By Brian Abate

For The Diamondback

Students, advocates and local leaders gathered Saturday in Stamp Student Union for the first official Hispanic Heritage Conference in the region.

Prince George's County District 2 council member Deni Taveras hosted the event in partnership with the University of Maryland's behavioral and social sciences college, the sociology department and the university's Center for Global Migration Studies.

Taveras also established the county's Immigration Service and Language Access initiative, which ensures immigrants who are also locals do not face the threat of deportation or immigration court without legal aid.

"Many immigrants who have come to this country are refugees seeking family reunification, some are fleeing countries facing political and economic crisis, civil unrest, or the threat of violence," Taveras said. "The ISLA initiative will help protect their rights."

The daylong event was open to everyone, featuring a range of speakers including university professors, state politicians, doctors and journalists. Many of these presenters discussed local and broader issues for the Hispanic community.

Volunteers and advocates of all ages and youth group organizations attended the event to show their support for the Hispanic community, as well as county initiatives such as ISLA.

Senior English major Ruth Teferi said she was glad the issue is getting more attention and the ISLA initiative is spreading awareness.

Del. Carlo Sanchez (D-Prince George's) also spoke during the event, explaining how his Salvadoran heritage affected his childhood in the United States.

"Growing up, I didn't have a lot of people like me to look up to in politics," Sanchez said. "I'm always going to look different and have a different story. I've had to find the balance between being Salvadoran and American. My job is to make sure the next generation runs for office."

Some of the volunteers at the conference, such as 19-year-old West Hyattsville resident Sofia Ruiz, want to be a part of the next generation that Sanchez referenced during his speech.

"I work for the Latin American Youth Center," Ruiz said. "Being here is an honor because I see a lot of people here that look like me. It's a great opportunity to learn how Latinos are making a difference."

Other students said after attending the event this weekend, they would like to know more the issues facing the Hispanic community, as well as learn how they can help.

"Since I'm majoring in Spanish and I've traveled to Hispanic countries, I thought this would be a chance to volunteer and learn more," said Morgan Armentrout, a junior public policy and Spanish major.

In addition, Taveras also promoted more advocacy, saying residents and other community leaders can always learn and do more at the local level to overcome challenges facing Hispanic Americans.

"All Prince Georgians benefit when landlords, businesses, and the government treat all of our residents equally," Taveras said.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated this university's Center for Immigration Studies helped to host the event. The Center for Global Migration Studies helped to host the event. The story has been updated.