Carrboro Commons

Carrboro fiesta combines music, cultural awareness

By Alex Linder

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Carrboro was host to the sounds of shaking beads, strumming guitars and Spanish sing-along. These are the sounds of the fiesta, and they are becoming more and more common.

“I definitely think that traditional Mexican music has a role to play in the future,” said Juan Díes, 48, producer and member of the Sones de México Ensemble, a Chicago-based traditional Mexican musical group that visited Carrboro. “It’s going to have a larger and larger role considering how the Mexican and Latino populations have been growing.”

The Sones de México Ensemble plays Mexican music of different styles including songs more than 300 years old based on Aztec myths. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

Sones de México specializes in various styles of son, Mexican folk music, and spent April 7th-9th working with local schoolchildren in Orange, Durham and Chatham counties. They performed their show, titled Fiesta Mexicana, at the Carrboro ArtsCenter.

Thanks to a downtown scattered with advertisements written in both Spanish and English alongside taco trucks, Hispanics have become a larger and more visible part of the Carrboro community. This is reflected in the numbers.

According to the 2010 Census, there are 2,706 people of Hispanic or Latino origin living in Carrboro. This makes up 13.8 percent of the population, the highest percentage in Orange County.

According to the Town of Carrboro website, this marks a significant increase from only a few decades ago. In 2000, the Hispanic or Latino population was 2,062. In 1990, it was only 199. That is a 1,260 percent increase over 20 years.

Díes said that the rapid growth of Hispanic populations, like in Carrboro, has created some problems. He said that many Latino children grow up ignorant of their cultural history.

“Some kids of Mexican ancestry aren’t taught about where they came from,” he said. “I think that’s where Fiesta Mexicana fills a huge gap, in teaching them about their culture and their traditions.”

The performance by Sones de México combined traditional Mexican music with dance and history creating the jubilant atmosphere of a fiesta. Songs varied from those inspired by Aztec myths to the rock and roll song “La Bamba,” as well as its inspiration. Songs were bookended by historical and cultural lessons about traditional instruments, words and gods.

The performers encouraged the audience to participate, even getting kids onstage to learn Mexican dances.

“I was really amazed by how educational it was,” said Gabrielle Ruth, 37, of Carrboro, who brought her two children to see the group. “My kids were very into it, one even won’t stop repeating the words that he learned.”

With the help of band member Lorena Iñiguez, kids from the audience are invited onstage to learn a traditional Mexican dance. (Staff photo by Alex Linder)

The music featured in Fiesta Mexicana comes from regions across Mexico. To play all these different styles, the six members of the group play 70 different acoustic instruments.

These include traditional instruments like guitars, fiddles and drums, but also include less typical instruments made from armadillo shells, donkey skulls and conch shells.

“Whenever I think of Mexican music, I typically think of mariachi with maracas,” said Amy Hogan, 35, a librarian from Carrboro who brought her daughter Ann. “This band went way beyond that with a bunch of instruments I’ve never even seen. It was nice to learn about them.”

Díes said that Sones de México is very dedicated to teaching. During their visit, they held workshops at local schools and played for more than 500 kids at the ArtsCenter.

Victor Pichardo, 44, the director of the ensemble, said that he came up with the idea of Fiesta Mexicana not only to teach Latino children about their Mexican heritage, but to teach those around as well.

“I think it’s good for children who are growing up beside Mexican kids and want to learn about it,” he said. “Kids are becoming more and more exposed to different cultures, and it’s not as foreign as it used to be.”

The songs and lessons of Fiesta Mexicana are taken from a double album released last April called Fiesta Mexicana: Mexican Songs and Stories for Niños and Niñas and their Papás and Mamás. The album includes two discs, one in English and the other in Spanish.

The Sones de México Ensemble began touring Chicago schools in 1994 and since has toured throughout the country. They were nominated for a Grammy in 2007 with their album “Esta Tierra Es Tuya” (This Land is Your Land). The album includes covers of not only the Woody Guthrie classic, but also Led Zeppelin’s “Four Sticks” and J.S. Bach’s “Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 2 & 3.”

