GLASGOW – Students gathered under a giant tent last Wednesday in front of Western Kentucky University-Glasgow.
And they were speaking Spanish to each other.
In the fourth year of the Festival Cultural Hispano, students from Barren County High School, Caverna High School, Cumberland County High School, Glasgow High School, Hart County High School, Monroe County High School, Warren Central High School and WKU-Glasgow represented different Spanish-speaking countries, with BCHS representing three.
WKU-Glasgow Spanish Instructor Yertty VanderMolen, who organized the event, said the main objective of the festival is to promote the “importance of Hispanic culture and Spanish language in this region.”
VanderMolen added that the event is also “an opportunity to celebrate and embrace diversity in our community” and it promotes “camaraderie, participation and friendship among schools and students in the region.”
Leyda Becker, international communities liaison for the city of Bowling Green, was the guest speaker at the festival. She said her position did not exist five years ago, but “because of the growth of the international community in our region and in particular in the city of Bowling Green, city government decided they wanted to have a position exclusively for reaching out to the international community. “
Becker said she moved to the U.S. from Venezuela when she was 13 and she did not speak any English.”
“My mom always told me that education was No. 1,” she said. “It was very important not only to learn English, but to retain my Spanish. I wanted to be able to be bilingual.
“So I made a very conscious effort to continue learning Spanish.”
Becker said it was difficult to learn both languages, but she is “so glad” that she continued the effort and continued to be bilingual. She said after she graduated from WKU, she was very valuable to employers because she could read and write both Spanish and English.
“It was a key to success,” Becker said. “People started to hire me based on the fact that I knew two languages.”
Becker encouraged the students to continue learning another language even if it is not Spanish.
“Please continue learning and making yourself multicultural, bilingual,” she said. “Because this is a global society and a global economy.
“You have to expand your view and your horizons.
“You're never going to go wrong with learning another language.”
Julia Rivas, WKU's program support specialist of diversity and community studies, gave a dance demonstration for the students.
Cuban duo Arturo and Edel performed during lunch, and many students gathered in front of them, dancing to their music.
Glasgow High School sophomore Ella Hagan said she loves to dance and really enjoyed the music. She added that she really enjoyed walking around to all of the different booths that each school made.
“The culture is beautiful,” Hagan said. “I love it. I just texted my mom and said that this is so fun. I've had so much fun. It's just so cool.”
Elizabeth Woosely, GHS Spanish teacher and Spanish club sponsor, said this event is “a great opportunity for all the schools to come together and celebrate foreign language.”
“This is a great thing for WKU to put on for us,” Woosely said, adding that her students have really enjoyed the festival. “It makes them more globally aware and socially aware.”
Woosely said she and her students are “definitely” coming back next year.
There were four competitions during the festival: Best Booth, Best Biography Icon, Best Art Piece and Best Talent Show.
Best Booth: first place, Barren County; second place, Monroe County; and third place, Warren Central. Best Biography Icon: first place, Monroe County; second place, Warren Central; and third place, Barren County. Best Art Piece: first place, Caverna; second place, Warren Central; and third place, Glasgow. Best Talent Show: first place, Glasgow; second place, Barren County; and third place, Caverna.
The festival was sponsored by WKU's Office of International Programs, Potter College, DELO, Department of Modern Languages and WKU-Glasgow. Passport Health Plan also sponsored the event.
Dani Rodgers, Passport's bilingual community engagement representative, said the event is a great learning experience for the students.
“I'm amazed at how many of the students came out with all of their talents and the intermingling of different backgrounds,” she said. “I love that.”
Rodgers said she has lived and worked abroad and that the common perception of Americans is that they only speak one language. She said the process of learning another language is “a great way to tap into the humanity of each other.”
“I think people appreciate the effort when you try to learn another language.”
Sharon Froedge, Spanish and French teacher at Monroe County High School, said when “you learn another language, you learn another culture.”
“It helps you understand other people and be more open to the world,” Froedge said. “Makes the world smaller.”
She said she loves that the festival is not “something that we do for the kids.”
“It's something the kids do and we come in and share it,” Froedge said. “There's no festival without them.
“They do it.”
VIDEO STORY: WKU-Glasgow presents ‘Festival Cultural Hispano 2017’