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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
<p>The former La Casita building</p>

The former La Casita building

If you passed the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures you would probably be under the impression that it's closed. Especially if you knew that its director, Leticia Martinez, recently resigned her position.

But though La Casita is sharing a building with the Institute of Black Culture, it's anything but closed for business.

A graduate student was appointed interim director of the institute, known as La Casita, to compensate for Martinez's absence.

Desiree Zerquera, who has been with the center in various capacities since 2003, assumed the job at the beginning of the semester.

She will serve as interim director until a permanent director is hired.

Zerquera declined to talk about her new position at the center.

In a letter received by the Dean of Students Office July 20, Martinez said she was leaving UF to move back to Texas to be closer to her family.

She said she had also accepted an offer to serve as director of multicultural affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington.

"La Casita has been a home away from home for not only students, but for me as well," Martinez wrote in the letter. "As I prepare to move, I know that I will always hold a special place in my heart and countless memories of my time here."

Martinez's last day was Aug. 10, the end of the summer C session.

"Unfortunately we won't know when we are able to hire someone else because Leticia left after the hiring freeze was in place," said Tamara Cohen, Dean of Student's Office director of multicultural and diversity affairs.

University administrators announced a hiring freeze during the summer but are stilling faculty for 15 high-priority positions.

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While students and staff said they are sad to see her go, they are optimistic about the future of the center.

"Everything is running smoothly," Cohen said. "We are renovating the center. It's getting new paint and new carpet. All the programs are still in place."

Martinez reinvented the center to create a "home away from home" atmosphere, where all students are welcome to come and learn about Hispanic culture.

"She did an amazing job," said Edgardo Hernandez, a senior who has worked at the center for four years. "She always kept the future in mind. She brought in good student leaders and hired a lot of freshmen to ensure the future of La Casita would be in tact."

The Hispanic-Latino population is the university's largest minority population. The center organizes events for students like Gatormania and the Hispanic Student Assembly, Hernandez said. The center also served as a meeting place for Asian American students in lieu of an non-existent Institute for Asian and Asian American Cultures.

Hernandez said Martinez prepared the student staff for a time when she might leave the center.

"She taught us really well how to keep the center going and what to look for when it comes time to search for a new director," he said. "And with help from the Dean of Students Office, our secretary and Desiree, I have all the faith in the world that we will keep the center running."

La Casita, located on West University Avenue, was founded in 1994 and was the first center of its kind in the southeast. The students are proud of how much it has grown over the past years under Martinez's direction and are ready for the challenges this next year, he said.

"We're really focused on keeping La Casita running," Hernandez said. "We don't look at it like we're missing a director. Everyone is pitching in and doing a great job."

The former La Casita building

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