Latinos learn about culture - Catholic Courier

Latinos learn about culture

ROCHESTER — Eight-year-old Johnathan Quinones furrowed his brow and very carefully applied bright green and yellow paint to his clay Magi figurine.

“I like a lot of colors,” Johnathan said about his palette selection. “I like to be creative and stuff.”

Johnathan and other Latino youths ages 11 to 20 had the chance to express their creativity July 12 while learning about their heritage during the second in a six-part cultural-awareness series. The series was sponsored by Puerto Rican Youth Development and Resource Center, and the July 12 session on traditional arts and crafts took place at St. Michael Church on North Clinton Avenue.

More than 30 students participated in the workshops throughout the six sessions, which ran from July 6 through Aug. 3, said Neomi Ortiz, one of the program coordinators.

Local artist Alfredo Soto was more than happy to help teach the children about traditional arts from his native Puerto Rico. He said he dreams of a day when Rochester will be home to a cultural center that could showcase Latino artists.

“I always seek to share the arts with Rochester so that the youth can see what that art is,” particularly from his hometown of Ponce, Soto added.

Parent Maria Morales of Rochester enrolled her 11-year-old twin daughters, Epseia and Elycia Plaza, in the program after she heard about it through a relative who works at PRYD.

“It’s good because I want them to learn more about the culture,” she said. “They don’t know that much. They were born here (Rochester). … And to keep them busy is good.”

During the series’ first workshop on July 6, Soto taught the students how to make Magi figures using clay, pieces of metal cut from clothing hangers and aluminum foil as filler material underneath the clay. Students made the figurines by rolling the clay to soften it then molding it into cloaks, faces, crowns, beards and other shapes.

For students at the July 12 session who had missed the first session, Soto even got on his knees to demonstrate one of the poses they could strive for in their creations.

Art is something in which one can experiment without the worry that every detail has to be perfect, Soto explained.

“Whatever you do, you leave it like that,” he said.

But as one girl struggled with the clay, Soto jokingly offered assistance “so your parents don’t think it’s a Mexican tortilla,” he said.

In Puerto Rico Soto has taken classes in wood carving, sketching, and watercolor and acrylic painting. He has lived in Rochester since 1982 but travels to his native island often, he said.

During demonstrations of the sculpting technique, Soto and the series coordinators also taught the students more about the Magi. The information provided was not just facts about Three Kings Day on Jan. 6 but also the stories of each individual king and his gift to Jesus. Melchor, for example was the Sultan of Arabia.

Ortiz said the children took written quizzes before and after the presentation to show them how their knowledge had grown.

The program began nearly 20 years ago as a way to expose Latino children to their culture not only through art but also music, cooking and dance, Ortiz added. The sessions this summer continue with those subject areas.

“They don’t get those kinds of experiences in the schools,” she said, adding that the final session was to be a field trip to Seabreeze Amusement Park for those students who attended all of the workshops.

Plus, Ortiz added, this year’s students had the added bonus of having their Magi figures displayed for all of the community to see during PRYD’s Aug. 4 Neighborhood Fair.

Noraly Rivera, 13, said she was glad her grandmother had signed her up for the program.

“We get to use our own ideas and create something,” she said.

Plus Noraly, who will be a freshman at East High School in the fall, said the program also helps teens like her to feel good about their heritage.

“They’ll have a better understanding of where they came from,” she said.

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