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Pine Hills Elementary celebrates Hispanic Heritage month

October 14, 2010

By Alison Lester

The Pine Hills Elementary school held a potluck dinner, with dancing and music, at its second annual Hispanic Heritage celebration early Thursday night. The school’s festivities mark National Hispanic Heritage Month, which originally began as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and changed to a month long celebration of the United States’ Hispanic culture in 1988. The month runs from mid-September to mid-October

Celebrations begin  in September, in part, to recognize the anniversary of the independence of  countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.

The evening began with the school’s students, their families, and some faculty members slowly pouring into the gymnasium, which was decorated with various Latin American countries’ flags. Many of the attendees brought different types of food and beverages for the event which was set out for everyone to enjoy. DJ Decky Lawrence filled the gymnasium with many kinds of Latino music, especially reggaeton.

“This is a wonderful event,” said Vibetta Sanders, principal and Pine Hills Elementary. “It’s an opportunity to share and learn about another culture.”

Defny Gamboa, the event coordinator and a student social worker at the elementary school for the past five years, said the event is important for the school because of the large representation of Hispanic students in the building. “It’s always good to recognize different cultures,” she said.

For the first hour of the event, everyone mingled and ate together at the various

Janet Llanos, the guest speaker at the Hispanic Heritage Celebration, stands in front of the Puerto Rican flag in the Pine Hills Elementary School gymnasium (Alison Lester)

rectangular tables which were decorated in vibrant tablecloths, and covered in plates, utensils, and small pamphlets about the event’s agenda. Entertainment began around 7 p.m.

Janet Llanos, a teaching assistant since 2001 in the Albany City School District, was chosen to be the guest speaker. Llanos spoke about her parents origins in Carolina, Puerto Rico, and she said she was inspired by an elementary school teacher when she was growing up in Brooklyn.

Llanos assists Spanish-speaking families of the elementary school by translating in order to help alleviate communication barriers.

“I wanted to let everyone know that I enjoy what I do,” Llanos said about her address Thursday. “This is just what I wanted to be.”

Colleagues and families familiar with Llanos’ work lauded her efforts.

“She’s incredibly helpful whenever we have a family come in that doesn’t speak English,” said Sanders, the school’s principal.

Ana Berrios, Llanos’ mother, and, her 24-year old daughter, Princess Leslie, also braved the rain Thursday.

“She plays a huge role in my life and my daughter’s life,” Leslie said. “And without her I wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

After Llanos’s speech, a group called Dancing With Our Elders, members of a weekly senior’s dance program at the Trinity Institution in Albany,  got everyone out of their seats to dance with them. The group in their long flowing skirts first demonstrated a cumbian dance, a style of music from the Caribbean region of Columbia. They then got everyone to join them in a circle – students, family members, and faculty alike – to dance the macarena. They finished their performance by having everyone participate in a line dance to the song “Cupid Shuffle” by Cupid. The energy in the gymnasium was high as a diverse blend of people danced together to celebrate Hispanic culture.

While the energy died down a bit after all of the dancing, Sanders delivered a closing thank you to the crowd, and everyone stayed for the last half hour of the event, eating cake and chatting. The feeling of community at the event continued until the very end as everyone pitched in to help stack the chairs, fold the tables, and throw out garbage.

“It’s always a wonderful opportunity to celebrate different cultures in our learning community,” Sanders said. -30-


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