“A couple of years ago we did some songs to integrate in with American culture,” Pichardo said. “Pretty soon American culture is going to have mix with us.”

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Starting Spanish early at Carrboro Elementary School

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 in Books,Carrboro children,En Español,Latino Issues,School news by jock

By Trevor Kapp
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this story, Special Education Teacher Holly Duncan and Reading Teacher Maria Arbiol (pictured below) were not correctly identified in the captions. The Commons apologizes and regrets the error.

Lupita Cortes speaks fluent Spanish with a nearly perfect accent, which is particularly audible when she pronounces words like “correr,” “nosotros” and “hora.”

Cortes has, after all, grown up in a Spanish-only-speaking household with Mexican parents who have put great emphasis on accent and elocution.

“We correct her if she pronounces a word badly,” said Edith Cortes, Lupita’s mother.

Lupita Cortes (right) and her classmates play Spanish word games on their iPod touches as Special Education Teacher Holly Duncan instructs them. Staff photo by Trevor Kapp

But when the 5-year-old is asked to read the language and write basic sentences, she struggles at times.

Cortes is one of 48 kindergarteners—divided into two sections—enrolled in the dual language program at Carrboro Elementary School, which for nine years has been teaching students as young as preschoolers basic Spanish skills with the hope that they can become proficient in speaking and writing early in life.

“It’s important because around the world, the majority of people don’t just speak one language,” said Alexandra Romero, Cortes’ Spanish teacher, who is in her third year at the school. “The average person speaks more than two languages, so here we teach them two languages. The ones who know Spanish learn English, and the ones who know English learn Spanish.”

Cortes’ day begins with English instruction in the morning, which consists of basic reading and writing exercises designed to improve her comfort level with the language. At noon, she and her classmates break for lunch and then take about 20 minutes to practice a dance routine to be performed in front of parents in the coming weeks.

Around 1 p.m., they walk to Romero’s classroom to begin Spanish lessons for the afternoon.

“We do everything,” Romero said. “We dance, we read books. They’re looking at listening exercises and letter exercises, some words that are used frequently, and we practice writing them.”

Romero added that the class has also done a geography and culture section, in which it looked at several Spanish-speaking countries and their customs and daily routines.

On this particular day, though, the students were divided into four groups and practiced various activities ranging from letter exercises with blocks to playing games on iPod touches.

“Everything we do is fun,” Cortes said. “I’m learning how to write. I know how to speak, but I don’t know how to write.”

Reading Teacher Maria Arbiol works with students in Alexandra Romero’s kindergarten class on their Spanish pronunciation. Staff photo by Trevor Kapp

“I like the computers,” another student said, referring to the iPod touches. “I’m with my friends, and I like doing the exercises.”

The class relies heavily on teaching assistants and volunteers—particularly UNC-Chapel Hill Spanish students involved in service learning—to assist the kindergarteners with the various exercises.

“The kids are much better at Spanish than I am,” joked Cassandra McCandless, a Chapel Hill native and UNC-CH freshman who recently began volunteer in Romero’s class.

“They’re already practically fluent in both languages.”

With up to four instructors in the classroom at a particular time, students are able to take full advantage of the available resources and hone a variety of linguistic skills at the different stations.

But the success of Carrboro Elementary’s dual language program has not come without some adversity.

“We have difficulty finding material that’s in Spanish,” Romero said. “It’s a little complicated in terms of money and because (the material) doesn’t exist. There’re a lot of activities and materials in English, but not in Spanish.”

In addition, the program has become so popular that the school has had to institute a lottery at the beginning of the year to determine which students will receive dual language instruction and which will be traditionally schooled.

“We’re overfilled,” says Mayra Menjivar, who is in her fourth year as a teaching assistant at Carrboro Elementary. “If someone withdraws, the next day someone else enrolls.”

