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Multicultural fair celebrates student diversity at Wauwatosa West

Ethnic food, performances showcased students' cultures

Joey Rampolla (left), Justin Gutter and Carlos Morris serve food at the multicultural fair at Wauwatosa West High School.

Joey Rampolla (left), Justin Gutter and Carlos Morris serve food at the multicultural fair at Wauwatosa West High School. Photo By By Heather Ronaldson

April 8, 2014

Most people couldn't imagine relying on the forest to provide all basic necessities, let alone musical instruments.

For Aral Nen, a native of New Guinea, the forest was his home and means of survival. It also provided lizard skin and beeswax to help fellow New Guineans craft a kundu drum, an instrument that Nen displayed at Wauwatosa West High School's multicultural fair on Wednesday, April 2.

Coming to the United States in 1995 was a culture shock, Nen said, but he's gotten used to it. His wife, Mary Johnston, teaches global studies and world history at Wauwatosa West, where his daughter, Betty Nen, is a junior.

His booth featuring authentic storyboards, clothing and instruments from New Guinea was one of30 at the multicultural fair, a 360-degree display of 25 nationalities. About 300 students participated in the fair, which was free and open to the public.

"(Wauwatosa West) is 40 percent minority now. (The fair) gives our kids who feel different a lot of the time a chance to feel really proud of themselves," said Margaret Patrias, Spanish teacher and organizer of the fair. The Tosa West student body represents about 60 nationalities, as far as their self-identifying cultural heritage, according to a school survey that Patrias conducted a couple years ago.

Visual displays of Australia, Poland, Germany, China, Australia, ancient Rome and Greece and more lined the perimeter of the multipurpose room while foreign language groups performed fairy tale skits in their native languages. Students also read poetry and played music.

Trays of crepes, pot stickers, spaghetti and meatballs, paella and other ethnic cuisine filled the cafeteria for patrons to purchase for one $1 per serving. School parents and teachers either cooked or donated the food for the event.

Volunteers did henna art, face painting, hair braiding and weaving or demonstrated ancient games like knuckle bones, a way ancient Romans and Greeks told fortunes.

Tammie Divine, parent volunteer, and Va'Na Barki, barber stylist at Beauty Milwaukee salon, presented a booth on natural hair care products, styles and textures.

"I feel like everybody gets a little taste of all the different types of culture. Nobody knows how different cultures really are beyond stereotypes, so it's nice to taste the food," said Destiny Dyson, a junior and member of the Black Student Union.

"I like seeing the diversity of the school coming together to unify. I can relate to their traditions," saidJustin Gutter, a student volunteer.

"I get knowledge from learning from people's cultures. It feels really special," said Ashanti Mobley, a freshman who performed an original poem at the fair. Mobley said her poem conveyed the message of being confident in who you are and "what you think is designed for you."

Mobley said she had a friend from India who attended West who felt insecure because people made fun of her.

"It shouldn't matter because you're different," Mobley said. "You have a special culture."

In addition to the fair, three groups of West students presented information about diversity to Eisenhower third- and fourth-graders as part of Tosa West's Multicultural Fair Eisenhower outreach Tuesday, April 1. The presentation focused on increasing respect for cultural differences and gaining a deeper understanding of universal similarities.

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