CRESTVIEW — After declaring Thursday’s international festival debut a success, school district organizers said the event will return next year.
The International Festival and Hispanic Heritage Celebration — sponsored by the district's English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, program, the Friends of the Arts and county school multicultural clubs — was a fiesta for all the senses.
The Shoal River Middle School gym featured musical performances, cultural displays, dance demonstrations and information on cooking plantains.
Countries from the Americas, Europe and Asia were represented by displays featuring photos, cultural artifacts, clothing, examples of money and flags. Some offered food samples.
Many participants and attendees dressed in traditional costumes representing their respective countries.
Musical performers included "Latin American Idol" singer Amid Montelongo and the Boricuando Puerto Rican Folkloric Group.
Attendees enthusiastically clapped along with the music, examined the cultural displays and sampled foods from various countries.
"We want everyone to embrace their own heritage and share their heritage with us," ESOL Director Lois Hanzo said as she opened the festival.
"Folk traditions are complicated things," Joe Kenkel said while introducing a Panamanian dance troupe that included his wife, Arabhesky Chacon. "Sometimes, no one knows how they started or where they came from."
Guest speaker Sgt. Randy Galindo, a 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier whose wife, Blanca, is a Davidson Middle School ESOL teacher, encouraged audience members to broaden their cultural horizons.
"When you embrace diversity, you never know what opportunities are going to pop up," he said, explaining his career became possible because he decided as a boy to study Farsi when his family lived in Iran.
"If you embrace diversity, it probably won't hurt, and it probably will help you," Galindo said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.