WEIRTON - Dr. J.K. Luthra noted that America is known as a melting pot because of the many people from various cultures around the world who settled here as he spoke to children, parents and other family members who gathered at Lauretta B. Millsop Primary School for a multicultural event organized by a student at West Liberty University.
Noting that most Americans have ancestors who came from other countries, Luthra said, "That's why we're here - to remember our roots and learn about other people and their cultures."
Children from the school and Colliers Primary Schools and the Follansbee Christian Center and their families learned a variety of things from representatives of several countries through the Multicultural Family Day organized by Ashley Zago.
MULTICULTURAL EVENT? — Dr. J.K. Luthra displayed a clay lamp in which oil is lit during India’s Festival of Lights during a Multicultural Family Day held at Lauretta B. Millsop Primary School in Weirton Saturday. Luthra, who hails from India, was among several guests who spoke about various cultures during the three-hour event, which was organized by Ashley Zago, an education major at West Liberty University, for her senior honors project. - Warren Scott
The three-hour event was the senior honors project for Zago, an education major at WLU and daughter of Tina Zago, the school's principal.
The younger Zago said while living in California for a time, she was exposed to people from various countries and thought it would be good to give local children early exposure to different cultures.
"I think, especially today, in a 21st century culture, it's very important that children become aware of other cultures," she said.
Luthra was among several presenters who brought photos, clothing, maps and other items to show the children. As he passed out Indian coins known as paise and rupee and paper currency, he noted that many of the smaller denominations are no longer produced because high inflation has rendered them unnecessary.
A pupil asked about the man whose likeness appears on the paper currency. Luthra explained the man is Mohandas Gandhi, who led India in gaining independence from the British government through nonviolent measures.
"He believed if someone hits you and you hit him back, it doesn't solve the problem," Luthra said, noting such action often results in a cycle of violent retaliation.
Luthra said there are 22 regional languages in India and children, who begin school at age 3, usually learn their region's language; Hindi, the official national language; and English at an early age.
He said popular sports in the country include soccer, which there is known as football; cricket, a game similar to baseball and originating from Great Britain; and field hockey.
Maryann Ehle, West Liberty University emerita, shared various aspects of Italy. She noted the country is home to many volcanos, showing visitors a sample of dried lava, and hundreds of ancient churches, whose intricate architecture makes them works of art.
She also showed photos of many points of interest, including the city of Venice, where gondolas transport visitors through the canals that run through it; marionettes, a form of puppetry popularized by Italy in the Middle Ages; and books, including an Italian version of "The Three Little Pigs" entitled "Tre Porcellini."
Edgar Rodriguez, a Meadville, Pa., resident who was born in Colombia and grew up in Venezuela, spoke about the history and culture of the two South American nations.
Rodriguez said Venezuela got its name from Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who dubbed it "Little Venice" after seeing a line of stilted houses built along its coast; while Colombia owes its name to Christopher Columbus, who became known as the discoverer of the "New World" that included South America.
He said the equivalent of Columbus Day in Colombia is known as Race Day, because it celebrates the the country's three largest racial groups: the Native South Americans, Spanish and Africans who, as in America, came to the country as slaves.
Rodriguez said Simon Bolivar is a hero to Venezuela and Colombia, as well as Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, because he led revolutions against the nations' Spanish rulers in response to unfair taxation and other issues similar to those that sparked the American Revolution.
Jerri Zhong, a Pittsburgher who hails from China, showed visitors photos of various aspects of her homeland, old and new. They included the Great Wall of China, which extends more than 5,000 miles and was built by connecting several walls that date to the 7th century; and the Maglev, an elevated train system that can travel as fast as 361 miles per hour.
Zhong said while riding the Maglev, she was able to make a four-hour trip in about seven minutes. Asked if she felt like she was moving fast, she said it felt no different than traveling by airplane.
Zhong also displayed several examples of Hanzi, Chinese written characters that represent various things and challenged the children to identify their meanings. They were surprised that they could by recognizing the physical characteristics of an elephant, turtle and fire in the symbols that represent them.
Rodriguez and Zhong were among staff from ChemADVISORS, a Pittsburgh-based environmental health consulting firm, that participated in the event. Also on hand were Andy Dsida, the firm's president and a member of Millsop Primary's school improvement council; and Eve Barnhart of Follansbee, who also spoke about China.
Also contributing to the event were the Millsop Primary School Improvement Council, Mary H. Weir Public Library, WLU Department of International Studies and Hancock School Employees Federal Credit Union.
As they arrived, the children were presented passports and travel bags in which to put bookmarks and other small souvenirs from their "visits" to each country within the school's classrooms. Along the corridors were displays of photos and items from various other countries.
Luthra encouraged the families to learn more about various cultures at the Fifth Annual Festival of Nations event to be held by the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center on April 13. To held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Weirton Event Center, the event will showcase a variety of entertainment and food from many cultures.