By Rosie Kean

Students called out words like “Brazil,” “soccer” and “Netflix” as people ran to join hands with someone who shared their love for that country or hobby.

One by one, the chain of people holding hands in the middle of the room grew.

The giant ice-breaker game demonstrated this year’s theme for Latinx Heritage Month—Unity: Communities Without Walls.

Various Latino organizations, such as PLUMAS, Latino fraternities and sororities and Latino dance groups kicked off Latinx Heritage Month on Thursday night in the Colony Ballroom of Stamp.

The night was filled with dancing, laughter and food as students of all backgrounds gathered to celebrate Latino culture.

Yvette Lerma Jones, MICA coordinator for Latin@ student involvement and advocacy, said making sure people feel included and welcomed is a priority for these cultural events.

“Part of the benefit of having cultural programming is the ability to affirm people’s experiences and their histories,” Jones said.

“This wasn’t just exclusive for Latinos,”  said senior community health major and LHM planning committee member Faline Rojas. “This was to share our culture, our community, and to make that stronger by involving everyone on campus.”

Senior information systems major Wayne Boo said the event was “a big eye-opener” for him.

“I’m Asian, so I’m more associated with other communities at UMD,” explained Boo. The event was a great way to learn more about and experience a different community on campus, he said.

Boo especially enjoyed the food, a variety of pupusas and salsa, and said he’s going to next week’s Latino-style dinner, another LHM event on Sept. 19.

In keeping with the theme of unity, there was no shortage of audience involvement in the event. The Maryland Latin Dance Club hosted a dance competition with four volunteer couples. The winners were then chosen based on the audience’s applause.

The UMD Argentine Tango Club gave the audience a dancing lesson. Participants laughed as they clumsily followed the steps of the more experienced dancers.

Attendees also played other games like charades and trivia, all of which related back to Latinx culture and heritage.

Latino organizations on campus gave presentations to spread the word about their groups.

Victor Gonzalez, a senior math major, said he didn’t know some of these groups existed, and the event was a good platform to inform students about all the Latinx groups on campus.

“When you’re a minority in this school, you feel kind of isolated at first when you don’t have other people you can relate to in terms of culture, so these are really good events to not feel isolated, to find people you can fit in [with],” Gonzalez said.

While the night was fun, Rojas said Latinx Heritage Month is also way to combat stereotypes and negative perceptions of Latinos.

“Given the election right now, all the rhetoric surrounding us as a community, we felt that it was really important to come together in order to show that we are a united front,” Rojas said. “There are no walls that are in the way of our progression.”

Featured Photo Credit: Rebecca Matthews, sophomore cell bio and genetics major, and Joshua Davis, sophomore business management major, dance the tango at the Latinx Heritage Month Opening in Stamp’s Colony Ballroom, on Thursday, September 15, 2016. (Emilie Fluette/Bloc Photographer)

Rosie Kean is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at vrosekean@gmail.com

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