More than 80 people jammed into the Cape Florida Ballroom at the Student Union Wednesday to celebrate the kick off of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Students, faculty and staff from around the UCF campus joined organizers to celebrate being Hispanic or Latino. Latin Rhythms, a UCF club, performed a dance for the crowd before keynote speaker Maria Cristina Santana, the director of Women’s and Gender Studies, shared some of her experiences growing up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then the mainland.

Santana made references to drinking café con leche as a child, dodging chancletas (Spanish for house slippers) when she misbehaved and her mother launched them at her, and raising her teenage daughters and pug with her Latino culture. She encouraged the crowd, which included engineering professors and housekeeping staff, to embrace their heritage and be true to it.

Hispanic Heritage Month was established in 1988 to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Hispanics. The month runs Sept. 15- Oct. 15 because many Latin American countries celebrate their independence days during this 30-day period.

Cyndia Muniz, assistant director of Multicultural Academic & Support Services encouraged attendees to enjoy the month-long celebration. Various groups including the Latin American Student Association (LASA), the Multicultural Student Center and others have organized many events.

“We’re excited to be sharing our culture,” said Catherine Fuentes Garcia, a member of the sorority Sigma Lambda Gamma. The sorority teamed up with LASA and Lambda Theta Phi to put on Salsa Under the Stars Thursday at 7 p.m. For a few hours, students can stop by the lawn area in front of the CFE Arena to watch Latin dance demonstrations and then take free Merengue dance classes. “We’re so excited. I hope everyone comes out and enjoys our music, dancing and food. We’ll have plenty of good food.”

A variety of events are planned throughout campus. All events are free and open to the public.

Among some of the special activities:

  • 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 23, Empanada Block Party at the Student Union, room 221
  • 6-9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2, a Pachanga party at the Student Union, room 221
  • 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 6, comedian and Puerto Rico native Elizardo Castro at the Student Union, Pegasus Ballroom.
  • 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16, Closing ceremony to include live musical presentation, food and much more.