Salsa and mariachi music filled the halls of the American Dream Charter School in the Bronx on Friday. Flags of Hispanic countries spread throughout the building, and 18 classrooms and the cafeteria were transformed into a specific country, kicking off the first Hispanic World Celebration at the school.

As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, which ran from September 15 to October 15. On the 15th, the faculty began planning for the event in late July. More than 90% of students at the school identify as Latino and Hispanics, many of whom identify as first-generation Americans. The school with grades 6-12 is also the only bilingual charter school in New York City, according to Melissa Melkonian, the school’s founder and principal, which makes the event even more significant.

Ninth-graders sing along to the mariachi rendition of “Como La Flor,” by Mexican-American singer Selena. Photo Nicolas Hernandez

“There’s a sense of assimilation in the American way,” Melkonian said. “What we’re trying to do is validate the kids who they are and make their culture, their music, their food, their language part of what America really is.”

“It is very humbling to see our students not only integrating into their own culture, but also learning about other cultures,” she added.

Over the past month, students have begun to explore and research their chosen country. On Friday, while holding a brochure replicating a passport, the students were transported to a new country as they entered each room. They listened to their peers, waiting for a completion stamp on their passports.

“There is beauty in diversity and I think our students really got to see that through this event,” said Johanna Quizhpe, head of the Spanish department at American Dream Charter School.

As a group of students left the room, a new one entered. And ready to take center stage was ninth grader Jose Prudencio. The Venezuelan poster, bursting with colors of yellow, blue and red, was one of 18 countries featured. Shaking his nerves, Prudencio, who is Honduran, started the group discussion on the geography of Venezuela.

Kimberly Lopez, a ninth grade student, presents her section on Argentina. Students learned about the history, culture and current affairs of 18 countries at the city’s only bilingual charter school on Friday, October 14. Photo Nicolas Hernandez

“I liked learning about all the different kinds of cultures, so if I ever visit the place, I know the area,” Prudencio said.

Additionally, his classmates and their advisor, English teacher Jesus Garcia, discussed current affairs, traditions, history and government – ​​which Prudencio found exciting to share his knowledge of Venezuela. .

“I’m blown away by the result, like I’m really proud,” Garcia said. “Sometimes all you know is the ideals of your culture and your belief system. But it’s important to have exposure to how other people think.

“Luckily we have students from so many different countries, ethnic backgrounds, languages, even different parts of the Bronx – so they can come together.”

Tiffany Avila, a ninth-grade student who concluded her group presentation on Argentina, found the presentations important because they sparked vital conversations about the well-being of the country’s residents. Watch the mariachi band perform in the cafeteria and salsa artists in the lobby, Avila was looking forward to trying a range of traditional Latin foods.

Students Tiffany Avila and Ariana Torres dance to the music of salsa performers at the end of the Hispanic Heritage Month festival. Photo Nicolas Hernandez

The menu included flautas, a traditional Mexican dish, pupusas, a Salvadoran and Honduran dish, maduros, a popular Cuban side dish, and Belizean panades, among other international dishes.

“It’s a complete experience,” Garcia said. “You have to listen to the music. You have to learn the culture. You should see different images. And, I also think that tasting the culture is like the icing on the cake.

Quizhpe said it was fulfilling and heartwarming to see the children learn about different countries and take pride in their cultures.

Quizhpe, the head of the Spanish department who said she only slept a few hours due to intensive preparation for the event, is excited to see what the future holds for similar events next year.

“Our hope is that our students remember the beauty of diversity and how we can truly represent Latino culture wherever we go,” she said.

Contact Nicholas Hernandez at [email protected]. For more coverage follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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