Dancers wearing vibrantly colored costumes graced the stage of the Halifax County High School auditorium Thursday evening, as the fragrance of homemade tamales and empanadas emanated from the tables of food awaiting guests in the lobby.
The occasion was the celebration of the 5th annual “Latin Day” at the school. The first “Latin Day” was held at Halifax County High in 2016, and the school took a three-year hiatus from the program from 2020-22 because of COVID-19. This year, more than 100 Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 students in Sandra Lopez and Yhon Imbachi’s classes participated in “Latin Day,” performing in front of a packed audience and preparing authentic dishes served in Hispanic countries.
“I think it was a great night. It was a pleasure for me at the end of the event to hear people thankful for the show they were able to see,” said Sandra Lopez, Latin Day coordinator who also participated in the program with her dance group Takiri Folclor Latino. “Some members of the Latino community felt identified with the music and dances that were performed, and the people enjoyed the delicious typical dishes from the different countries. I enjoyed organizing and being part of this program from the beginning to the end with my group Takiri Folclor Latino and of course with my dear students who were working really hard to offer this wonderful show.”
Audience members were treated to multiple acts showcasing the various aspects of Latin culture, such as a girl dressed in a red “quinceanera” dress flanked by her court of honor, displaying the Latin American celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, symbolizing her passage from girlhood to womanhood.
Also entertaining the audience were two special guests of the evening representing Mexican and Colombian culture: Takiri Folclor Latino, which means in Quechua language “Who creates music and dance,” and Ballet Folklorico Estampas De Mexico with the Mariachi group Amanecer Guadalupano. That group is from Henderson, North Carolina, and their objective is to represent the Mexican culture. The purpose of Takiri Folclor Latino is to show the Latin American culture through dance.
“We are a Latino family where our members are from different nationalities, including Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, United States and France,” Lopez, who is a group member, explained.
Other acts of the evening were singer/guitarist Nelly Zamora, a Cuban native, who belted out the Mexican folk song “La Bamba,” and third-year Spanish student Hailee Terry singing the Enrique Iglesias song “Ayer” adorned in her prom dress from last year.
Terry said when she first heard the song which translates to “Yesterday” in English, she thought it was a “very pretty song” and one that she could learn to sing.
A senior at Halifax County High, Terry said she enjoyed Lopez’s class because Lopez led the students in doing a lot of projects, which helped Terry “learn about people” and learn more about Latin culture. Along with having the experience of singing a Spanish song in front of an audience, Terry learned how to make the Spanish food leche flan, a caramel custard dessert, in Lopez’s class.
Terry shared she first became interested in Latin culture as a child watching the animated show “Dora the Explorer” revolving around the adventures of a Latina girl.
“Being bilingual can open up new doorways for you, better career paths,” Terry remarked, adding, with a grin, “And the food is good. The food is a bonus.”
Lopez explained that what was showcased on Latin Day is a result of the strategies she and the other Spanish teachers use in their classes to encourage students to learn the Spanish language.
“As an example, we used Spanish songs to better pronunciation, teach grammar, practice listening, better fluency, among others,” Lopez said. “We consider through Latino Day, our students not only learn about the language but also learn about different aspects like culture, music, food and customs.”
Lopez hails from Columbia, South America, and coordinating the annual Latino Day celebration in Halifax County is important to her.
“I believe that if we don’t preserve our culture, we lose everything that we have and what we are. When you don’t have a history, you don’t have an identity,” Lopez expressed. “Therefore, my main objective as a Spanish teacher from a Latin American country here in United States is to contribute to preserve our identity, our culture, our traditional dances, our folklore. For this reason, it is very important for me to expose my own culture and other countries’ culture to my students and the community. Our students need to know that outside of the United States there are many people that have culture, that have a lot of heritage and stories that they can learn from.”
Lopez added she was excited to see so many people attend this year’s Latin Day celebration at Halifax County High School and she is grateful for the support she received from the school system, School Superintendent Dr. Amy Huskin, and the community, as well.
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