Dancers dressed in brightly colored costumes graced the stage of the Halifax County High School auditorium Thursday night as the aroma of homemade tamales and empanadas wafted from tables of food awaiting guests in the lobby.
The occasion was the celebration of the fifth 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 due to COVID-19. This year, more than 100 Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 students in Sandra López and Ion Imbachi’s classes participated in Hispanic Day by performing to a full audience and cooking authentic dishes served in Spanish-speaking countries.
“I think it was a great night. It was a pleasure at the end of the event to hear people grateful for the show they were able to see,” said Sandra Lopez, Latin Day coordinator, who also participated in the program with her Takiri Folklor Latino dance group. “Some members of the Latino community felt identified with the music and dances that were performed, and people enjoyed the delicious typical dishes from the different countries.” I enjoyed organizing and being a part of this program from start to finish with my group Takiri Folclor Latino and of course my dear students who worked really hard to put on this wonderful show.”
Audience members were treated to numerous performances showcasing the different aspects of Latin American culture, such as a girl wearing a red “quinceanera” dress surrounded by a court of honor, showing the Latin American celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday, symbolizing her transition from maidenhood to womanhood.
The audience was also entertained by two special guests of the evening Mexican and Colombian culture: Takiri Folclor Latino, which means in the Quechua language “Who creates music and dance”, and Ballet Folklorico Estampas De Mexico with the band Mariachi Amanecer Guadalupano. This group is from Henderson, North Carolina, and their goal is to represent Mexican culture. Takiri Folclor Latino’s goal is to showcase Latin American culture through dance.
“We are a Latin American family where our members are from different nationalities, including Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, the United States and France,” explained Lopez, who is a member of the group .
Other performers on the night included singer/guitarist Nelly Zamora, a native of Cuba, who performed the Mexican folk song “La Bamba,” and third-year Spanish student Haley Terry, who sang Enrique Iglesias’ “Ayer” decked out in her ball gown from last year .
Terry said that when she first heard the song, which translates to “Yesterday” in English, she thought it was a “very beautiful song” and she could learn to sing it.
A student at Halifax County High School, Terri said she enjoyed Lopez’s class because Lopez guided the students in doing many projects, which helped Terri “learn about people” and learn more about Latino culture. Along with trying to sing 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.
Terri shared that she first became interested in Latin American culture as a child watching the animated show Dora the Explorer about the adventures of a Latin girl.
“Being bilingual can open new doors, better career paths,” noted Terry, adding with a smile, “And the food is good. The food is a bonus.”
Lopez explained that what was shown on Latin Day was the result of strategies she and other Spanish teachers use in their classes to encourage students to learn Spanish.
“As an example, we used Spanish songs for better pronunciation, teaching grammar, practicing listening, better fluency, among other things,” Lopez said. “We feel that through Latino Day, our students not only learn about the language, but also about different aspects such as culture, music, food and customs.”
Lopez is from Colombia, South America, and coordinating Halifax County’s annual Hispanic Day celebration is important to her.
“I believe that if we don’t preserve our culture, we lose everything we have and who we are. When you don’t have a story, you don’t have an identity,” Lopez said. “That’s why my main goal as a Spanish teacher from a Latin American country here in the United States is to contribute to the preservation of our identity, our culture, our traditional dances, our folklore. For this reason, it is very important for me to reveal my own culture and the culture of other countries to my students and the community. Our students need to know that there are many people outside of the United States who have a culture, who have a lot of heritage and stories to learn from.”
Lopez added that she was thrilled to see so many people attend this year’s Latino Day celebration at Halifax County High School and is grateful for the support she has received from the school system, Superintendent Dr. Amy Huskin and the community.