According to Emily Saldana Angeles, president of the Latin American Student Organization, the organization was founded “to promote educational and cultural exchange in all matters related to Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Boasting nearly 100 members from across UNC Charlotte’s campus, the organization, better known as LASO, hosts a variety of events, from meetings to informative lectures and panels, all aimed at achieving its mission “to enhance the social, cultural and academic background of Latin American students and people while at UNC Charlotte.”
During COVID restrictions, LASO officers worked diligently to provide members with virtual community events. While student turnout for these events was lower than usual, Saldana Angeles believes the events strengthened their community.
“During the pandemic a lot of students were going through a rough time, whether with school, work, life, the election,” she said. “One way we tried to help was to create a safe space where we spoke about how everything going on made us feel, and it was meetings like this where the sense of community got stronger.”
She uses herself as an example. “I transferred from a community college when the pandemic happened. If it hadn’t been for how active LASO was, I wouldn’t have met the people that I now know or be president of this organization. I found a community that was willing to listen to me and to provide me with resources. If LASO was able to impact me so much in a pandemic, I can’t imagine the impact that it has had with other students.”
This year, that continued level of community was evident at the Latinx Heritage Month Celebration hosted by LASO on Sept.15 in collaboration with the Hispanic College Awareness Program (HCAP).
In the spirit of LASO’s founding principles, Saldana Angeles clarifies that at their collaborative Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff “we celebrated not just one country, but 21 countries in total.”
“The Latinx Heritage Month Celebration allowed us to provide a social meeting that included groups of students from different countries...where members were able to learn about the different Latin American countries that are celebrated this month,” she said.
The learning was relaxed and easy. After a brief history of Hispanic Heritage Month, which began on Sept. 15 in recognition of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua Independence Days, students shared a potluck dinner with dishes from a variety of countries, while exchanging stories, comparing cultures and playing trivia.
Under Saldana Angeles and other officers’ leadership, LASO hopes to continue collaborating with Latinx-focused student organizations throughout the year so their members can learn about the opportunities and resources available around campus.
In accordance with COVID guidelines, LASO plans to resume fundraising. In the past, they sold churros, flan and fruta picada. These fundraisers serve as a form of outreach. “All of these yummy desserts represent our culture,” Saldana Angeles explained, “and we love sharing this with our members and the rest of the students at UNC Charlotte.”
While LASO certainly focuses on Latin American students, membership and events are open to all Niners.
“UNC Charlotte is a big school, and it can be very easy to feel like an extra dot,” she said. “Being a part of a [student organization], whether this one or any other UNC Charlotte offers, is a great way to be involved and see what resources are out there.”
Thank you to everyone at the Latin American Student Organization for their cooperation. Special thanks to Emily Saldana Angeles for her time, dedication and contributions. Quotes have been edited for length and clarity. Photos courtesy of the Latin American Student Organization.
For more information about LASO, HCAP and other student organizations, visit Niner Engage’s searchable list of organizations.