Established in 1995, El Centro serves as a home away from home for Chicanx and Latinx students, providing professional development and emotional support. This year, student staff and new Interim Director Valeria Vasquez are working to move El Centro’s programming online. 

She worked as the College Programs Coordinator (CPC) at Merrill for five and a half years and is six weeks into her new position. As a former CPC, Vasquez brings an understanding of students and is looking forward to working with her student staff. 

“Being around so many Latinx and Chicanx folks is amazing and such a beautiful feeling. Just looking at the passion that the students and the staff bring has been amazing,” Vasquez said. “The other resource centers have given me a tremendous amount of support. So having the other directors and program coordinators has just really been nice.” 

UC Santa Cruz’s Chicanx and Latinx resource center, El Centro supports Chicanx and Latinx student organizations, professional opportunities, and ways to connect with students and faculty. 

El Centro’s events, like their annual Día De Los Muertos celebration, allow students to bond over their culture and, in doing so, reimagine the possibilities for Chicanx and Latinx students on campus. This fall quarter, El Centro has been in the process of transitioning to a remote platform, focusing more on their social media and virtual content.  

“I had to meet weekly with my team of interns to plan [events]. This gave me experience facilitating meetings, and working with different types of people,” said Student Program Coordinator (SPC) and fourth-year Carolina Vicente in an email. “I was often tapping into more leadership roles, and meeting with different people to plan events. Now there are fewer face-to-face and public speaking opportunities for students to tap into.” 

Vincente works alongside four other SPCs, including third-year Rosemary Estrada. This is Estrada’s first quarter working as an SPC.

“Honestly, this quarter has been pretty hectic,” Estrada said. “I’m trying to balance working two jobs and doing school. So, compared to last spring when everything went online, it’s been a little hard to adapt.”

A student worker connecting to fellow staff at El Centro on their computer.
Illustration by Joss Borys.

Still, Estrada said that working for El Centro has been an amazing experience for her, as both an SPC and as an intern. She believes working with them has been impactful in her personal and professional career at UCSC.

Interim Director Vasquez said the student staff’s hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. 

“I love their perspective, and their willingness to still do this job. It’s their commitment to their peers that is so beautiful to see,” Vasquez said. 

This commitment has aided El Centro in making its move online. Estrada said at El Centro, their student staff typically begin the work week with a group Zoom meeting to plan their assigned tasks. From there, the rest of the week consists of individual work on anything from virtual content to mentoring students. 

“The great part about El Centro now being remote is we get a chance of reaching more students, and we are much more accessible now,” Vicente said. “We also now have a chance to get creative with our content: for instance, starting a podcast, creating IGTVs, or even the possibility of starting an El Centro YouTube channel.”

Ultimately, Vicente believes El Centro is a safe place for Latinx and Chicanx students. 

El Centro has already held their first annual digital event,  La Bienvenida, on Oct. 17, providing new students with access to a diverse number of Chicanx/Latinx organizations and communities, on and off-campus. Interim Director Vasquez hopes to start a Zoom lounge or Discord chat where, at a distance, students can interact with each other.

“Creating opportunities for folks to connect and see each other is a big goal of mine,” said Vazquez. “Also, for students to feel comfortable in learning about themselves, identity development, and sense of belonging.” 

This quarter, El Centro is working with the downtown Santa Cruz’s Museum of Art and History to plan their Día de Los Muertos celebration, and are finalizing some additional programs around the election. They are also partnering with the Career Center on campus to support student careers. 

“El Centro has been one of the few places I’ve been able to call home in Santa Cruz,” said Estrada. “I’ve been able to create deep connections with others, as well as bring together communities for events that create special memories, as well as remind us of our different cultures.”