Because of the lack of space, Menjivar said, the school is going to decide in the coming weeks whether to make its entire curriculum dual language.

Menjivar said she believed some parents were opposed to the idea because of the heavy burden and rigorous workload a second language would put on their children. But she added that the benefits were far too widespread to ignore.

“Culture is evolving,” she said. “To succeed in the future, they’ll need it. In jobs, they want people who speak both, and if you can’t compete, you won’t go far.”

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UNC-CH student creates program to assist police

Posted on November 10th, 2010 in Latino Issues by jock

By Dean Drescher
Carrboro Commons Co-Editor

Ahna Hendrix knows where she wants to use her voice.

Hendrix, 28, is starting La Voz (the Spanish word for “voice”) — a volunteer-based Spanish-language translation service that will assist both the Carrboro and Chapel Hill police departments.

Ahna Hendrix, the founder of La Voz translation services, stands outside of Carroll Hall, which houses the UNC-CH School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where she is working to create a volunteer-based translation service to assist the Carrboro and Chapel Hill police departments. (Staff photo by Dean Drescher)

She became fluent in Spanish after spending time traveling through Central America. Much of that time was spent in Panama, working for a non-profit that helps empower women. Hendrix, who is from Franklin, came up with the idea of La Voz during her job in the summer of 2010.

“Over the summer I worked with the Carrboro Police Department translating and working in their office as an assistant and I had to translate several times between folks who would come in with questions to police officers from anything to something small like ticket to a bigger issue,” Hendrix said. “I saw time and time again how Latinos specifically, but also other non-English speaking immigrants as well, were arrested because they didn’t go to court for maybe a speeding ticket or even something small like a seatbelt ticket because they just didn’t understand.”

According to the Town of Carrboro website, Carrboro has the highest Hispanic population in Orange County — 2,062 people or 9.1 percent. Hendrix says none of its police officers are fluent in Spanish.

“Seeing a huge gap of communication between the officers and the detectives just on a normal day-to-day basis it was really apparent that something needed to be in place,” Hendrix said.

So she got to work.

“I think that communication is probably the best answer to just about everything,” Hendrix said. “And because this world is becoming so much smaller and because people speaking different languages are starting to live closer and closer together it’s becoming more difficult.”

Hendrix, a journalism major, is part of Lucila Vargas’ Latino Media Studies class this fall at UNC-Chapel Hill. The class required the creation of media products — so Hendrix has been using this as an opportunity to promote La Voz.

Ginny Teague, a UNC-CH senior who has been working with Hendrix and La Voz, said the program has huge potential.

“She’s very driven to get this program up and running, and I think that kind of dedication allows for lots of success,” Teague said. “La Voz is definitely going places and can help a lot of people.”

The program will work like this: UNC-CH students and members of the community who are interested will be given a fluency test. If they pass, they will be administered a background check by the Chapel Hill police. If they pass the background check, they’ll sign up for a specific time or times during the week that is convenient for them to translate. Then, if the Carrboro or Chapel Hill police need a translator, the La Voz volunteer will be called and can help translate.

Hendrix created flyers, brochures, a Twitter account and a Facebook account — all to help get the word out about her program. She also met with the police departments, local lawyers and held information sessions on the UNC-CH campus.

“The relationship in between immigrants and police officers was actually pretty good in the spring, and then we have the law with everything that happened in Arizona over the summer and everywhere in the nation attitudes towards immigrants just exploded,” Hendrix said, speaking of Senate Bill 1070, an Arizona proposition designed to minimize illegal immigration.

Hendrix says her goal is to help ease these tensions between Hispanic immigrants and police by opening up communication. And she has more, bigger goals for the future.

“I think it’s unlimited with the program what the program could evolve into,” Hendrix said.

“I have so many large dreams for it but for now I want to create a program that can be taken to other cities or towns and implemented to fulfill their own needs that will be volunteer-based and be a gateway for communication between cultures and languages.”

