Elon students, faculty and staff kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month Tuesday evening, filling Alumni Gym with the sights and sounds of Latin American culture.

Hispanic Heritage Month is officially observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, beginning on the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico and Chile also celebrate their independence on Sept. 16 and Sept.18, respectively. 

The kickoff was organized by El Centro, Elon’s Spanish language center, to advocate and celebrate Elon’s Latinx community while increasing visibility within the greater student body. 

“The heritage months are great opportunities to focus on identities,” said Sylvia Muñoz, director of El Centro. “We need to celebrate that heritage all year round, but today is a great opportunity to start raising that awareness.”

For El Centro student leader Ana Eguiguren, the purpose of the kickoff was twofold.  

While she hoped the greater Elon community could learn more about Hispanic culture, she also wanted Latinx students, especially freshmen, to feel a sense of belonging on Elon’s campus. Eguiguren, a senior from Quito, Ecuador, said the El Centro community was a major reason she chose Elon. 

“It's a statement that we are here, and we are proud of you,” Eguiguren said. “I’m seen here, I’m valued and I have something to do here.”

And even though the coronavirus pandemic put limitations on social gatherings, Muñoz and El Centro’s student leaders worked hard to create a month of safe activities students could participate in. 

“We still need to celebrate,” Muñoz said. “For those that hold minoritized identities, I think for them and the community, it would be a disservice to not share this.”

The kickoff began outside on Young Commons, where Mill Point Catering served fresh pupusas, tacos, grilled corn and other traditional Hispanic food. 

Moving inside the gym, attendees were greeted by Latin music and a display of Central and South American flags. Attendees were encouraged to social distance but still share in their appreciation of Hispanic heritage and culture. 

Junior Bella Martínez began with a spoken word piece in which she recounted her journey to embrace her Latinx identity. She painted a sober picture of the discrimination faced by many Latinx Americans but encouraged the audience to be steadfast in themselves. 

“Yes, I am Latinx, but nothing,” Martínez said during her performance. “I define my identity; my identity does not define me. My identity will not define me. So please don’t try to correct me.” 

The program also featured four traditional dance performances by a local Columbian dance group called Wepa. The group gave a lively performance in traditional Columbian dance outfits and face masks. 

The kickoff closed with a game of Kahoot testing the audience on their knowledge of Latin American geography and culture. As the crowd dispersed, students were quick to voice their gratitude for El Centro and their Hispanic Heritage Month programs. 

“It’s amazing to have these events,” said senior Gaby Jimenez. “It feels like family, and I feel represented on campus.”

Senior Jubitza Figueroa agreed.

“It makes us miss home a little less,” Figureroa said.