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Dallastown students, parents celebrate diversity at festival

Junior Gonzalez
  • Several hundred students and parents attended the ninth annual Festival of Art and Culture at Dallastown Middle School.
  • Students shared cuisines through dozens of booths in the school's lobby and cafeteria.
  • Students, parents and teachers described the importance of celebrating difference in the community.

Hundreds of Dallastown parents and students celebrated diversity at the ninth annual Festival of Art and Culture on Tuesday night, with several attendees exiting the Dallastown Middle School auditorium shouting “Opa!”

The two-part festival was organized by the Dallastown International Club, art and world language teachers and ESL teacher Sharon O’Malley.

The theme of the festival was “Don’t let your culture get in the way of experiencing others,” and many parents packed the auditorium to watch several cultural performances from students in and out of the district.

One of the performances in the entertainment portion of the night was a traditional Greek Hellenic dance from young congregants of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in York Township.

Hua Kuang asks a parent for pronunciation of a name to write in Mandarin at the Chinese booth at the 9th Annual Festival of Art and Culture at Dallastown Middle School on Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

Lola Lamnatos, a mother of one of the dancers, said she is a first-generation Greek American and believes getting her kids involved in such events keeps them aware of where they come from.

“It helps them appreciate their Greek heritage,” she said.

George Papageorgiou, a 10th-grader at Central York High School, said his parents work very hard to instill pride in their Greek roots by keeping him and his sister Sotirea heavily involved in the church and regularly visiting Greece.

“We don’t stay at the fancy parts,” he said. “We stay at the villages. It teaches us more respect, and we learn more about the culture.”

A band of Argentine-American students from Dallastown, Arkoscilante, performed two hard-rock song covers and one original song, “Gloria de un Dictador (Glory of a Dictator/Kingdom).”

The three band members are siblings who came from Argentina in January, according to O’Malley, who emceed the event.

The band members thanked O’Malley for coordinating the event every year.

“She brings people together, and that’s what this is all about,” said band drummer and Dallastown senior GianFranco Celario Sedano.

“If you notice, they’re all bilingual,” O’Malley said afterward to the audience. “I love it.”

Global cuisine: After the Crispus Attucks South Side Steppers delivered a stomping performance, students and parents headed toward the cafeteria for a world-class dinner.

The lobby and cafeteria were filled with booths from countries around the world, including Japan, India, Germany, Afghanistan, Mexico and Sierra Leone, the last of which touted actor Idris Elba as one of the country’s great symbols on the booth’s posterboard.

Many of the booths included a bit of the country’s cuisine. At the table for Egypt, there was a mixed-rice dish called koshary. The dish, a unique blend of pasta, rice, lentils and tomato sauce, drew many visitors with questions to the table.

Victoria Romero, president of the International Club, headed the table. She is of Egyptian and Sicilian heritage.

'Culture shock': The New York City native said she experienced a “culture shock” when she first came to Dallastown two years ago.

Children from the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in York perform a Greek Hellenic dance routine during the 9th Annual Festival of Art and Culture at Dallastown Middle School.

Victoria met her friend and international club vice president Lily Emami through a mutual cultural symbol — language.

“I had a necklace on with my name in Arabic, and she saw it,” Victoria said, “and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Victoria said she and Lily found it “hard to express ourselves ethnically and religiously” and believed many locals didn’t understand people like them.

“So we thought, ‘Why don’t we make them understand us?’” Victoria said.

“There’ve been highs and lows,” Lily, a junior at Dallastown, said with regard to acceptance. “But it’s gotten better.”

Lily headed the Afghanistan table and Islam table at the festival. She said she wanted to have both cultures represented.

“I love my religion,” Lily said of her Muslim faith, “and Afghanistan is not what the media makes it out to be,” she said of her parents' home country.

Reception: O’Malley, who has been the festival committee chair for all of the festival’s nine years, said she was pleased with the “extremely positive” reception from attendees.

She added the event wouldn’t happen without strong student leaders wanting to celebrate diversity.

According to O’Malley, Dallastown has students from more than 80 countries who speak 23 languages.

She added the event went from being a “little breakfast” to a nightlong event with live performances and food from around the world, made mostly by parents of students in the district.

“This event is so important, especially with everything going on (in the world) at the moment,” O’Malley said. “Knowledge is power.”