Eventually, Hendrix wants the program to expand past the Spanish-language and past police departments.

“Even though we’re starting with the police departments and starting with Spanish, I want to expand to whom the services are offered and in what language,” Hendrix said.

There are no limits for La Voz, she says.

“As far as the limits of the program, that’s the thing, there will always be a new language to be translated or there are just so many languages so the limits of the program, they’re limitless,” Hendrix said.

“And the world’s definitely not getting any bigger.”

Art brings snapshots of Mexico

Posted on March 4th, 2010 in Latino Issues by jock

By Tori Hamby

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Although many Carrboro residents may never travel to Mexico, independent photographer Jerry Markatos provides them with a window into everyday Mexican life through his art.

Independent photographer Jerry Markatos displays a photograph of a young street vendor in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, selling handcrafted bookmarks to support his family. (Staff photo by Tori Hamby)

Markatos’ photographs are part of an art exhibit titled “Artists as Witnesses: Two Views of the Latino Experience.” The exhibit, located in the Carrboro Branch Library and McDougle School Media center, is sponsored by the library and the Chapel Hill Institute for Cultural and Language Education.  It also features paintings by Cornelio Campos—a Mexican immigrant artist who lives in Durham. The exhibit will remain in the library until April 3.

“This exhibit brings together the economic and social issues that the Mexican people deal with on a daily basis,” Markatos said.

Sharon Mújica, outreach director of CHICLE, a business in Carrboro that teaches a variety of languages to children and adults, said that Markatos’ photographs document the Latino experience in Mexico, while Campos’ paintings explore the Latino immigrant experience inside the United States.

Markatos said he took the photographs in 2000 while accompanying a study abroad seminar for North Carolina teachers to Mexico City, Oaxaca, Guerrero and Morelos. His work has been displayed in schools and community centers across the state, with the purpose of promoting dialogue among North Carolinians about Mexican culture and issues important to the Mexican community, including immigration.

Center fights for Carrboro day laborers’ human rights

Posted on February 18th, 2010 in Economy,Employment,Features,Latino Issues,Town government by jock

By Latisha Catchatoorian

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

On a sunny, yet chilly day, Latino men are huddled outside of Abbey Court Condominiums or the BP gas station across the street on Jones Ferry Road.  Some of these day laborers are residents of Abbey Court, which also serves as the location of The Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center, led by Director Judith Blau.

Alfonso Hernandez, 19, a volunteer at the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center, shows some members of the local Latino population.  The Center focuses on helping the community as a whole, not restricted to just Latinos or any other group. Recently, protection of day laborers and their rights has been a focus of the Center. Staff Photo By Latisha Catchatoorian

Alfonso Hernandez, 19, a volunteer at the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center, shows some members of the local Latino population. The Center focuses on helping the community as a whole, not restricted to just Latinos or any other group. Recently, protection of day laborers and their rights has been a focus of the Center. (Staff Photo By Latisha Catchatoorian)

“Vans just pick people up and hire them for the day,” Blau said.  “It happens across the U.S.  Standing out in the freezing rain, snow, ice, is just wrong. No one should have to do that, anywhere.”

The center proclaims that human rights are for all people with no exceptions.  Recently the center has been advocating the passage of new legislation to protect the rights and wages of day laborers in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. This is part of the center’s mission, as one of its goals is to “go to bat” for those who face discrimination in these towns.

Day laborers, who are often hired for jobs that vary on a day-to-day basis, are sometimes denied pay.  Pay could be denied for projects that are a day’s work or for projects that take a few weeks.  The center has been petitioning the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to make such an exploitation, which is currently a civil offense, into a criminal act.

“All people are entitled to protection on the job, to good wages, to acceptable hours,” said Blau.  “The way the state law reads now, it’s only a civil offense to violate the labor rights of undocumented workers. To put some teeth into that law, we are posing it be a criminal offense.”

