Above: Members of the Hispanic Latino Board. Top (L-R): Jeronimo Ortega and Jerry Windhorn. Bottom (L-R) Juliana Rivera, Pamela Painter and Kayla Pina.

It’s always important to have a place where you can go and feel like you belong, where you can celebrate your culture and traditions and, by being together, you can share your heritage with the larger community. And that’s exactly what the College of Charleston’s Hispanic Latino Club (HLC) does.

Founded in 2010, the HLC’s mission is to unite “all of CofC’s students of Hispanic and Latino descent as well as other students together to embrace our nationality and learn more about our culture.” And with National Hispanic Heritage Month concluding just last week, the club’s key role in connecting students of Hispanic and Latino heritage is front and center.

“Through the Hispanic and Latino Club, I have found a family and support system,” shares HLC member Jeronimo Ortega, a senior majoring in psychology and women’s and gender studies. “I have enjoyed being a part of a community that is incredibly accepting and loving. HLC has shifted from being a place where I found guidance and support to being a place where I can now help other, younger members of our community who were in a similar place as me.”

Alumna Christina Arguello ’12 decided to create the club after her experience participating in the SPECTRA (Speedy Consolidation and Transition) program, which serves newly accepted students from underrepresented populations, left her feeling isolated.

“Once I got to the program, it was easy to see that I was in the minority within the minority,” says Arguello, noting that as she connected with other Hispanic and Latino students she found she wasn’t the only one who felt that way. “Over the two years after SPECTRA, I continued to meet other people of Hispanic descent. We discussed how there were groups, Greek life, clubs, etc. that revolved around all the other nationalities, except for Hispanics and Latinos.”

Inspired by her father, who created a group at his employer for Hispanic and Latino employees, Arguello decided to take action and launched the HLC with an initial membership of 15 students.

“He had helped found a group to support Hispanics and Latinos in his workplace,” recalls Arguello. “I identified the need to have a safe space away from home at CofC, where Hispanic and Latino students could celebrate their cultures and have their own family.”

And that’s what Arguello wanted to do by creating the Hispanic Latino Club – offer students for years to come a space where they could find a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

“I hoped that after I left the College that the club would continue and thrive and that Hispanics and Latinos accepted to the College could come and feel accepted and know that their opinions mattered and were relevant,” she says.

Today, the HLC is made up of more than 100 members providing a home for students to come together, celebrate their Hispanic/Latinx cultures and educate other students about their cultures.

Genny Lopez, a senior majoring in biology, says the club has allowed her to find a community of students where she can celebrate her heritage and traditions.

“I am surrounded by people who have similar cultures, which has helped me stay connected to my roots,” says Lopez. “HLC has opened a new chapter in my life that I am grateful for being a part of and look forward to continuing to be a part of after I graduate.”

Any and all students are welcome to join the club and learn about Hispanic/Latinx cultures through activities like salsa dancing and Día De Los Muertos celebrations. HLC also organizes volunteer activities in collaboration with CofC’s Office of Multicultural Student Programs and Services, the Black Student Union and the Asian Student Association.

And current HLC President Pamela Painter, a senior majoring in biology, plans to keep that momentum going by growing the club’s outreach in the community.

“I really want to see it expand in the volunteer aspect,” says Painter, who has been involved with the club since her freshman year at the College. “I’m working on starting a volunteer program with local public schools.”

Painter, with the help of Arian Bonetto Fernandez, CofC’s Hispanic recruitment coordinator, aims to identify and connect with area high schools where HLC members can mentor and tutor Hispanic and Latino students.

“We’ve been in that position as first-generation students and it can be really hard to get started when you don’t have anyone to help you,” says Painter of preparing for and pursuing a college degree. “I feel like we can could be that bridge for these students between high school and college.”

Indeed, the HLC continues to thrive as a hub to welcome and embrace Hispanic and Latino students at the College of Charleston.

Katherine Jordan is a junior at the College of Charleston, double-majoring in English and music.