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What better way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of an unlikely military victory than to encourage Latinos to graduate from high school and complete college?

On Saturday, celebrants in Salt Lake City commemorated the defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 when a ragtag army helped oust the occupiers from Mexican soil.

Proceeds from a dinner, dance and Sunday reception will help fund what organizers say are the state's first multicultural sorority and fraternity at the University of Utah.

"Many Latino students drop out of high school to help with their family's finances," said Brandy Farmer, board member of the nonprofit Centro Civico Mexicano, which sponsored the event. "We need to educate parents on the importance of their children graduating from high school and going to college."

Last year, several university students organized Kappa Delta Chi Sorority Inc., a service organization dedicated to serving the Latino community.

"Strong, independent woman can make a difference," said Samantha Lopez, one of the sorority's 20 members. "We want to break down barriers so that others may walk where we've gone. We want to be the kind of mentor who helped us when we were younger."

This semester, five university students organized Omega Delta Phi, a multicultural fraternity to help members graduate and serve the community.

"Latinos help each other," said fraternity member Ramses Medina. "We don't want to forget where we're from, and to help the Latino community grow."

Both campus organizations were on hand to set up tables, cook hot dogs and prepare for the evening banquet; 300 people were expected to attend.

Mayra Cedano, with the nonprofit Communities United and a fraternity adviser, said the multicultural groups can offer scholarships, academic support and friendship.

"These students want to help others," she added. "They care about their communities."

The Mayan Riders club of West Valley City also was on hand, showing off its motorcycles during the festivities.

"Cinco de Mayo is not just about Mexico," said club president Elias De Luna. "We have different cultures, but we speak the same language. It's always good for us to get together as a community."

Many of the get-togethers are held at Centro Civico Mexicano, founded 73 years ago to provide festivities and programs that empower Latino residents. Some of its programs include business development, immigration law clinics, educational forums, financial literacy classes, voter-registration appeals and festivities.

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Cinco de Mayo reception

When • 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

Where • Centro Civico Mexicano, 155 S. 600 West, Salt Lake City

What •Speakers will discuss the battle at Puebla. There will also be folk dancers and food.

Cost •Free, but $3 donation appreciated

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