Many of these laborers are undocumented workers in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.  But Blau said according to federal labor laws, there is no distinction for protection between those who are documented and those who are not.

These workers simply wait and hope for any work they are lucky enough to obtain.

Blau said that many workers started coming to Rafael Gallegos, the assistant director of the center, telling him that they worked for two weeks and weren’t paid. Or that they were getting such low wages that they couldn’t possibly survive on them. Or that they were injured on the job and employers weren’t taking care of their medical expenses.

“These are all violations of national legal protections, but because employers know that the day laborers and other poor people are unlikely to go to the small claims court and go through the procedures of getting compensation, they get by with it,” Blau said. “For Carrboro to pass this ordinance would be a fantastic advance.”

Gallegos is a sociology graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, originally from Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico.  His thesis, which is on day laborers, specifically concentrates on those in Carrboro.

El Futuro provides mental health resources to Latinos

Posted on February 16th, 2010 in Latino Issues,Uncategorized by jock

By Victoria Hamby

Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Luke Smith, executive director of El Futuro, gives a presentation about the organization to Duke Family Medicine.

Luke Smith, executive director of El Futuro, gives a presentation about the organization to Duke Family Medicine. (Photo courtesy of El Futuro)

When Alejandra Martinez-Lecabe moved from Argentina to the United States at the age of 19, she knew she had entered a land of great opportunity.

Today, employed as a therapist for El Futuro, an organization that provides inexpensive mental health care to Latinos in Carrboro and Durham, Martinez-Lecabe uses the skills afforded her by those opportunities to help fellow Latino immigrants.

“When I came here and found El Futuro and other therapists who understood immigration and acculturation issues, it was very refreshing to be around others who felt the same way,” Martinez-Lecabe said.

After receiving her master’s degree in social work at the University of Iowa, Martinez-Lecabe began working as a therapist in Iowa, but found that few people at her workplace had an extensive understanding of issues and problems inherent to the Latino immigrant experience.

After moving to North Carolina—with its rapidly rising Latino population—and discovering El Futuro, Martinez-Lecabe said she was delighted to find a place to work where her colleagues recognized the hardships of immigration and the psychological problems those hardships create.

Meat market owner honored for store’s spirit

Posted on March 4th, 2009 in Features,Latino Issues,Lifestyles by jock

By Carly Brantmeyer
Carrboro Commons Photo Editor

From rattlesnake to alligator meat, Cliff Collins, owner of Cliff’s Meat Market in Carrboro, sells every kind of meat you could dream of, and on Feb. 22 he received a Pauli Murray Human Relations Award.

brantmeyer_clifffinal.jpg Cliff Collins, owner of Cliff’s Meat Market in Carrboro, 60, gives thanks for receiving a Pauli Murray Award on Sunday, Feb. 22, at New Hope Elementary School in Chapel Hill. The award honors Reverend Dr. Murray’s life by recognizing an individual, youth and business that have fostered and promoted human rights, diversity and equality in the Orange County community. Tim Peck of Carrboro, 53, nominated Cliff’s Meat Market for the award in the business category after witnessing the owner’s interaction and involvement with the Hispanic community. “My business has been an asset to me and hopefully it’s been an asset to you,” Collins said.
Staff photo by Carly Brantmeyer

The ceremony at New Hope Elementary School in Chapel Hill recognized a youth, a business and an individual who epitomized the legacy of Pauli Murray as a social justice advocate. Collins, a 60-year-old Chatham County resident, was recognized in the business category for Cliff’s Meat Market, which he founded in 1973 on 100 West Main St.

Tim Peck, 53, a general contractor and plumber for Peck and Artisans in Carrboro, nominated Collins for the award after witnessing Collins’ interaction and involvement with the Hispanic population during the 2008 presidential election.

“Cliff has really reached out to the Hispanic community,” Peck said. “He feels like they’re family, and he looks out for them.”

