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School explores Hispanic culture
Liberty Elementary students, teachers enjoy dance performances
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Peruvian dancers in traditional dress line up and pose at the end of La Marinera en Nortea, a dance that re-enacts courtship with handkerchief props. The dancers performed the routine as part of Liberty Elementary Schools Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. - photo by Danielle Hipps

Liberty Elementary School students traded “hello” for “hola” and welcome for “bienvenidos” during an excursion through Hispanic cultures Thursday.

The entire school watched as dancers and performers presented traditional dances and songs from Puerto Rico, Peru, Santo Domingo and Colombia during the school’s third Hispanic Heritage Month presentation, “Flying into Hispanic Countries.”

The nationally recognized heritage month runs Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and kindergarten students have been learning about the diversity of Hispanic cultures for a couple minutes each day, according to paraprofessional Yazmin Gonzalez.

“Having Fort Stewart here brings in other cultures,” Gonzalez said. “When they embrace the cultures, the self-esteem of the students is higher.”

Gonzales, a native Puerto Rican, coordinated the event, which featured performances by multiple volunteers from the Hispanic Heritage Club of Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield.

The students clapped and cheered during the second act, a salsa dance performed by HAAF Air Traffic Control Unit Warrant Officer Edwin Reyes and his wife, Limary Ortiz.

Ortiz said she loved the opportunity to share and demonstrate her Puerto Rican culture.

Reyes explained that the salsa, a highly rhythmic dance with African influence, originated in Cuba in the 1950s as the mambo. As it spread, Puerto Rican dancers transformed it to the version they performed, which has since spread throughout South America.

In between numbers, kindergarteners and third-grade students walked onstage and welcomed the upcoming culture. 

Young women in sweeping floral dresses danced the cumbea from Colombia, and Peruvian performer Iris Sarria sang a song and led other women decked in bright colors in “La Marinera en Norteña,” a graceful dance performed with handkerchiefs to re-enact courtship.

The different dances are one way to teach the differences between cultures, an important aspect to the school’s principal, Chris Anderson.

“We’ve got a diverse school system, and I believe the students should have an opportunity to learn about other cultures,” Anderson said. “And the children learn that there’s not just one culture — there are many cultures within Hispanic heritage.”

“The kids love it — they love Mrs. Gonzalez’s enthusiasm,” he added.

Such events also have greater impacts on the future, Anderson said.

“I think it makes for better citizens,” he said. “It’s a global earth these days — we don’t want to be closed-minded; we want to be global in our thinking.”

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