Exchange students wow Central crowd
Arizona Republic
Feb. 2, 2005
Mel Meléndez 

The suave, baby-faced crooner descended from Central High School's stage pointing to the girls, whose high-pitched screams nearly drowned out his torchy Spanish balada.

Soon, 17-year-old Jorge Sandoval began blowing kisses to his "fans."

Then he dropped to one knee to serenade a teacher - who mock swooned - and the jam-packed auditorium erupted into thunderous applause.

Sandoval, one of 50 exchange students from Hermosillo, Sonora, put on a powerhouse performance last week. But so did his cohorts, Rondalla singers and Hiakim dancers, from Centro de Bachillerato Technológico Industrial y de Servicios, a vocational school that specializes in performing arts.

The free concert is a staple at the central Phoenix high school, which annually sends students to Hermosillo to renovate an impoverished school. 

The troupe also performed at Phoenix's Creighton Elementary School and Sedona Red Rock High School, offering a taste of the two-hour show it performed for the public on Friday at Central High. Only the public show charged admission because it benefits Central's International Studies magnet program, which sends students abroad their junior and senior years.

 "This is our way of thanking our friends for helping one of our underprivileged schools," Rondalla director Oscar Rivera said. "Our kids look forward to this week all year."

 Judging by the reaction at Central's concert, the American students also anticipate the students' visit. Students arrived early, jockeying for up-front seating at the optional assembly.

Central juniors Samira Farah, originally from Somalia, and Nancy Moreno, who immigrated from Mexico, sat side by side explaining the event's appeal at a school where students speak more than 40 languages, including Arabic, Greek, Somali and Farsi.

"So many of us chose Central because of its diversity and international flavor," Farah said. "I think it's important to learn of other cultures. That's why I'm here."

The Hermosillo students espoused similar beliefs. The exchanges also help build goodwill among "people from different nations," said 19-year-old Amanda Contreras, who has participated the past three years.

"I love coming here because it's such a different way of life," she said.

"You learn about the customs and different family rules, which I find very interesting. But you also learn about the things you have in common."

Things like love of the arts, such as Sandoval's performance, and solos by 19-year-old Alan Hoyos, who sang traditional rancheras, including Juan el Rielero, and Henna del Carmen Osuna, 17, who performed a medley of Selena cumbias.

The playful Danza de los Viejitos, where dancers wore aged masks and hobbled while dancing with canes, was also a big hit. The dance is a satirical look at the fair-skinned Spaniards, whom Michoacán folklore claims don't age well, dance director José Trinidad Palacios said.

By the end of the performances, Farah and Moreno beamed. Farah enjoyed the traditional Mexican dances best. Moreno favored the singing, which reminded her of days spent back home.

 "Samira has taught me a lot about Somali culture, so I wanted to show her a little bit of mine," Moreno said in perfect English. "I'm so glad she enjoyed it."

 Still, for Moreno the performances held special meaning.

 "The fact that they're from my hometown makes it extra sweet."

 After the performance, the exchange students commented on the ironic timing of their weeklong visit. The students arrived during Phoenix's recent water scare.

 "We have potable water, but the American students are often afraid to drink our water," Rivera said. "So it was sort of funny that for the first time we had to worry about that here."