Cindy Tobin stepped up to the microphone. The charismatic Kealakehe Elementary School fifth-grader transformed into a one-woman show, captivating the crowd with comedic verses about an unusual encounter on a trip to Los Angeles.
Her self-written poem, “The Strange Man and I,” told of a man in a top hat, cape and shaggy shoes. Accompanying him were a cat and an ape. Tobin, 11, revealed his odd mannerisms and fast escape from police. She explained, “I usually don’t speak to strangers, but he was so … unique.” Her pause strengthened the punchline, and the audience inside Kealakehe High School’s band room erupted in laughter.
Besides displaying great comic timing and confidence, Tobin showed a way with words and a mastery of English, her second language. She was among dozens of English Language Learners from nine West Hawaii public elementary, middle and high schools who performed Tuesday during the 26th annual Multicultural Speech Festival.
The high school students squared off to earn trophies in each category: poetry, original oratory, storytelling and choral speaking. A trophy was also given to Honokaa High School for the best overall performance. To receive that award, Honokaa High students showed skill in memorizing, delivering their speeches and working together. Their presentations were strong, well coordinated and delivered with heart.
Matilde Narido, a retired Hawaii District ELL resource teacher, started the festival after experiencing a similar event in the Philippines. Recognizing its value, she brought it to Hawaii Island when hired by the state Department of Education.
At one time, this event was held at a resort, but with limited funding, it’s now held at the school, said Precille Boisvert, an ELL resource teacher. Donations are appreciated.
Despite challenging times, this event continues because of the perseverance, dedication and support from ELL coordinators, district staff, administration, the schools and students. For many participants, it builds language skills and self-confidence, as well as showcases their hard work and culture. The festival allows them to see what peers in different grades have accomplished and find commonalities, said ELL program manager Sandra Taosake. “This festival gives them a voice and you get to hear their heart,” she added.
Honokaa High junior Amelia Tibnol, 17, delivered a powerful rendition of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” which looks at the inequalities and racism African-Americans sometimes face. Tibnol, who moved to Hawaii Island in the fifth grade, was inspired after reading it and believes some of those same struggles persist today.
“It reminds me of the racism I see toward the Marshallese,” the first-place poetry winner said. “I said this poem because I hope it stops people from being racist and shows how it is important to respect everyone’s races. I am happy on how I did, but I did not expect this for myself.”
Konawaena High School junior Gabriel Robledo Magana was nervous until the moment he started speaking. Following a deep breath and a prayer, he let his excitement about sharing a story about Juan Diego and the Virgin Mary take over. “I was proud to have the opportunity to represent my home country, Mexico,” he said.
Magana moved to the island in the third grade. He enjoys how the festival allows participants to not forget their language and culture, as well as showcase their English talents and pride in representing the U.S. He was pleased about winning second place in storytelling but was more impressed by all who shared.
“It takes maturity and believing in yourself that you can do this,” he said. “It’s beautiful to share this way. No matter the place or what you did, it’s most important that you tried and did something.”
To donate or for more information about the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org.