When Peck first entered Cliff’s Meat Market, he noticed Collins’ Spanish-friendly atmosphere, complete with Spanish labels, such as “Fruta y Vegetales” hanging above baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables. Peck also noticed a taco stand that Collins supported on his property during the election, in hopes that the Hispanic vendor would make extra money to provide for his family.

“The taco stand at my place added a little spice of life to downtown Carrboro,” Collins said. He said that he strives to make his store feel family-oriented and welcoming. Collins wants to learn more of the Spanish language and wants the Hispanic population to learn his.

With a booming business now in its 36th year, Collins expanded his staff to include Hispanic employees and developed meaningful friendships with his Hispanic customers. Tolo, a 31-year-old Hispanic employee at Cliff’s Meat Market, said he enjoys working at the store because he is able to provide for his family.

“Cliff is [a] good person,” said Tolo, who has worked for Collins for 13 years and who lives in Chapel Hill.

The Pauli Murray Award honors Murray’s life by recognizing those who have fostered and promoted human rights, diversity and equality in Orange County. Peck said the way Cliff lives his life reflects Murray’s character.

Barry Jacobs, chairman of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, spoke Sunday about the life and legacy of Murray. Born in 1910, Murray was an African-American female who grew up in Durham. She risked her life as a sit-in activist in communities that were opposed to racial change. Despite the adversities she faced because of her race, Murray persevered and became a poet, lawyer, writer, teacher and ordained priest.

The Sunday ceremony highlighted the importance of how extraordinary so-called ordinary people can be. The Guiding Lights of St. John Holiness Church performed four soulful musical selections. N.C. State Senator Ellie Kinnaird, relatives of Pauli Murray and Orange County Board of Commissioners members were in attendance.

Collins hopes to continue to serve the Carrboro community however he can, to honor the legacy of Murray. “There’s a whole lot more behind winning the award than just winning it. It’s living it, and it’s been a joy living it, and it will continue to be so,” Collins said.

Collins’ expertise is not solely limited to meat. He remembers names, faces, stories and facts about his customers, and is an encyclopedia of knowledge. “I tell my customers where to fix their cars, where to buy new shoes and what restaurants are good,” Collins said. When it comes to Carrboro, the meat market owner knows what’s in, what’s out and where to get it.

Chapel Hill native Cheryl Edwards, 51, has been coming to Cliff’s Meat Market since she was a young girl.

“He’s always very friendly, and you get good quality meat,” Edwards said, explaining why she has returned to the store for so many years.

Meat market customers can attest to the fact that the loyal store owner helps his customers and individuals in the Carrboro community however he can. Collins recalls a customer who was a minister who came in years ago and told him, “You know what? You’re doing the best ministry in this store that anyone could do in their life, and you’re doing it every day.”

Agent advocates conservation, immigrant rights

Posted on March 4th, 2009 in Features,Growth and development,Latino Issues,Uncategorized by jock

By Kelsey Kusterer
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Carrboro has grown significantly economically and culturally in recent decades, and Gary Phillips, a resident of Silk Hope, has been there to observe the town’s changes.

kusterer_gary-phillipsfinal.jpg

Gary Phillips, partner and broker at Weaver Street Realty, sits in the office of the real estate business he founded in 1982. A man of many hats, Phillips said he chose real estate as a profession because “environmental real estate was a good idea. It would allow me to impact the land in a way I wouldn’t be able to outside the process.”
Staff photo by Kelsey Kusterer

“I liked it from the beginning,” Phillips said about Carrboro.

Phillips is a broker and partner at Weaver Street Realty, located at 116 E. Main St., which he founded in Carrboro in 1982. He is known in the community for his diverse interests and involvement in town affairs, which include serving as a lay preacher, being a former Chatham County Commissioner and working as an auctioneer, among several other community roles he’s played.

Jay Parker, partner and broker-in-charge at Weaver Street Realty, became Phillips’ friend while Phillips was working as a bartender. After Phillips founded Weaver Street Realty, Parker started working with him at auctions.

