Meet the Staff
Director - Mariana Ortega
Assistant Director - Jorge Mena
Jorge Mena was born in Jalisco, Mexico and immigrated to the United States when he was 8 years old. He has recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with an MA in Latin American and Latino Studies. His research focused on undocumented and queer youth activism and how the process of ‘coming out’ can lead to individual and collective identity formation. He has also been involved in the undocumented immigrant youth movement since the 2009 formation of the Immigrant Youth Justice League.
As Assistant Director of La Casa, Jorge Mena is dedicated to ensuring that students of color successfully enter, navigate, and graduate from UIUC. He has a personal commitment to engaging youth, parents, and the larger community so as to make college more accessible to first-generation, immigrant, and low-income families. Mena has advised Latinx youth organizations at both the high school and college level and will continue to serve and mentor students and alums.
Office Manager – Nadja Robot
Nadja has been at La Casa Cultural Latina since 2011. She is passionate about helping students find success at Illinois and making La Casa a welcoming environment. Nadja is the president of her labor union and an activist in the community. She lives in Urbana with her partner, cats, and chickens and is working on making her front yard into a community garden. If you ever need anything at La Casa come up and see her, she's in the office with the big window on the second floor.
Undocu/DACA Mentor - Deisy Diaz Gonzalez
My name is Deisy Diaz Gonzalez and I am a first-generation, graduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, with a focus in hydraulic design and water resources engineering. I was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and moved to Sterling, IL when I was four years old. I am currently the Graduate Liaison for I-CAUSE and a Undocu/DACA mentor at La Casa Cultural Latina. As an undocumented student, being involved with I-CAUSE gives me the opportunity to teach the University of Illinois community about issues concerning undocu/DACAmented students and expanding access to higher education for all, regardless of legal status.
Undocu/DACA Mentor - Nataly Esparza
Meet the Student Staff
Hello, my name is Andres Diaz. I was born and raised in Gage Park, the south side of Chicago. I am a Junior studying community Health with a concentration in Rehabilitation. My goal is to become a nurse, which gained my interest as it involves rigorous hands on training that leads to lifelong aid for people of all ages. On my free time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, playing soccer, drawing, and riding bikes. I am also a member of Omega Delta Phi Fraternity Inc. I look forward to assisting students navigate through their college journey as well as helping them feel at home.
Hola, me llamo Yarit Alcantara. I am a Junior majoring in Linguistics and minoring in Speech and Hearing Science. I aspire to become a bilingual speech pathologist. I was born in Mexico, but when I came to the United States I was raised in Burbank, IL. On campus I am a member of Alpha Psi Lambda, which is a Co-ed fraternity. I have been part of La Casa's student staff for three semesters. It is a place where I get support and advice from both the professional and student staff. La Casa is my home away from home.
Hello, my name is Carolina Valenzuela. I am from Aurora, Illinois. I am a junior majoring in Integrative Biology. My goal is to go to medical school and become an orthpedic surgeon. My interests include horse back riding, traveling, and baking.
Hello everyone! My name is Cristal Caballero, I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I’m currently a sophomore majoring in Political Science and Global Studies. I enjoy spending time with friends, going to social events on campus, listening to Bad Bunny and traveling. If you see me at La Casa, please feel free to stop and talk to me!
Hi everyone! My name is Brenda Anaya and I am a sophomore here at UIUC. I am studying business and I am also minoring in Spanish. I am currently an undeclared business student, but I am hoping to major in accountancy or finance. I was born and raised in the south side of Chicago in a town known as Little Village. I am the first person to attend college in my family. One of my main goals in the future is to be able to help the Latino community financially. I am passionate about doing service to help others and meet new people.
Apart from working at La Casa, I am also an ambassador for the Gies College of Business and I am in the Society of Women in Business organization. I started to be involved in La Casa when I attended the social justice events that it held. La Casa has helped me open my eyes and see the world in different perspectives. This is my first year working at La Casa and I am beyond excited to see what new ideas and experiences La Casa brings. I look forward to meeting everyone and welcoming you to your new home!
Ricky is a senior this year and his focus is Urban Studies. He likes all things outdoors- plants, bugs, and being in the sun. He looks forward to a great year of learning, applying to grad school, and taking care of himself.
My name is Lesley, I am a rising sophomore at UIUC. I am currently undeclared but plan to major in Social Work in order to pursue a family law career. I enjoy meeting new people, trying new things, giving back to my community as well as being around old friends and family. I am super excited to be a part of the La Casa staff, to help create a sanctuary and safe space for Latino students on campus.
Hello, hello! My name is Genesis Martinez and I am a first-generation Sophomore majoring in Marketing. I am a city girl, born and raised in Chicago, and a proud Venezolana. Some of my favorite hobbies are to read, shop, and spend time with my friends and family. This is my first year working at La Casa and I am very excited to help other students find their home away from home just like I did.