OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa High School cafeteria became an international community for a few hours Sunday afternoon.
The OHS Cultural Fair, which is hosted by the Human Rights Youth Chapter, provides students and their families a chance to come together and learn about one another’s cultures. This is the second year the event has been put on.
“It’s so enjoyable to come up here and watch our kids in their native language and their native dress. They can just proudly present where they come from and what they’re about, and we have so much to learn,” said Richard Hutchinson, principal of OHS. “Hopefully, the next time they do this, it will be filled with community people to see what this is all about.”
There were booths presenting information about different cultures and countries, and many served traditional homemade food. A booth representing Eritrea served injera, a kind of lentil-based bread, while a booth representing Hungary had kolaczki, a type of pastry.
Many students performed as well. There were traditional Bulgarian, Eritrean and Latino dance demonstrations, as well as students performing a modern Korean-Pop (K-Pop) dance. A local American punk band played as well.
“I was most excited to have the Eritrean performances, because they weren’t included last year,” said Barb Hanson, coordinator of HRYC. “To see them bring in their families and their parents to share traditional food and traditional dancing, it’s really just an inclusive experience that I’m glad we’re able to share.”
Ángel Almodóvar, a Spanish teacher at OHS, originally comes from Spain and has been teaching and living in Ottumwa for the past two years. He was at the festival representing Spain with his family.
“Sometimes [people in Ottumwa] don’t know that we have so many cultures here, so this is just a way to share our culture,” Almodóvar said. “I hope we do this festival every year.”
Juventino Leyva and Luis Lozano, two students at OHS, were at the festival with a booth providing information about the Day of the Dead, which was on Nov. 2. The booth was serving sweet bread and hot chocolate and had a demonstration of a typical altar constructed for the holiday.
Both agreed the fair was an important chance for people to learn more about one another.
“I think it’s good to inform what Latin America does around this time of year,” Lozano said, pointing out that while the Day of the Dead is celebrated all across Latin America, it’s a holiday that’s not well understood by many Americans.
Hanson was happy with how it went and excited to see it continue in the future.
“We put this event together because we want to make sure everybody feels like they belong and that we’re striving for inclusive excellence,” Hanson said. “I think today is a good reflection of that.”