“He’s got a tremendous amount of energy, and he’s developed a tremendous amount of disciplines,” Parker said.

Jackie Helvey, Phillips’ friend and CEO and owner of UniqueOrn Enterprises, located at 118 E. Main St. in Carrboro, met Phillips at an auction he was running.

Community Dinner showcases local diversity

By Sarah Shah
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Undaunted by relentless rain and frigid temperatures, more than 600 people made their way to McDougle School in Carrboro on March 1st for an afternoon of food, entertainment and good company.

shah_communitydinner1final.jpg Attendees at the 12th Annual Community Dinner listen to local performance group ‘Eat Local’ explain the importance of buying and eating locally grown food. The event held at McDougle School on March 1st was a zero-waste event, in which 95% of all waste was composted or recycled.
Staff photo by Sarah Shah

The 12th Annual Community Dinner, sponsored by more than 60 restaurants and local businesses, sought to celebrate the cultural diversity of Orange County through food and entertainment, said Nervys Levy, chairwoman of the Community Dinner Committee.

“We want the dinner to be a mirror of the community,” Levy said. “A mirror of who we are as Orange County in 2009.”

A mirror of who we are

Levy said the dinner also serves as a subtle community-building activity in which participants learn about people who are very different from themselves.

“The idea is to come sit with a stranger, and leave with a friend,” she said.

Marcia Corprew, owner of Town Planner Community Calendar, who has attended the dinner for the past three years, said her favorite part of the event was the diversity of people.

“People come from all slices of life, and no one has any pretentiousness,” she said.

With the goal of showcasing the community’s diversity, event organizers invited a variety of performance groups ranging from Joy Williams, a specialist in African dance, to East Baile Latino, a Latino dance group from East Chapel Hill High School. Associate priest II Dug from the Won-Buddhist Temple blessed the food.

Levy said this year event organizers also wanted to focus on the inclusion of the Spanish-speaking and youth communities. For the first time, the dinner featured Marisol Silva from El Centro Latino as a Spanish-speaking emcee.

Several youth performance groups, such as Cedar Ridge High School Choir, also provided entertainment. Levy said she hoped these groups would inspire others.

Dr. Rilandra Batise, a psychologist from Carrboro whose nephew performed at the dinner as part of the all-boy pop band Prince Miah & the Girl Toyz, said she was thrilled to attend an event that focused on kids doing positive things.

“I’m ecstatic to see we have a future,” she said.

shah_communitydinner3final.jpg Longtime volunteer Kara Baldwin (right) and psychologist Dr. Rilandra Batise dance as the all-boy pop band Prince Miah & the Girl Toyz performs at the Community Dinner.
Staff photo by Sarah Shah

Levy added that the dinner was a zero-waste event, meaning that more than 95 percent of all waste would be recycled or composted. Even the silverware was made from cornstarch, and event organizers tried to use locally grown food whenever possible.

Sujan Joshi, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Raleigh, said she loved the wide range of people and performers.

“I think [the dinner] accurately represents our community,” she said. “It’s a really diverse group.”

A democratic bank

Levy said the dinner would not be successful without the community’s generosity.

“We wouldn’t have this dinner if people didn’t want it,” she said.

Event organizers made a strong effort to underwrite ticket costs for needy families. In doing so, the dinner has become a “democratic bank of food and resources in which everybody wins,” Levy said.

This year, many people attended from the women’s shelter and emergency housing, and all leftover food was donated to the Inter-faith Council.

Levy added that the dinner was particularly challenging this year because of the economic recession.

The Inter-faith Council has seen an increase from 1,000 to 2,000 people using the pantry since last year alone, she said, posing an even greater financial obstacle for the dinner, which seeks to be all-inclusive.

Despite this, most restaurants were still more than happy to donate food, Levy said.

