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Close to their culture: Hispanic students explore their roots

LAWRENCEVILLE - Students at Louise Radloff Middle School celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month on Friday by dressing in clothing from Hispanic countries, eating tamales and other Hispanic cuisine and scrambling to collect candy that fell from a pinata.

Two seventh-grade students, dressed in Mexican dance costumes, said they thought the celebration was a good way for students to show their pride for their heritage.

"It's a good way to show respect," said Madai Hernandez, who wore a bright orange skirt from Mexico. "It's a good thing to celebrate."

Hernandez said she was born in Mexico, and she learned how to dance there during a recent visit.

Vanessa Cortes, who wore a green Mexican dance skirt, said she was born in the U.S., but her parents are Mexican natives.

"I think it's good for Hispanics to show their pride," she said.

Jose Vera, who is in the sixth grade, said the celebration allowed him to meet a lot of new people.

He also learned a little about Hispanic cuisine.

"I've never seen some of the food before," he said, as he looked at the table full of dishes provided by parents.

Some parents who brought food to the celebration said they also think it is important to celebrate Hispanic culture.

Monica Sanchez, who spoke through a translator, said she was happy that the school had the celebration.

"It's a chance to keep children close to their roots and culture," said Sanchez, whose daughter, Lesley Basaldua, attends sixth grade at the school. "Hopefully, they will keep doing it and expanding it even more. I'm very thankful to be in this country, and I'm thankful that I can bring my culture into the country."

The school's principal, Patty Heitmuller, said the celebration was a good opportunity for parents to feel comfortable coming to the school.

About 58 percent of the students at Louise Radloff Middle School are Hispanic, Heitmuller said.

Friday's celebration was a way to honor the culture of all of the different Hispanic countries the students are from, she said.

Assistant Principal Angie Wright said the school would continue to celebrate and learn about Hispanic heritage through Oct. 15.

Jorge Quintana, a Gwinnett schools spokesman, said other schools are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month as well, but there is no systemwide celebration.

Lilburn Elementary School is having a "Festival de Culturas," or a cultural festival, from Oct. 9-13. Each day, the school will celebrate a Latin American country, and members of the school's community will bring artifacts and speak to students.

Beaver Ridge Elementary School is having a celebration at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17. The event will focus on literacy and books in the school library that relate to Hispanic culture and history. Students will parade through the school with books that represent their home countries, and parents can watch a student play.