Southold Library helps elementary students celebrate diversity

In the center of the Southold Elementary School cafeteria, a Japanese woman teaches a student to wrap a rice ball in seaweed. Students jump along to the rhythm of maracas, a Latin percussion instrument. Parents munch on pizza and watch their kids color in pictures that recognize upcoming holidays from various cultures and religions. 

About 25 students, parents and Southold locals came together Saturday to honor world cultures with food, music and activities at the school’s Multicultural Celebration. The event, organized by Southold Free Library, ran from 2 to 4 p.m. in the elementary school cafeteria.

Children’s services librarian Dana Bruey coordinated the celebration with help from locals Jo Anne Vitiello, Renato Stafford and Sonomi Obinata. She said they requested that attendees bring in dishes that reflected their cultures.

Ms. Bruey said Southold resident Sophia Greenfield approached her last June about organizing a children’s party that would highlight all cultures.

“She wanted something like this to happen — for everyone to come together, everyone to party together,” she said. “So, I recruited everyone from the community to bring food from their own traditional background to celebrate.”

Ms. Obinata, whose son graduated from the district, demonstrated how to make onigiri, or rice balls, during the event.

She’s grateful to the Southold district, Ms. Obinata said, because it helped prepare her son for Princeton University.

“I’m Japanese, my husband is Japanese, and this school accepted him for who he is, and his culture,” she said. “It’s a wonderful environment he grew up in. So I want to give thanks for helping him, and I wanted to do it through my culture. So, I took what I know.”

Ms. Obinata said she often leads sushi-making demonstrations at the Southold library and the elementary school with assistance from Ms. Bruey. She was eager to work the multicultural event after the success of her previous demonstrations.

“Once I started doing local cooking lessons, everyone seemed to like it,” she said. “So, today, I’m making rice balls with plums. It is my comfort food.”

Around 3 p.m., Ms. Vitiello, a Zumba instructor, invited students to the stage for a dance lesson to international music, encouraging them to move and dance with hula hoops. Coloring pages were also available for children.

The celebration was only a test run, Ms. Bruey said, to prepare the organizers for future events. While another multicultural celebration has not yet been scheduled, Ms. Bruey said she hopes the library will sponsor two in 2019.

“We were just testing the waters,” she said. “We want to get another event together in the near future.”

Bringing students together to recognize various cultures is crucial for children in a time of “great negativity” against certain ethnic groups, Ms. Bruey said.

“It’s nice to have a breath of fresh air, and just have some positivity,” she said. “We can all come together, regardless of the background we have, and celebrate together.”

On Thursday night, a similar celebration will take place for the Greenport school community. A Multicultural Festival will be held in the high school gymnasium from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is intended to showcase the many cultures of people who live in the community. At least 14 countries will be represented, from Greece to Ukraine to El Salvador.

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