Culture, Talent Take Center Stage at International Festival


Sydney Cooper/San Jacinto Times

Students Kiani Johnson and Jimmy Durán prepare for a presentation on sugar skulls. Sugar skulls are part of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead celebrations.

Many different cultures are represented at San Jacinto College, and the North campus International Festival provided an opportunity for students to celebrate this diversity first-hand.

Second-year North campus Professor of Modern Languages Sarah Chaudhary said she was inspired by “service-learning,” a current campus buzzword, to organize the all-encompassing festival in order to showcase different cultures, provide students with a creative outlet, and present a learning opportunity for the San Jac community.

“We have such a nice stage for students to get together and show what they can do. I think students enjoy that, and then you see how much talent there is on their campus,” Chaudhary said. “I’m always amazed at what they come up with; their imagination, and how they put things together.”

The International Festival took place April 9 in the Slovacek Student Center. The event featured a variety of performances including colorful-costumed dancers, exotic music, and informational presentations on topics ranging from holidays to sports. Participants included students from Chaudhary’s Spanish I and II classes, as well as the Spanish club and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) program.

Chaudhary said she hoped the ESOL students would add some “international flair” to the event since her Spanish students were required to focus on Hispanic culture. But after reflection, she realized the diverse backgrounds of her students already brought variety to the event.

Student Rungthip Taylor and her husband demonstrated the Tango on behalf of the Spanish Club, but she is also an ESOL student from Thailand. Chaudhary said the crowd was able to “hear what her native language sounds like,” and Taylor even modeled dress from her country.

Additionally, Spanish students Samantha Corral, Sandra Rogers, and Rachael Rogers had fun performing a theatrical demonstration of Mexican folklore, complete with audience involvement.

“I dressed up as ‘La Llarona’ and I walked through the crowd scaring people,” Rachael said. Her sister Sandra added, “I’m just sitting there trying to present, and I can’t stop laughing!”

Similarly, Corral, whose parents are both from Mexico, found herself laughing about fellow performer Maritza Arena’s comedic account of “Ojo,” which is a Mexican superstition wherein a person feels sick after being given the “evil eye.” Arenas’ impression, Corral said, sounded “JUST like my grandmother.’”

Meanwhile, the Culinary Department contributed an array of aromatic foods from all over the world.

“There were samosas, spring rolls, empanadas, Greek spinach pastry puffs, sweet tamales, Italian meatballs, a Mediterranean lamb shank, and for desserts, they had baklava and sopaipillas,” Chaudhary listed. “They had a nice spread of things. I was told that it worked out really well because they were studying international foods this semester.”

This was the festival’s first run, and Chaudhary indicated she was surprised at its success. In part, she attributes this to the help she received from many different organizations and individuals including North campus’s Office of Student Life and Central campus Spanish professor Jose Robles-Rosario.

“I’ve never organized something like this before, and Student Life was great. They helped a lot,” she said. “I’m sure there will be things that I do differently the next time, but I think it went off really well.”

Furthermore, Chaudhary’s passion for teaching was evident when she teared up while talking about her students’ role in the event’s favorable outcome.

“Typically one of the most feared classes that students have to take is speech. So if you can imagine, to say, ‘Oh you’re gonna get up and present in front of a whole room of people,’ I think that was the biggest obstacle for them,” she said.

In spite of this concern, Chaudhary witnessed many of her more timid pupils shine on stage.

“I’m really proud of my students,” she said. “I think they did a good job. And I’m glad that they were brave to get up and do it. I hope it was a good experience for them even though it was frightening because that’s sometimes where you learn the most about yourself.”