Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

Mes de Arte: NC students curate cultural connection through art

Voiced by Amazon Polly

Students, families, and members of the Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition (ISLA) organization gathered for the Mes de Arte Expo on March 11. Hosted at St. Thomas More Elementary School, the expo is one of ISLA’s interdisciplinary approaches to Spanish immersion, using art to connect children with heritage and language. 

ISLA is a nonprofit organization that offers multiple Spanish language and cultural immersion opportunities to both children and adults. One of the programs is ISLA Los Sábados, a weekly educational program for children ages 3-17 that focuses on children learning and/or maintaining their heritage language. 

The curriculum immerses participants in over 60 hours of in-person learning. Their model consists of exploring culture through storytelling, traditions, and geography while incorporating projects across disciplines such as STEM and the arts. 

ISLA teachers Sonia Ramirez and Evelia Brenis Escamilla, ISLA board president Mary Jones, board member Edith Nieves Lopez. Derick Lee/EducationNC

The Mes de Arte Expo was one way for students to demonstrate their interdisciplinary learning. For the month of February, students worked with professional artists Carolina Corona, Cornelio Campos, Leticia Alvarez, Luis MacKinney, and Peter Marin.

Collectively, they created projects highlighting the following languages and cultures: Guarani, Huicholes, Nahuatl, Naguake Taino, Quechua, Wayuunaiki, Yucatec Maya. 

Lwiza Escobar Garcia, Executive Director of ISLA. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Evelia Brenis Escamilla has been a teacher with ISLA for over a decade. She said she was excited about the product of the hard work of students learning and seeing others take time to engage with the Taino symbols.

Sonia Ramirez, who also contributed to teaching the Taino language, shared that they wanted to be intentional about their fourth graders making meaningful connections to their own heritage. 

“We’re not just learning about our Spanish language that is the main language in many of the countries that our students come from,” Lwiza Escobar Garcia, executive director of ISLA, said. “We’re learning about history, the dialects of our native tongues that exists, and the current expression, culture and customs that we carry within our families, our communities and ourselves. So, it is an opportunity for environmental exploration, but also self exploration and learning.”

A unique feature of this event was a chance for intergenerational participation. In addition to showcasing student artwork, ISLA parents were offered the opportunity to have artwork featured as well. Pictured below is Ashley Gascha and her mother Beatriz Cardenas, both contributors to the expo. 

Ashley Gascha and Beatriz Cardenas at ISLA’s Mes de Arte Expo. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Sandra Lopez Franco is another teacher with ISLA. She shared that her most exciting moment is seeing parents who were born here in the United States who are trying their best to learn a second language.

She believes that expanding one’s knowledge of language is a powerful tool that makes the world become more global.

ISLA teacher Sandra Lopez Franco at Mes de Arte Expo. Derick Lee/EducationNC

A year ago, she received an opportunity to be a part of a revered dancing group called Mexican Tradition of Julio Ruiz. She wore the dress from one of her performances at the expo as another way to honor culture.

“When they come to this and they see me dressed like this, I feel like they can identify themselves not only with with the style of a dress, but with the colors, the beautiful blues, the white plaid, similar things that this dress has, that I believe are very important for the culture of the Mexican people and Central American people,” she said.

With art displayed around the perimeter for exploration, attendees enjoyed El Cuscatleco’s Salvidorian pupusas and tamales made by Josefina Carbaja. These delectable items were accompanied by a variety of agua frescas, provided by Mariela Rojas. 

Additionally, those present were also able to observe a personal selection of authentic arrowheads and spearheads. Fireman by trade, Dail Hernandez has spent over 20 years collecting the artifacts from Mexico and local areas like Durham, Wake, and Wilson counties. In all, the expo created an opportunity for cultural and community celebration. 

With deep emotion, Escobar Garcia shared how proud she was of the community’s continued growth and all around support for the expo.

“I love that there are so many diverse opportunities for engagement, that I can’t wait to see how we continue to grow and develop,” she said.

Look below to see a gallery of images for the Mes de Arte Expo: 

Derick Lee

Derick Lee is a regional storyteller for EdNC.