Meet the Staff

Photograph of a group of happy young people posing in a pumpkin patch. Some are holding pumpkins.

Meet the Staff


Director - Mariana Ortega

My name is Mariana Ortega, and I am thrilled to be the new La Casa Director. I was born in Chiquimula, Guatemala and raised in Boaco, Nicaragua until the age of four. The majority of my life I grew up in the Miami, Florida area where my immediate family resides. Most recently, I worked at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, NM where I had the opportunity to revamp an Orientation program from the ground up at a Hispanic Serving Institution, while working closely with our Spanish speaking families. I earned my Bachelor's in Organizational Communications and my Master's in College Student Personnel Administration from the University of West Florida. I am a proud founding member of Alpha Chi Omega. In my free time I like to run, hang out with friends, explore new coffee shops, go shopping and spend time with my dog Harley. What I look forward to the most in my new role is being an advocate for students, serving the students on campus, and continuing to build onto the rich history La Casa is known for. 


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

Hello! My name is Nataly Esparza. I'm currently a transfer student. I received my Associates in Political Science. I'm a Pre-Law first generation student majoring in Political Science with a minor in Spanish in hopes of attending Law School. I'm a James Scholar and currently the Assistant to the Director of Governmental Affairs of the Illinois Student Government. I'm also an associate of the Public Relations Committee of Peer & Career and a DACA mentor at La Casa Cultural Latina. I am a member of I-CAUSE because it allows me to form part of an organzation that cares for the unrepresendted members of our community. I-CAUSE is a safe space. The members of I-CAUSE aim to provide the undocumented and DACAmented students with resources and opportunities to succeed and I love being able to make a difference in the lives of others through it.



Meet the Student Staff


Andres Diaz

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.




Yarit Alcantara

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.





Carolina Valenzuela


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. 




Cristal Caballero

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! 





Juan-Carlos Bautista

Saludos, my name is Juan-Carlos Bautista, and this is my second year working at La Casa. I am currently a senior studying Political Science and History. I really enjoy American and Latin American history. Streamwood is where I call home. It's right next to Elgin and Schaumburg. Hopefully that helps. On campus I am a member of Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and I hold an executive board position on the United Greek Council. This semester I would really like to get involved on a presidential campaign. In my spare time I enjoy photography, traveling, and useless facts. Every semester I look forward to the Paleta Social because it is a time to meet new people on campus and see those who you haven't seen all summer. If you ever see me around don't be afraid to say hola!





Brenda Anaya

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! 



Selena Salgado-Espino

My name Selena Salgado-Espino, I am from Chicago, Illinois. I am studying Human Development and Family Studies while taking pre-med courses. I'm a foodie and love to spend time with family and friends. If you have questions please feel free to ask!






Jeffrey Guaman

My name is Jeffrey Guaman, a proud Ecuadorian from Chicago! I'm a Junior majoring in Statistics, along with trying to pursue a degree in Mathematics Teaching. Aside from working at La Casa, I'm also a student supervisor for Dining Services. In my free time, I play volleyball and badminton with my friends. Some of the clubs I'm a part of are MEChA, LSA, and I-Cause.





Ricky Zapata

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. 






Ricardo Lopez

Hello! I'm Ricardo Lopez, I'm from St. Louis but Texas originally before that. I love to cook, dance and learn about food and beverages. I also take any opportunity to travel and am an adept wanderer. I study food Science and Hospitality. 






Lesley Lopez

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.




Mariah Maldonado

Hola, my name is Mariah and I am from Chicago. I am a sophomore and my major is Social Work with a minor in Latina/o Studies. I love to dance, listen to music, watch movies, laugh, and being with my favorite people. In the future I hope to make change, travel around the world and go on countless adventures. 






Diana Roman

Hi! I'm Diana Roman, raised in Chicago Ridge, IL but with a strong tie to El Salto, Jalisco. I'm a first-generation college student majoring in Economics. As a sophomore I'm deciding between a minor in Spanish or Latina/Latino Studies. In my free time I enjoy watching movies, reading, hanging out with friends and family, and going to the gym. I also volunteer at the Refugee Center serving the Latinx community of Champaign and am the recruiter for I-CAUSE, an RSO that advocates for undocumented and DACAmented individuals here on campus. I'm looking forward to providing the same support to my peers and empowering Latinx students like myself through La Casa. 




Genesis Martinez


 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.