Cultures Celebrated at Denver North International Fair

By Erich Jegier

Denver North’s Ballet Folklorico dance group in traditional attire for their performance. Photo by Erich Jegier

Music filled the air and country flags from around the world waved in the wind as Denver North students gathered for the school’s International Fair on April 25. The fair was an opportunity for students to learn from one another about their cultures.

The school’s World Language department first held the fair seven years ago with about 500 students attending, mostly language students. After a pause due to COVID-19, the fair has grown to over 1,000 students attending and dozens of student groups represented.

The fair began with a welcome message from a student speaking the indigenous Lakota language. Dr. Inma Martin, head of the World Language department, then kicked off the festivities. 

Martin, who has been at North for nine of her 20 years teaching, said the fair has become an event students look forward to. 

“This is a very diverse community,” Martin said, “and we don’t realize how diverse we are until we invite students to serve food, dance and play music. Students are happy they can bring their culture here and express who they are and where they come from.”

The school’s mariachi band, modern band and jazz band each took the stage, then dancers from the school’s Asian American Pacific Islander club and the Folklorico dance group performed. 

Michael Monreal, who plays drums for the modern band, said the group had been preparing its selections—“Bebe Dame” and “Mi Bello Angel”—for weeks, including sometimes at lunchtime.

Students learn to write their birth years in Chinese calligraphy. Photo by Erich Jegier

Mikayla Salgato and Wyatt Runco, both in their third year studying Chinese at North, spent their time at the fair teaching other students how to write their birth years in Chinese calligraphy. Salgato loves that the International Fair brings cultures at the school together as one community. For Runco, whose family has been attending North for generations, the fair reflects the neighborhood’s dynamic culture and changing demographics. 

Dr. Eva Márquez, who teaches Spanish Language Arts and college-level Spanish at North, prepared traditional Venezuelan arepas filled with black beans and shredded pork, as well as a Venezuelan flan called quesillo, using a family recipe that goes back several generations.

“At North, we have always emphasized the importance of sharing cultural practices and products to help students appreciate the diversity of cultural traditions,” Márquez said. “This challenges their assumptions and broadens their perspectives.”

Abeer Jawad, mother of two North students, donated a sweet dish called basbousa after her sons told her they wanted to share it with classmates. While specific ingredients vary by culture, Jawad makes basbousa by baking a semolina flour cake topped with chopped nuts until golden brown, then soaking it with homemade syrup. Jawad said the dish, usually made during Ramadan, goes well with coffee or tea after breaking fast in the evening.

Denver North offers classes in Spanish, Chinese, Lakota and Arabic. Students can take concurrent enrollment Spanish classes for college credit and can work toward a Spanish minor from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Those who demonstrate dual-language proficiency can earn a Seal of Biliteracy from the Colorado Department of Education on their high school diplomas. 

Dr. Martin emphasized that the success of the International Fair came down to those involved. “The students make all of this possible,” she said. 

While language is a big emphasis, Monreal, the drummer, said, “You don’t need to know the language to feel the music.”

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