About 250 University of Maryland community members attended a cookout at McKeldin Mall Friday to celebrate the first day of Latinx Heritage Month.

The event’s attendees enjoyed games, music and tacos catered by Cocineros, a Latin American restaurant in Hyattsville.

The Coalition of Latinx Student Organizations and this university’s Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy office planned Friday’s cookout. The event has been an annual tradition at this university for more than a decade, according to Alex Mullen, the coordinator for Latinx student involvement at MICA.

“[This cookout is] important so that the Latinx community on campus knows that there are people here, there’s a community here,” senior information science major and CLSO president Cesar Romero-Gonzalez said.

This year’s theme, “Creciendo Con Amor” – “Growing with Love” in Spanish – highlights the growth and love of the Latinx community on campus.

“The idea for the theme was really having something that represented the growth and advancement of the community through advocacy and activism,” Mullen said.

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According to the University System of Maryland Institutional Research Information System, 6.7 percent of this university’s 2012 student population was Hispanic, which is the only way the system categorizes Latinx students in its data sources. The population grew to 9 percent in 2022.

Being part of less than 10 percent of the student population still feels overbearing, senior information science major Jonathan Ricci, a Guatemalan student, said.

“The biggest thing that comes out is imposter syndrome,” Ricci, the president of La Unidad Latina Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity Inc., said. “[We feel] like we have these big shoes to fill.”

Ricci, a first-generation college student, said his parents could not even fathom the idea of college.

“It’s also nice to know that I’m being able to fulfill the dream that my grandma always wanted to do as a nine-year-old little girl dropping out of elementary school to go work on a farm in Guatemala,” Ricci said.

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“Creciendo Con Amor” also represents the importance of loving and embracing your culture.

Mullen said he loves how the Latinx community broadly encompasses different aspects of culture, from music and dance to sharing food with family.

Senior chemistry major Carolina Portilho echoed Mullen’s sentiments and said she loves how Latinx culture can bring a sense of community through big gatherings of enjoying food.

For Romero-Gonzalez, that love of family and food was shown through visiting his grandparents house whenever someone was fighting through a hardship.

“My grandparents, they always had food for anybody who came, whether that be family, friends, strangers,” he said. “It’s just that thing where you put others before yourself because you know that person needs help.”

This university will continue to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month until Oct. 15 with events such as Latin dance classes, dialogue meetings and paint nights.

“This is a predominately white institution and for students of color, it can be really hard to build community here,” Mullen said “I think Latinx Heritage Month is just one way for students to really build not just community, but also power.”