A slice of rice: LASU’s History of Arroz event teaches the College about rice in Latin America


Thursday, March 23, the College of William and Mary’s Latin American Student Union held a cultural event titled the “History of Arroz.” Showcasing the importance and variation of rice in Latin American cooking, the event was an opportunity for both LASU members and the broader campus community to experience a piece of Latin American culture through its cuisine.

The event consisted of a 20-minute presentation covering the respective histories of four culturally significant rice dishes and a taste test that all attendees were invited to participate in. The presentation briefly went over the history of rice and its role as a food staple in human civilization, tracking the geographic journey of rice cultivation from China to Iberia, after which Spanish and Portuguese colonists brought it to modern-day Latin America. 

The presenters connected this background to the contents and cultural relevance of each dish. They discussed aspects of the dishes like the techniques used to prepare them in their respective countries of origin, what special events the dishes are typically made for and for what meal each dish is typically eaten. Each dish was emblematic of a different region of Latin America, and each had different norms associated with its consumption, showing just how adaptable the ingredient rice can be. 

“Rice is just very versatile,” Ronaldo Lopez-Mendez ’25, a member of LASU, said. “You can use it as a main dish or a side dish; there’s thirty-three Latin American countries, each and every one of them has a different way of cooking it.”

The centerpiece of the event was the sharing and consumption of the rice dishes themselves. The event organizers provided the following rice meals: Mexican Arroz Rojo, a rich, creamy rice dish; Puerto Rican Arroz con Gandules, rice mixed with pork belly and eponymous Pigeon Peas, typically served on special occasions; Salvadoran Casamiento, a breakfast rice and bean combo whose name directly translates to “marriage” in Spanish and Peruvian Arroz Chaufa, a rice dish with eggs, chicken and soy sauce that was pioneered by Chinese immigrants in Peru. 

The event organically displayed Latin American culture while simultaneously reflecting the sheer level of cultural and culinary diversity that is present in Latin America. 

“Because we were able to spearhead making these dishes, being in the kitchen, and then showing people how to make it, we were able to be more authentic with the way that it is cooked, the way that ingredients are cooked, and just the ability to incorporate what our mothers, what our grandmas, and what our parents have taught us,” LASU president Jasmin Martinez ’23 said.

The College’s LASU was initially founded in 2012. Originally focusing more on political activism, LASU went inactive temporarily before being reignited in 2016 with a focus geared more towards cultural and social activities.

LASU participates in a range of events and activities besides the more educational ones such as the “History of Arroz” event, including hosting mixers to organizing intramural sports teams. To many members of the club, such as Julia Beverley ’26 these events succeed in providing a strong sense of togetherness.

“You create such a tight-knit community through sports,” Beverley said. “… of course you have to get to know everybody, so I’m very glad that I got into LASU through sports.”

According to its executive board, LASU works to provide its members with a sense of community at a predominantly white institution. In addition to providing a space where members can feel free to express their cultural identities, the organization is also designed to mitigate the stressful transition to college for many Latin American students.

“When it came to LASU, it felt like a warm hug,” Martinez said. “That was a warm embrace that allowed me to meet people who were similar to me, whose cultures are similar to mine, who could talk about certain things that maybe nobody else could and gave me an opportunity to be my authentic self.”

In order to tighten its mission of fostering a strong community, the executive board of LASU launched an initiative specifically devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion during the fall 2022 semester. Initially including just one Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chair on the executive board, the LASU leadership eventually decided to institute an entire DEI committee to fulfill the organization’s need in accounting for and being mindful of its members’ myriad of identities.

By showcasing different rice dishes from distinct Latin American cultures, the “History of Arroz” event exemplifies LASU’s desire to increase inclusivity. In addition to allowing for cultural expression by LASU members, the culinary diversity of the dishes presented also served as a reminder of the heterogeneous nature of Latin America and its varying cultures and communities. LASU thus sees its value at the College through the opportunities it gives its members to explore and celebrate their culture while also allowing the broader community to learn about Latin America. Interactive and participatory events like “History of Arroz” are geared towards exactly that aim. 

“Community is such a big aspect of LASU, of Latinx culture, in my personal family, in my community and my motherland,” Martinez said. “The opportunity to be able to take a piece of ourselves and show it to someone else is what we strive to do and what we hope that others are able to feel when they come into this space.”


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