FORT SMITH -- The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month events are full of dancing, food and opportunities for the community to learn about a culture that may be different from their own.
Events started with a kickoff at the main branch of the Fort Smith Public Library.
Monica Cortez, an employee services specialist for the college and an organizer for the events, said nearly 100 students and community members attended to listen to a children's story time, do a craft and enter a raffle for free books.
"We were amazed at the community's response. We had no idea we were going to have so many people attend," Cortez said.
The second event, Cafecito y Pan Dulce -- or Coffee, Culture and Conversation -- took place Thursday by the fireplace in the student union. Attendees could try Mexican sweet bread and coffee-infused horchata, a beverage usually made of soaked grains, nuts or seeds with water and infused with spices.
Cristina Castorena, chairwoman of Hispanic Heritage Month, said the point of the event is to expose people to a different culture in an open forum.
"It's important that the students who identify as Hispanic or identify with Latin culture feel included and celebrated, and at UAFS, that's the honest truth," Castorena said. "And beyond celebrating our students and employees, Hispanic Heritage Month is also about exposing people who don't identify as Hispanic to our culture and welcoming them into conversations."
Upcoming events include Sí Se Puede or Yes We Can at UAFS, a bilingual recruiting event and student resource fair at the Campus Center Reynolds Room from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29.
The event is meant for Hispanic high school students to come learn more about UAFS, with Spanish- and English-speaking volunteers able to provide information, Castorena said.
"I think we have to be aware that not everyone knows how to access education and that language barriers can be one of those reasons," Castorena said. "So doing purposeful events like this allows us to grasp why we're not getting ahold of certain types of group settings. This allows us to open the door to UAFS, because maybe some of them haven't visited UAFS and this is going to be their first time."
"We held one in April, so this is going to be the second, and we hope to do it every semester," Cortez said. "We have taken on the big responsibility of translating all of the documents that the different offices have sent our way. For example, financial aid, the academic success center, the writing center. So we want to make sure that we have translated documents to give out to parents or prospective students because we know that is something needed in our community, especially here in Fort Smith with our big Hispanic population. We want to be that bridge for all those parents and students that are looking for resources in Spanish."
The final events are the annual Salsa at the UAFS Bell Tower from 6:30-9 p.m. Oct. 6, and an open student forum titled "Breaking Generational Stereotypes: Learning More About the Hispanic Student Perspective" from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Windgate Theater.
Beyond the active events, the UAFS campus will celebrate Hispanic heritage visually with flags lining the Smith Pendergraft Campus Center and displays in the Boreham Library. The university will also highlight Hispanic students, faculty, staff and alumni on its social media pages through day-in-the-life takeovers throughout the month.
Castorena said UAFS has held Hispanic Heritage Month events for several years, but it recently moved from the Student Activities Office to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office to organize it and other affinity months.