I know even before I get to the high school for the fiesta that I am going to cry at some point during the evening. Antonio and Crystel have been attending La Semana Cultural Camp for a week every summer since they were in first grade. Now fifth graders, they are going to join 450 other children born in over 20 different countries and perform the Latin American dance that they had learned during the week. There would be 25 dances, put on by everyone from first graders to Ayudantes (adoptees who recently graduated high school). Except when we travel in Guatemala, Latin American Cultural Camp is the only place that I could lose Antonio and Crystel in a crowd. . . because here everyone looks like them.
If this is my experience as an adult, imagine what it would be for a child to be surrounded by his or her own ethnic origin if only for one week a year. To top that off, all the children are adopted. For the first time, a child doesn’t have to explain him or herself to a new friend. There are no questions. Everyone is adopted.
Families travel from 14 different states and Canada to attend La Semana. The adoptees learn Latin American crafts and dances, try Latin American foods, hear Latin American music, and are exposed to written and spoken Spanish. The children also take a class that focuses on age-appropriate topics related to adoption. Most importantly, they just get to be kids with other kids like them.
Every year, La Semana, focuses on a country. This year it is Paraguay. Throughout the week, campers explore the culture of Paraguay. Through video and games they get an overview of Paraguay’s food, music, geography, sports teams and animals. At a Paraguayan market and fiesta, campers taste food and drink, create with beads and clay, and play traditional holiday games.
Jody has been at La Semana all week volunteering her time in the craft department. La Semana is successful due to the volunteer efforts of the families of children attending camp. All camp programs are planned and executed by the families involved. There are fewer than seven paid teachers for more than 450 campers. To encourage participation, La Semana requires a parent of kindergarten through tenth grade campers to volunteer in some capacity.
Jody is already inside Lakeville High School having saved our seat hours ago for the fiesta in the gymnasium. Tears start welling up in my eyes as I see parents streaming through the school entrance holding hands with their young children. The fiesta is a time for the campers to show off their ‘stuff.’ Inside the dressing room, they will be transformed as they put on traditional dress, and the girls adorn themselves with red lipstick, blue eye shadow, and blush.
Jody texts to see if I want to sit and wait for the dances to start. But I don’t. I want to stay in the gathering area and watch everybody. This unnerves Antonio and Crystel to no end because I often do this no matter where we are. “Mom, quit staring,” they will say. Unfortunately, it will be their cross to bear.
This afternoon, I have an opportunity to observe over a hundred Latin American teens and young adults. I witness what Antonio and Crystel will look like in a few years and start to cry. They’re beautiful.