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More than 100 years ago now, Spanish appeared in Elon University's academic catalogue as a foreign language option, alongside older-standing options such as German and Latin. Several levels of the language were offered, but they were all taught by a man the catalogue called "Mr. Rivera." At the time, in 1920, Victor Manuel Rivera was a student at Elon. Hailing from Ponce, Puerto Rico, Rivera was one of a long legacy of foreign exchange students to walk Elon's campus as a part of the school's missionary work.

According to the 1923 edition of Phi Psi Cli, Elon's yearbook, Rivera participated in a host of clubs and activities, including the Ministerial Association, Student Volunteer Club, and College Band. A passage about Rivera in the yearbook described him as having "a bright and happy smile, an alert mind, a definite goal, and a determination to reach that goal," and said that the senior class of 1923 "would have been indeed incomplete" without their Spanish professor.

Rivera taught Spanish as one of his many campus jobs to offset expenses during his time at Elon, according to a 1921 edition of the Maroon and Gold, what was then Elon's student newspaper.

Over Elon's history, a heavy concentration of foreign exchange students have come from Spanish-speaking countries. Between 1905 and 1974, when rosters were listed in the Academic Catalogue, 73% of foreign exchange students were from Spanish-speaking countries, with the heaviest concentration from Cuba in the first half of the century.

In recent years, Elon's Hispanic and Latinx community has continued to grow. Director of El Centro Sylvia Munoz said she appreciates the diversity within this community on campus.

"Even though we come from different backgrounds, and we come from different places in the world, or here in the states, we have had different ways that we have been raised," Munoz said, "I think that that sense of community and that pride of being Latino or Latina or Latinx, it's still there."

Muñoz added that although she appreciates celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month on campus, she wishes the Hispanic and Latinx community was acknowledged more often.

"I think it's important for the community to acknowledge that we're part of the community, that we should not be celebrated one month a year," Muñoz said. "The richness of the community [Hispanic and Latinx students] bring and the diversity they bring should be celebrated, and should be learned and should be appreciated and should be included the whole year."

Along with Elon's Hispanic and Latinx community, Alamance County's Hispanic population is growing. Between the 2010 and 2020 census, there was a 48.5% change in the percentage of people who identified as Hispanic, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Family Support Specialist at Burlington's Centro La Comunidad Lucy Rubiano said In the 10 years since she moved to North Carolina from Massachusetts, the Hispanic and Latinx communities have grown and she has seen more and more families come through.

Centro La Comunidad– part of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh– is what Rubiano calls a "referral agency," in which herself and her new Family Support Worker Jonathan Moralez help local families apply for funding or see other specialized agencies. 

Moralez recently joined Rubiano at Centro, and said he wanted to give back to the organization that helped his own family years ago.

"They helped my mom through a lot of stuff, and I want to do the same for the community for any other families that need help," Moralez said.

The future for Alamance County's Hispanic and Latinx families is also important to Rubiano, who said she wants to see children forging new legacies in the area.

"I don't like to hear that every Latinx person who just graduates is a success story," Rubiano said. "It's not supposed to be a success, it's supposed to be a common issue that you graduate from college, that you go to post-secondary schools."

Rubiano added that growth in Alamance County's Hispanic and Latinx community isn't slowing down any time soon, and she hopes to see unity across the board as these demographic dynamics continue to change.

"We are here to stay, and we are here to grow," Rubiano said. "So we need to face that as a reality and do the best that we could as community members to improve the quality of life of our community."