It’s a fiesta: Ridgetop celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Tacos were a dollar, the games varied from “lotería” — aka Mexican bingo — to Spanish-language scrabble. And four quarter-dollar tickets could get you hitched, complete with a “certificate” for marriage, in Spanish.

Chelsea Dewey, a ninth-grader, and Jared Burton, an eighth-grader, went through the mock ceremony of a traditional Mexican wedding under an arch of white paper flowers.

They decided to take the plunge “because we are really good friends,” said Jared, grinning as he slipped a plastic ring on Chelsea’s finger after they stepped down from the platform.

The traditional wedding proved to be much more popular of an attraction than Spanish teacher Alfredo Athie had anticipated. He was the driving force behind the first of its kind, a Hispanic Heritage Celebration at Ridgetop Junior High School Tuesday evening.

It was the first “in this fashion” event at the school marking the Sept. 15-Oct. 15 national Hispanic Heritage Month. Athie himself was in fashion wearing an elaborate version of a black charro outfit with silver Mexican eagle buttons.

Athie, who was born in Texas but whose father is from Mexico City and mother from northern Mexico, has been teaching computers at Ridgetop since last year. This year he added Spanish to his teaching schedule. He introduced the fiesta as a cultural experience, which he hopes will become a staple that the greater Ridgetop community, not just the Spanish language students, can enjoy.

More than 100 students, including a sprinkle of parents, were in and out of the bustling school cafeteria in the late afternoon. The proceeds from the raffle and game tickets will benefit Ridgetop’s Spanish club.

One eighth-grader, Nathan Harris, has the ambition to become president of the club. He speaks Spanish at home with his mother, Rosalin Harris, whose mother is from Puerto Rico.

“I’m not fluent, but I know a lot,” Nathan said.

He recently traveled with his parents and older brother to Puerto Rico to visit grandparents and extended family.

“I’d never really seen that part of my family,” Nathan said.

Rosalin and her husband Nick, who moved to Silverdale in July, came to their son’s new school to see his hands-on involvement with Hispanic Heritage Month.

“I’m excited because our son has taken initiative in the Spanish culture,” Rosalin said. “It makes me really proud ... that he takes it seriously.”

He doesn’t look it, but he’s as Latin as can be, said his mother of the pale, light curly brown-haired Raider.

Nathan came back from the family trip with a mission to learn Spanish and more about Hispanic culture, said Rosalin.

Nathan is now in Laura Jacobson’s Spanish 1 class and volunteered to help set up and man one of the Mexican bingo tables at the after-school event.

“Kids this age need a chance to do something outside the classroom,” said Jacobson, who is in her 16th year of teaching Spanish at Ridgetop. “It gets them thinking about another culture.”

Students attending the Hispanic Heritage Celebration had a chance to learn about the culture first- hand from Athie’s cousin, Neyfe Athie. She taught some of the Spanish class students how to cut out the detailed paper garlands that hung around the ceiling of the cafeteria.

Neyfe, who was born in Boston but grew up in Veracruz, Mexico, came to visit her cousin a few weeks ago.

She too was wearing a traditional outfit — “adelita” — a dress of a Mexican soldier’s wife. Neyfe said students had been shy but a few stopped by to ask her where she grew up and what her life in Mexico was like.

Neyfe helped spark the idea for the Ridgetop event when she asked her cousin how the holiday was celebrated locally.

Sept. 15 marks the day of independence for five Latin American countries, Mexico declared independence Sept. 16.

“They don’t celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (here) other than in name,” Alfredo Athie told his cousin. That is how he decided to offer up his collection of Spanish language games and music for the event.

The fiesta is aimed at educating visitors about Hispanic culture but also, “just to break up the beginning of the school year,” Alfredo said.

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