At the Robert J. Christen School, P.S. 81, last Thursday, you could eat food dishes from around the world and never leave the cafeteria.
You could have some cabbage pie, made Russian style. Manicotti, made to feel like you were in Italy. Or corn and mashed potatoes made the Irish way.
The school held its annual international dinner and raffle April 27 where families brought dishes reflecting their family roots. The evening, attended by more than 70 people, was a way for the school to celebrate its diversity. And some parents, and some graduates, took part in a longstanding tradition that dates back to when they walked the halls as students.
“I think it’s very important that kids can see from which country they came and what countries their friends are from, and they make new friends here as well,” parent Farmangez Hikmat said.
The international dinner also gave her the opportunity to meet friends of her daughter Armita as well as their families. Hikmat brought a dish she called “orzuk,” which she described as the national dish in Tajikistan, a landlocked Asian country located between Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. The dish, she said, tasted similar to a doughnut but has a different shape.
Armita cracked a small smile as she showed off her colorful dress, the kind worn by many young ladies in the country.
For Reinalyn Rosario, the evening meant being a part of the school tradition she participated in as a student — and one she was happy the school still continued. The 1997 graduate added that some of her former teachers were still at the school.
“My fifth-grade teacher is now the gym teacher,” Rosario said. “My second-grade teacher still teaches second grade.”
She brought lumpia, a Filipino spring roll, to celebrate her heritage. An evening like this, Rosario said, helps her second-grade daughter Victoria and her first-grade son Eric learn more about their culture. Rosario’s husband is Puerto Rican, and the family tends to eat more Puerto Rican cuisine at home rather than dishes from the Philippines.
“I want them to learn that America is the melting pot of the world,” America Rosario, the parent association co-president, said. “There is no way better in such a cultural and diverse neighborhood than to have an event like this.”
America Rosario, a 1991 graduate who is not related to Reinalyn Rosario, said this was his daughter Bethany’s last year at school and was happy he played a role in keeping the tradition going.
“I really want them to learn that we really are a Utopia for the rest of the world because we have many different cultures and many different nationalities,” Principal Anne Kirrane said.
No one seemed to recall the year the school first began its international dinner events, but those organizing it said it has been a tradition that has gone on for more than 20 years.
“My daughter has a lot of friends from many countries,” like the Dominican Republic, and including those from Central Asia, Hikmat said. “I think this school does a great job of having this dinner today.”