By Sarah Kuta, Daily Camera
Three middle school students dressed in masks to look like old men hobbled to the front of the stage at Old Main on the University of Colorado campus.
With canes in hand and wearing sombreros, the three "old men" pretended to fall down while still trying to bob their heads to the music. The students were performing La Danza de los Viejitos, or the dance of the little old men, a historic dance with origins in the Mexican state of Michoacán.
The dancing students from Lake Middle School in Denver were at CU as part of a Spanish heritage language and culture day organized by Denver Public Schools.
All over campus, 750 middle and high school students paid tribute to their Spanish and Mexican roots through poetry readings, soccer games, dance demonstrations, singing competitions and more.
"(The old men) can still dance even though they're old to show they still have pride in their Mexican heritage," said Reyna Medrano, 13, an eighth-grader and one of the "old men."
The day was a reminder to students to celebrate their cultural and linguistic history, and it also introduced many of the students for the first time to the state's flagship university in Boulder.
Diana Noonan, world languages coordinator for the district, said the students visiting Boulder are all enrolled in Spanish heritage curriculum that helps them better develop their reading, writing and speaking skills for the language that many may have grown up speaking or hear around the house from relatives.
The celebratory event is in its third year and keeps growing, she said.
"This is a day that honors them and their culture and their language," Noonan said.
Outside the University Memorial Center, judges walked through rows of tables while scoring homemade pinatas, Spanish desserts and dishes and artwork made by the students.
For Freddy Mendoza, celebrating his heritage meant playing soccer with classmates on the Norlin Quad.
Freddy, 15, and a handful of other students from George Washington High School in Denver waited on the sidelines of a makeshift field to sub in for their peers.
Though it's a celebration of Spanish heritage, it's also a fun field trip as the school year winds down, he said.
"We're just bonding," he said.
The students may not realize it yet, but early exposure to CU's campus could help some of them envision college as a part of their future, said David Aragon, director for student success in CU's Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement.
"It brings us a lot of satisfaction to expose middle and high school students to the university environment and to make them aware of college as an option," he said. "A lot of these students may not have ever visited a college campus, particularly a big university like CU Boulder. We know that the experience of presenting in our classrooms, performing in our theaters, sitting in our auditorium, walking the campus, hearing from college students — it'll be a meaningful educational experience for them."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Sarah Kuta at 303-473-1106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo at top right: Denver high school students Jose Ramirez, left, Oscar Gonzales and Humberto Varela play soccer at the Norlin Quad at the University of Colorado on Wednesday, as CU hosted Denver Public Schools students for a Spanish heritage language and culture day. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)
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