Liberty Elementary School students and faculty clapped and moved to the beat of conga drums and maracas Friday during a lively program celebrating Spanish Heritage Month. The national observance is held Sept. 15-Oct. 15.
The month-long observance grew out of Hispanic Heritage Week, which began in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson, according to the national Hispanic Heritage Month website. The original seven-day period was expanded to its present 30 days by President Ronald Reagan 25 years ago and was enacted into law Aug.17, 1988, according to hispanicheritagemonth.gov.
Parapro Yazmin Gonzalez asked Puerto Rican band Tradicion Boricua and traditional Latin folk dancer Mariangeli Altiery to perform with her in front of Liberty Elementary School students and teachers last week. Gonzalez also worked with a group of fourth- and fifth-graders choreographing several dance numbers.
During Spanish Heritage Month, the parapro teaches LES students some basic Spanish words and a little about Hispanic culture.
“I like to empower the kids to learn another language,” Gonzalez said. “The language they learn does not (necessarily) have to be Spanish.”
The idea is to get them interested in other languages and cultures, she said. Gonzalez has been a parapro at Liberty Elementary for seven years and has been employed by the school district for 16 years. She taught in Puerto Rican schools for eight years before coming to the States, she said.
Gonzalez spoke to children about the blend of cultures — Spanish, African and Taino — that characterize Puerto Rican music, and incorporated a bit of the Caribbean island’s history into the theatrical lesson. Gonzalez said the program’s theme was “Bring the culture alive.”
The Taino, Gonzalez explained, were the indigenous people of the Caribbean when Christopher Columbus arrived hundreds of years ago. She also told two folk stories in poem and song. One was about a man who fell in love with a sugar-cane plantation worker, and the other was about a mother in a remote village calling to other women to join her in mourning when her infant died.
The parapro has helped organize a Spanish Heritage Month program at the school for the past five years. Gonzalez said she had arranged for other groups to perform for students in previous years, including those representing the cultures of Venezuela, Columbia, Santa Domingo and Mexico.
“This was the first time with my own group,” she said. “We’ve been very successful.”
Gonzalez, Altiery and musicians Albert Nunez, Rene “Hector” Delvalle, Louis Cruz and Angel Sanabria have performed across Georgia and Alabama.
The group is family friendly; Cruz’s 5-year-old son, Emilio, is an unofficial member, his father said.
Gonzalez said the group’s musical director, Delvalle, has played with Marc Anthony and Carlos Santana. Delvalle also is employed by the school system. Altiery is a student at Savannah Technical College.