“They’re doing their best,” she said. “Generally speaking, I’m just amazed at the generosity of our donors. They know we have families in need.”

This year, attendees ate food prepared primarily by Mildred Council- better known as Mama Dip- with the help from Mint Indian Restaurant, Bandidos Mexican Café and chef Brian Stapleton from the Carolina Inn.

shah_communitydinner2final.jpg Tom Koester, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill from Alexandria, Va, serves food at the Community Dinner. More than 60 local businesses and restaurants sponsored the event.
Staff photo by Sarah Shah

Other restaurants including Jade Palace, Open Eye Cafe, 35 Chinese Restaurant, Margaret’s Cantina and The Chapel Hill Restaurant Group donated side dishes and desserts.“We’re all in the same community, so of course we’re going to participate,” Rupinder Singh, assistant manager of Mint, said.

Greg Overbeck, marketing director of The Chapel Hill Restaurant Group, said that the group, which includes 411 West Italian Café, Squid’s, 518 West Italian Cafe (in Raleigh), Spanky’s Restaurant and Bar and Mez Contemporary Mexican Restaurant, participates in the dinner every year.

“We really believe in giving back to the community,” he said.

More than 35 businesses such as the Hillsborough Chamber of Commerce, the Strowd-Roses Foundation and The Carrboro Branch Library sponsored the event, and an additional 80 to 90 volunteers helped out, Levy said.

Manny Stein, a volunteer from Chapel Hill who has attended the dinner three years in a row, said he arrived at the dinner three hours early to help set up.

“I think the dinner is a wonderful innovation,” he said. “The community is really putting out a creative effort.”

Levy said several different groups helped with arrangements, including students. She said students from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work dealt with parking and food pick-up. Other churches and organizations helped to set-up the event.

Event emcee Ron Stutts from WCHL Radio has been emceeing the event for the past six years, and said this year’s dinner was a huge success despite the bad weather.

“The dinner is always a successful event,” he said. “But this year was the best ever.”

Carrboro preschool teaches toddlers Spanish

Posted on February 18th, 2009 in Latino Issues,School news by jock

By Katie Reich
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

One Carrboro school, Mi Escuelita, is breaking down language and cultural barriers with the Hispanic community through a Spanish immersion program for children ages 1 to 5.

reich_miescuelitafinal.jpg Maria Antonia Garcia, a Chapel Hill resident, teaches the one to two-year-olds in the Spanish immersion program at Mi Escuelita preschool in Carrboro. The walls of the school are covered in art projects, but as most of the displays in Mi Escuelita, these letters of “Amor y Amistad” (Love and Friendship) are all written in Spanish.
Staff photo by Katie Reich

Mi Escuelita, located on Smith Level Road, functions as an independent, non-profit preschool. Maria Antonia Garcia, a teacher at the school, said the Mi Escuelita does more than serve as a day care.

“It’s a learning environment,” Garcia said.

Garcia, who moved from Cuba to Chapel Hill four years ago, teaches the 1- to 2-year-old children. Garcia said she believes that the school provides a great opportunity to teach the younger generation about the language and culture of Latin America.

“In order to understand each other, we need to learn to communicate with one another,” Garcia said.

Despite the nation’s current economic state and the non-traditional nature of the school, Mi Escuelita is thriving. There are no openings for students, and parents interested in the program must add their child’s name to a lengthy wait list, Garcia said.

According the school’s informational brochure, they are in the process of looking for a larger building so the school can accommodate more students.

UNC-Chapel Hill has seen potential in the Spanish immersion curriculum and formed a relationship with Mi Escuelita through the APPLES Service-Learning Program and the UNC-CH School of Education. Each spring semester, the School of Education sends at least one intern to Mi Escuelita, while the APPLES Program provides volunteers throughout the year.

“The UNC-CH students are a great influence not only for the children, but also for the teachers,” Garcia said. “They help with reading and writing projects, while improving their Spanish and learning how to work in a classroom environment.”

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