Multicultural festival celebrated in Oakland
It doesn’t matter what language you speak or what country you’re from, every Thursday at Oakland Elementary School has a great time at Multicultural Night.
There was singing and dancing, music and games, and then there was the food. Oh boy, was there any food. The food offerings covered a wide range of dishes from different countries. There was sauerkraut and apfelkuchen (apple cake) from Germany and several Hispanic dishes such as mole, flan, tamales pollo, tamalitos and costillo de cerdo, among others.
The students led a program filled with music and dancing – including a pair of student emcees – one who spoke in English and the other who spoke in Spanish. After the Spanish-flavored dance, Oakland music teachers gave a presentation on mountain music to shed light on Appalachian culture. Guests were also treated to service information set up in the school lobby with information available in two languages.
Oakland Elementary School principal Larry Williams said the multicultural night is an opportunity to both celebrate and educate.
“The pandemic stopped us, so it’s been three or four years since we’ve had one. We planned one for spring 2020 before the pandemic,” Williams said. “We’ve been doing it for about 15 years and it’s been here every year but one. It was in college one year, but as important as it is, the turnout has always been rather better here. We have a lot of Hispanics from Honduras, Guatemala, we’ve even had some from Colombia and other South American countries represented in the past.
Williams said Multi-Cultural Night is “the baby” of Oakland teacher Liza Sutherland, who teaches English as a second language at school. Sutherland is originally from Puerto Rico, but she grew up mostly in Miami after her parents emigrated to the United States.
“She’s the best,” Williams said. “She does so many things here, but she speaks all over the county and does so many things in all the other schools as well.”
Sutherland started working in Oakland as an ESL teacher 18 years ago, and she said she enjoys her job and interacting with students and their families.
“In my interaction with these families, I often observed a need for information and help with services such as banking, insurance and community services,” Sutherland said. “Our immigrant families wanted to belong to this community. During conversations with some of my colleagues, the idea of a festival was born. Thus, in 2008, we organized our first multicultural festival.
Thursday’s Multicultural Night was the 14th festival celebrated in Oakland. The following community services are typically offered for the event – BB&T, Carroll County Department of Social Services, Head Start, Mount Rogers Adult Ed and Title I.
“All had great information for parents and caregivers, and that information was shared in English and Spanish,” Sutherland said. “For example, Title I had a booth and giveaways for students and activities for math and English. Students painted the characters they had read and played on a hopscotch using arithmetic to add and subtract. It was fun and I thought everyone was having fun. The other part of the Festival came together when the Americorps program wanted to join. The Carroll County Americorps Tutors all create exhibits and games from different parts of the world. It’s a very fun part of the Festival and again the students are playing and learning at the same time.
The music teacher from Oakland Elementary and Sutherland hosts the entertainment portion. Parents want to see their children play. This year’s presentations included a Mexican folk dance, El Ratoncito VAquero, performed by the following K-5 girls: Isabella Rosales, Giana Figueroa, Zaide Figueroa, Jocelyn Gonzalez, Quinn Wilson, Estrella Moreno, Luna Moreno, Abigail Hunley, Lily Gravely, Montserrat Figueroa, Dayleza Munoz, Natalia Lopez, Victoria Juarez, Ava Gravely, Letti Gravely, Sophie Baker, Skyler Baker, and Alyssa Delp. Jessica Gonzalez and Maria Isabel Sierra helped put the dance together.
“Mrs. Collins, the music teacher, composed 3 folk songs in which students from 10 Carroll County schools were invited to join in singing and dancing,” Sutherland said. The night’s main attraction is the food. People come to events when there is food, so we added that part. Each family who can brings a dish to share in a friendly atmosphere. We have Mexican, Puerto Rican, Egyptian, American food and one year we even had Thai food. It is important to me to emphasize that all students in Carroll County are invited. Oakland Elementary staff are committed to making this event a huge success. If everyone didn’t work together, the Multicultural Festival wouldn’t be what it is today.
Nearly 300 people attended the Multicultural Festival on Thursday.
“I’m impressed, when I sit down and see that what started as a teachers’ conversation has grown into a coming together of the many cultures we have in Southwest Virginia,” Sutherland said.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter @AWorrellTCN