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UCLA hosts Latinx Welcome event to cultivate inclusivity on campus

Pictured is a welcome sign at UCLA’s Latinx Welcome event, which was held in Wilson Plaza on Monday. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)

By Katherine Smith

Oct. 15, 2023 9:34 p.m.

The UCLA Latinx Welcome was held Oct. 9 to foster a welcoming environment for Latino students and families.

The annual event was hosted from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Wilson Plaza, which was filled with crowds dancing to up-tempo music and decorated with flags from Latin American countries. Attendees lined up for free food from Pinches Tacos, merchandise from clubs and organizations, and informational flyers about campus resources.

Elizabeth Gonzalez, UCLA’s inaugural Hispanic-Serving Institution director, said the event was hosted to welcome new Latino students to UCLA by letting them know they are valued.

“Our community needs spaces where they’re explicitly welcomed and celebrated,” she said. “It’s a great way to build community and feed our spirit as we move forward in this year together.”

Marialexia Zaragoza, a member of the UCLA Latinx Welcome Planning Committee, said the event’s theme of “Creciendo Nuestro Futuro” – or “Building Our Future” – sought to recognize the Latino community as the fastest-growing population in the United States. At UCLA, the percentage of Hispanic students has risen from 15% to 21% of the student body from 2010 to 2023.

Zaragoza added that the committee partnered with other organizations on campus, such as the Academic Advancement Program and the Community Programs Office, for the event. She said she believes UCLA will become an HSI – an institution where Hispanic students make up 25% of the college or university’s full-time student body – an institution where colleges or universities have 25% of their full-time student body made up of Hispanic students – as well as seeing Chancellor Gene Block attend the event affirms the university’s mission to support Latinx students.

“I’m really excited to see the No. 1 public institution in the nation become an HSI,” she said. “It’s another indicator of how much is needed, how fast the population is growing and how much people just started paying attention to the needs of this population.”

Bryan Chun, a second-year mechanical engineering student, said he loved the event because the music and food reminded him of his local supermarket. Chun, whose parents are from Guatemala, added that it was hard to find people at UCLA with similar backgrounds when he first arrived at the university.

“Having events like these let me know that they’re (Latino students are) out there, and they’re always willing to accept people,” he said. “It just really reinforces that UCLA is made up of a whole variety of students from across the world.”

He added that he was proud to attend the event and to attend UCLA.

For some first-year students, the welcome event was an opportunity to find other Latino students. Isabella Motes, a first-year psychology student, said she came to the event to network with fellow Latinx students, adding that she appreciated how the event provided information about clubs, organizations and resources.

“They’re super important just to let everyone know, especially in the Latinx community, that there’s someone there for them no matter what,” she said. “Having that comfort of knowing there’s someone there for you is very important, especially if you’re a first-year.”

Gladys Salazar, a first-year psychobiology student, said she felt good energy from the event, adding that the event allowed her to explore new clubs and opportunities across campus.

Upperclassmen students were also present at the event. Maria Rodriguez, a fourth-year classical civilization and political science student, said coming from a first-generation low-income household, she was thankful to find a home on campus through her Latina sorority, which she was tabling for at the event.

“It’s nice to see people who look like you and identify with you – people who can share your culture through songs, phrases or daily life,” she said.

Rodriguez said coming to a historically white institution like UCLA can feel lonely for students from racial minorities, so having events like the welcome is important. She added that the event also allowed Latino students to see their community represented in higher education spaces, which has not been typical.

“This is my first time being here (at the Latinx Welcome), and I feel very happy,” she said. “Representation comes in different forms, but it’s nice to see us all come together as one.”

Gonzalez added that the Latinx Welcome is the result of years of hard work on the road to becoming an HSI. She added that becoming an HSI will support the UCLA community as a whole.

Events like the welcome ultimately help to recognize and highlight the diversity at UCLA, Chun said.

“UCLA is made up of a whole variety of students from across the world,” he said. “Everyone has their own background and culture. It’s really important to embrace it and know that it’s welcome here.”

Contributing reports by Dylan Winward.

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Katherine Smith
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