Luciano Mota, 10, a Fawn Hollow Elementary School fourth-grader, sat patiently at a table in a room off the Masuk High School cafeteria Friday evening, his right arm extended as Vibhuti Jani drew a henna tattoo onto his hand. At a nearby table, Elizabeth Sheldon, 5, a Stepney Elementary School kindergartner, marveled at her new tattoo, “I love it!”
The activity was part of Fawn Hollow and Stepney elementary schools’ International Festival, which brought people together to celebrate the clothing, food and culture of over 22 countries from around the world.
The Masuk cafeteria was festooned with balloons and national flags, and booths had displays with pictures and interesting facts about different countries. For example, Brazil’s capital city is Brasilia and Colombia is the third largest coffee producer in the world.
Manny Cardentey, owner of Manny’s Barber Shop in Monroe, was the guest speaker, sharing the story of his experiences emigrating here from his native Cuba.
Among the entertainment, young Indian women led children in Bollywood dances and visitors were treated to a Taekwondo demonstration. Aside from the homemade cuisine indoors, food trucks, including one with Italian ice and ice cream, had more for guests to eat.
Leah Lane, the mother of a Fawn Hollow Elementary School student, helped to organize the event as a member of the PTO.
“This is the first that combines more than one school,” she said. “Stepney has done it in the past, on a smaller scale in their school. We’re hoping it will be an annual thing. I think it will be great for the community.”
The PTOs for both schools started planning for the International Festival in October and early November.
“We met so many other families in the community, who we wouldn’t have met and made some new friends,” Lane said.
Lane said she learned some things herself on Friday. “I’m German so I learned a lot about a culture I am from, but didn’t know about,” she said.
A planning committee informed Stepney and Fawn Hollow about the festival, so it could be promoted in the schools. Tickets cost five dollars each and the proceeds will go back to the schools and reimburse families who cooked for the ingredients they bought, according to Lane.
Among those in attendance were Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza, Assistant Superintendent Sheila Casinelli and Stepney Principal Ashley Furnari.
“It’s really amazing,” Furnari said of the festival. “I love looking at the kids dressed up and different families’ attire, and the fact they’re being exposed to different cultures and traditions that are unique to each others’ families.”
Charlene Mota sat at a henna station and watched her son, Luciano, get his tattoo.
“It’s cool. It’s very fun,” she said. “We learned a bunch of stuff we didn’t know before we came here. He got to learn a few facts and try different foods and treats.”
Mota said Luciano’s favorite part of the festival was filling his passport with animal stamps after visiting each country’s booth.
Amanda Sheldon, Elizabeth’s mother, ran the Brazilian stand with her family.
“I was born there and came here as an exchange student at 22,” she said.
Sheldon taught Portoguese and English and met her husband while serving as his teacher when he traveled to Brazil from the United States to study Portuguese.
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