CARTHAGE, Mo. — A cultural experience and a family-fun event become one, this evening (Tuesday), in Carthage — as part of the annual Maple Leaf Festival week of events.

“I feel proud because our community is willing to help us do this for our children here in town,” said Maria Marroquin, Hispanic Connection Founding Member.

She’s talking about hundreds of community members swarming Central Park Tuesday evening — for a taco cook-off competition between local restaurants.

But this line of people came for more than these savory tacos.

All of the proceeds will go towards creating a college scholarship for one Carthage senior to receive in May.

“It’s not easy, especially the first generation, it’s even harder. So, in light of my prior financial aid experience, I felt like this would be my giving back with our team from Conexion Hispana – Hispanic Connection,” said Maria Sanchez, Hispanic Connection Secretary.

“Being able to identify, you know, the different cultures that are here and embracing everybody, right? It fits into the education part where there’s different countries. You’ll see here, especially today, I think there’s four different kinds of tacos. They’re still tacos, but they have different seasoning and they’re from different countries,” said Luis Rangel, Hispanic Connection President.

One of the group’s founding members — Maria Marroquin tells us, when she moved to Carthage 20 years ago — she never saw events like this one.

She said it’s these events that keep community experiences alive — the kind that create spaces for different cultures to mesh.

All while investing in the younger generations, hoping they will eventually carry the torch.

“It’s one of the best things that we can do. And I’ve always said, we’re leading that example not only to our children, but also to our young adults. And that’s one of the purposes of why we founded Hispanic Connection because we want to give back one way or another. And I think this is kind of like, to us it feels like family,” said Marroquin.

Seven local restaurants competed for first place with their prized tacos — leaving the judges with some tough decisions.

Tuesday night’s first-place winner went to “Antojitos Los Pepes” — a local Guatemalan restaurant.

They took home one of the trophies engraved by Carthage High School students.