta was an incredibly popular event that aimed to share Latin and Puerto Rican food, music, dance, and culture with the Haverford community. La Fiesta was jointly hosted by La Casa and Puerto Rican Students at Haverford (PRSH). The event was semi-formal and typically began with an invite-only dinner followed by a party that was open to the entire Haverford Community. Students continuously lauded La Fiesta as an important cultural event for the Haverford Community.
Despite La Casa’s long history as a rich social, cultural, and educational presence on campus, the Haverford Administration planned to sell La Casa in 2020. Though La Casa’s role as a Latinx cultural center had diminished in the late 2010s, students Victoria Merino and Joseph Spir-Rechani (both Class of 2020) planned to revive La Casa in Spring 2019. Both students had attended La Casa events frequently in their freshman year, and hoped to live in La Casa as seniors. However, when they tried to apply for housing in La Casa, they learned the administration planned to sell La Casa in the near future. The administration informed Merino and Spir-Rechani “that [ALAS] should dream big and draft plans for a new Latinx center on campus” (Bi-Co News, “ALAS Calls for Latinx Center,” February, 29, 2020).
Finding a new home for ALAS, however, required a lot more than “dreaming big”, as ALAS members embarked on a years-long battle with the administration to secure a residential space for the Latinx community at Haverford. In spring 2020, members of ALAS gave a speech to the student body at Plenary, in which they described how the administration had repeatedly ignored or dismissed their plans to use La Casa as a Latinx residential and cultural center.
The speakers explained,
“When we showed them our interest and intent in making La Casa a Latinx Center, they were silent.
When we created a formal petition to live at La Casa, they said it was going to be sold.
When we asked why it was being sold and why we weren’t told, they ignored us.
When we asked to meet with administration, they gave us only 30 minutes of their time.
When we told them La Casa was a historical and culturally relevant building, they said it wasn’t practical
When we asked for La Casa, they told us to ‘dream bigger’ and to have a 5–10 year plan for a Latinx Center.
When we asked if we could meet again, they said we would – and we never did” (The Clerk, “Spring 2020 ALAS Speech: A Call to Action,” February 16, 2020).
Despite the administration’s plans to sell La Casa and the challenging displacement these plans created, La Casa is still Haverford’s property, today. ALAS was not able to return to their original home (despite the property being fully functional for the entire time they were displaced), but members of ALAS can now reside in the LCC, thanks to the tireless efforts of ALAS members from 2019-2021. ALAS was also aided by the support of the Dean’s Office and the labor of the Haverford Facilities staff who helped prepare the LLC building for its opening in Fall 2021.
After countless rallies, speeches, open letters, and meetings with the administration, the LLC now serves as a hub for Latinx culture and a community for many students who call this affinity house home.
-- Maia Schwallie '25