UT dining halls explore Mexican culture through food

Mikaela Cannizzo

More than 1,000 students explored Mexican culture through authentic meals, traditional games and a mariachi band Thursday night in both the J2 and Kinsolving dining halls.

The Division of Housing and Food Service hosted the Mexican American Cultural Dinner, which commemorated the annual celebration of Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16.

Claudia Ashlock, associate director of residential dining, said the event gives a diverse student body the chance to enhance their understanding of Mexican heritage.

“We have students who have never been exposed to certain foods,” Ashlock said. “We really strive to give them a dining experience, but an educational experience too.”

The management staff wanted to serve the best food to represent the culture, researching cookbooks and talking to staff members with Mexican backgrounds in order to figure out what to serve, according to Ashlock. The menu featured modern takes on classic meals such as chicken mole and gorditas with Valentina, a famous Mexican hot sauce.

While these meals may be commonplace for some students, others are still adapting to the Mexican-influenced food in Texas, Ashlock said.

A Frida Kahlo themed photo booth attracted many students, who stopped by to take pictures. Other students ate dinner while a mariachi band played instruments and sang.

Public relations junior Ashanty De Luna helped organize the event as a member of the DHFS marketing team. The event planners integrated cultural games and activities into the dinner to expand students’ perspectives, according to De Luna.

“I think it’s important for everyone to know about every type of culture,” De Luna said. “It’s important to not only learn in class, but outside of class as well.”

Through a spinning wheel activity, students tested their knowledge on a variety of topics ranging from famous Mexican-Americans to native music. Correct answers to multiple-choice questions resulted in winning a t-shirt designed by the marketing team.

Loteria, a Mexican game resembling American bingo, brought students together to compete for a piñata.

Biology freshman Marissa Chavez said she grew up playing loteria and eating Mexican food. She said she wants others to embrace the culture and see what Mexico has to offer.

“Everyone’s so different, especially in the United States, and if we all embrace each other’s cultures, we’ll become stronger,” Chavez said.

More cultural dinners are scheduled throughout the year, according to Ashlock. Eastern European cuisine and culture will be featured at a dinner in October. A Hawaiian luau is also set to take place in April.