Ricardo Agustin moved to Ventnor six months ago. He’s learning English for the first time. On Friday May 19 he was standing proudly in front of a stall and talking to other students, teachers and parents about his life in the Dominican Republic. He talked in Spanish and a little English. “We didn’t have fairs like this,” he said. “I like this.”
A few stands down the line, Damian Rosato and his mother Nicole had a red, white and green table with homemade pizzelle. Damian, in fifth grade, was going back and forth from his table to his friends’. The gym was filled with sneaker squeaks and the loud buzz of chattering students.
It’s the first year in a while that the Ventnor Middle School has held a multicultural fair. Most of the kids have never been to one before – but some who remembered past fairs had been clamouring to revive the project. Seventh-grade history teacher Debbie Duff got the ball rolling at the end of last year.
After three months of preparation, more than 70 kids gathered in the old gym earlier this month to present souvenirs, recipes, photographs and facts about their cultures. “They were so excited,” said Duff, adding that the fair isn’t for a grade. “They far exceeded my expectations… It’s just awesome. They were really hard workers.”
The parents and, in some cases, grandparents, who were helping man the stands were also getting a kick out of the event. “I love it, it’s so cute!” said Nicole Rosato.
Ventnor Commissioner Tim Kriebel was standing behind a crockpot of meatballs while his daughter, Anderson, obligingly posed for a picture with her face inside a cut out of the Mona Lisa. Kriebel, whose grandfather owned an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, said he loved the fair. “This is just one of my favorite things – you can just see the pride,” he said.
Ventnor isn’t quite as multicultural as neighboring Atlantic City, where several dozen different languages are spoken in one school, but it’s not far off. Census data show more than a quarter of the population is foreign born. In a separate email Duff said that one of the reasons she wanted to revive the fair was so that that students would have a chance to express their heritage. “The cultural diversity and the students’ willingness to accept each other no matter their differences is what truly makes our school unique,” she wrote.
Ckassandra Fuentes’ family is from the Philippines. She’d like to visit one day – she wants to see the mango trees that her uncle has described to her. She had some of his souvenirs from the Philippines in a case at her stall. Fuentes is in the sixth grade and said that the fair was a lot of fun. “Looking and seeing where people are from – how their country is, learning about it – it was a lot of work but it was really fun.”
More than 20 countries were represented at the fair, ranging from the Far East to Europe, Central and Southern America. Duff said she was impressed with the turnout but expects it could be even bigger next year, now the students know what the fair is about. “I think now they can see it, it will sort of raise the excitement for next year,” she said. “We’re hoping it grows each year.”