Congreso de Latinos Unidos headquarters and Casita

Congreso de Latinos Unidos Casita. Image provided by City of Philadelphia Department of Records

216 W. Somerset Street

Housed in a former mattress factory, Congreso was founded in 1977 as a grassroots health services organization for the Puerto Rican community. Since then Congreso has evolved into a multi-service center addressing both the social and economic development of Philadelphia's diverse Latino community.

The house-like structure in Congreso's courtyard is an artistic interpretation of the Puerto Rican casita. Literally meaning "little house," a casita is a recreation of the simple rural homes of Puerto Rican countryside, placed in an urban setting. It evokes simpler times, independence, old values, family, and folk roots, music and traditions. The urban Puerto Rican casita is a communal gathering spot, and provides a means and space to retain rural Puerto Rican identity in the modern American city.

The Congreso casita is the result of a 2003 collaboration between Puerto Rican–born, Philadelphia-based artist Pepón Osorio and the local Latino community. Entitled I have a story to tell you, Osorio envisioned the Congreso casita as a "community photo album," constructed of 13 photographic panels depicting Philadelphia Latino life. He collected personal photographs from neighbors and Congreso clients, and enlarged and embedded the images inside the glass panels via a special screen-printing process. Through their collaborative selection of photographs, the local Latino community has defined their own image, and the casita reflects their realities and experience. Congreso's casita has many functions; it is simultaneously a symbol, a place of refuge, an intimate community gathering space and a playhouse for neighborhood children.

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