Hispanic heritage

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COLUMBIA - With a variety of food spread out on a red and white-checkered picnic table, loud music, a little dancing and a lot of friendly conversation, local members of the Latino community celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. MU's Hispanic and Latin American Faculty and Staff Association (HLAFSA) kicked of their celebration at the annual Latino Family Picnic, Sunday.

The picnic, hosted at Hulen Lake Park, attracted dozens of Latin Americans of all ages. Picnic-goers enjoyed food and drinks, a variety of Latino music from DJ Pollo and played outside games. 

Judy Elliott, the picnic hostess, lives on Hulen Lake and has been hosting the yearly picnic for nearly 10 years. Elliott is a retired MU Spanish teacher and is actively involved in the Latino community. She travels to Mexico once a year and has been to a number of other Spanish speaking countries.

"It is important for them to know that we do love their culture and we want to learn about it." The event is a way for Columbia residents of all ethnicities to come together and share different cultures, Elliott said. 

The president of HLAFSA, Miguel Ayllon, came to the United States from Peru 13 years ago and has lived in Columbia for the past four years. Ayllon is also a study abroad advisor at Mizzou. 

According the U.S Census Bureau, the Latino population has been on the rise for the past 10 years. In 2000, there were 118,592 Latinos living in Missouri; by 2010, the Latino population had grown to 212,470. The Latino population grew by 79.16% from 2000 to 2010, in Missouri.

Allyon said he is very grateful to live in America, but one of the challenges many Latinos face when they first arrive in the U.S., is finding a friendly face. So events like this really help and bring the community together.  "It is an exciting time to be a Latino in America," he said.