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'We come in all shapes, sizes and skin tones': Community comes together to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month at Forest Lake Fiesta

Latino Community Development hosted a "fiesta" to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month. Community members gathered at Forest Lake Elementary to celebrate.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Today is the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, and the Forest Lake Elementary community is celebrating here in Columbia. The school is working with Latino Community Development to host a celebration.

“I come from Puerto Rico, and I feel very proud,” Keila Reyes says. “I think just showing everyone, ‘Hey, we are proud where we come from,’ you know what I mean? We have a lot to offer. So I think that's why it's so important. And also we have some awesome food, awesome music, art, everything. So I think it's also good for the community to know more about that. So we need more of these activities so people here can know more about us.”

It’s why Tanya Rodriguez-Hodges is hosting the event to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month.

“It's a time for us to really focus in, hyper-focus in on the importance that we bring to our community and how valuable our Latino and Afro-Latino community is to South Carolina,” she says.

Rodriguez-Hodges is the executive director of Latino Community Development, a group that serves the community with a focus on affordable housing, language services and food insecurity.

“The Latino community is so diverse here in the Midlands. We come in all shapes, sizes and skin tones,” Rodriguez-Hodges explains.

At Forest Lake Elementary, Principal Benjamin Jackson says the Hispanic population is growing.

“So it's very important that we do this to celebrate our students, but also to embrace and engage all of our students in this cultural experience,” Jackson shares. “The event itself, man, this is an amazing day. It's an amazing thing that we're doing for our students, our community. Having our community in our doors and our students, man, it’s amazing!”

With face painting, balloon animals, dancing and Latin music, students like Elizabeth Ninanzuro-Thorton and Emilia Gonzalez tell me events that help represent other cultures are important.

“Because we get to learn more about their heritage,” Ninanzuro-Thorton says.

It’s also an opportunity to connect the community with different resources, from Richland County Sheriff’s Department to Able South Carolina.

“We want entire communities to know about us, right?” Able SC Public Health Director Mandy Halloran shares about why she has a table set up. “We want folks to know that Able exists, that we're available to people with disabilities in every community, because of course, disability intersects with all communities.”

Watching those communities interact while learning from each other is what Rodriquez-Hodes says she likes to see.

“At the end of the day, we're all immigrants in one shape or size,” Rodriguez-Hodges smiles. “And we all come together in this multi-cultural pot, if you will, and we make one heck of a delicious soup.”

Hispanic Heritage Month starts today and goes through Oct.15.

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