Arts & Life

Diving into diversity at the Aquarium of the Pacific’s International Children’s Festival

The cold, rainy weather felt distant from inside the Aquarium of the Pacific as families slowly made their way down the main hallway to the Honda Blue Cavern tank. Families pointed to the fish, admiring their patterns and sizes, when their attention was diverted to the left of the tank by one of the aquarium’s staff members.

The students of the Nixon Academy Musical Troupe slowly appeared from behind a curtain, organizing themselves into lines. Upon receiving the signal from their instructor, they began to sing “God Bless America.”

3/23/2024 - On Saturday,
3/23/2024 - On Saturday, the Nixon Academy Musical Troupe kicked off the weekend festivities with a performance of "God Bless America" followed by a performance of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." Photo credit: Leila Alarcon

Officially kicking off the 19th annnual International Children’s Festival, the Nixon Academy Musical Troupe was only one of many performances scheduled to take place during the two-day event.

From Saturday, March 23 to Sunday, March 24, the Aquarium of the Pacific’s main hall had educational booths for attendees to stop at in between the special performances.

As soon as families entered the aquarium, there was a photo opportunity and a table with pamphlets that detailed the various performances and shows taking place throughout the weekend.

Each performance highlighted the different skills or cultures of children around the world.

3/23/2024 - The Nonosina dance team performed various multiple Polynesian dances garnering many fa'aumu from the crowd. Fa'aumu, or the 'Cheehoo' shout, is an exclamation used when you are celebrating or if something is exciting.
3/23/2024 - The Nonosina dance team performed various multiple Polynesian dances garnering many fa'aumu from the crowd. Fa'aumu, or the “Cheehoo” shout, is an exclamation used when you are celebrating or if something is exciting. Photo credit: Leila Alarcon

The American Tiger Martial Arts demonstration team was among the first performances of the festival, performing not once, but twice. When another group could no longer attend the festival, the team stepped up to perform both by the Honda Blue Cavern and at the Honda Pacific Visions Theater.

Guided by their teacher Robert Fuller, the demonstration team showcased their Kyin Kung Fu skills.

“My demonstration team has been actually coming to the Long Beach International Children’s Festival for well over 10 years now,” Fuller said. “We love coming out here and performing here and showing our Chinese martial arts to everyone.”

3/23/2024 - Inside the Honda Pacific Visions Theater, the American Tiger Martial Arts demonstration team showcased routines they had practiced including self-defense routines.
3/23/2024 - Inside the Honda Pacific Visions Theater, the American Tiger Martial Arts demonstration team showcased routines they had practiced including self-defense routines. Photo credit: Leila Alarcon

Community and events manager Chelsey Coleman recently took on the responsibility of planning the festivals held at the aquarium three years ago. She is thankful to all the organizations that have participated in the festival for years, like the American Tiger Martial Arts team, and hopes to continue seeing their organization and others participate.

“We’re just looking for talented kids who are willing to share with us their art, their technique, their talent,” Coleman said. “Whatever it is, their music, we just want to celebrate them and everything they do.”

Podkovička, a Slovak and Czech folklore music and dance group, also performed in the Honda Pacific Visions Theater. Their performances consisted of various games, dances and songs from Slovak culture.

3/23/2024 - Anna Hradsky (Left) assists Natasha Braden (right) as she performs a traditional Slavic song through vocals and the violin.
3/23/2024 - Anna Hradsky (Left) assists Natasha Braden (right) as she performs a traditional Slavic song through vocals and the violin. Photo credit: Leila Alarcon

Leader Anna Hradsky was a music teacher in her home country of Slovakia and had a performance group there. When she moved to the United States, she missed her musical group, so she started her own which has been active for 13 years.

At first, it was just adults, but later expanded to include children. This is now their fourth time participating in the festival.

“I mean, it’s very important because that’s our heritage and especially for the young children who were mostly born here. It’s really valuable,” Hradsky said. “They can learn language, they can learn about their tradition.”

3/23/2024 - Irvine Chinese School performed traditional Chinese Dances in the main hall of the Aquarium of the Pacific in front of the Honda Blue Cavern.
3/23/2024 - Irvine Chinese School performed traditional Chinese dances in the main hall of the Aquarium of the Pacific in front of the Honda Blue Cavern. Photo credit: Leila Alarcon

Other performances throughout the weekend included Dembrebrah West African drumming and dancing, Irvine Chinese School’s Chinese folk dance and Nonosina Dance Academy’s Tahitian, Samoan and Maori presentation.

Coleman is proud that the aquarium has been celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion for years before it was more common. Much like Coleman, performers and attendees alike enjoy learning and celebrating the different cultures shared during the festival.

3/23/2024 - Located right outside the Honda Pacific Visions Theater is a space where attendees can color their own fish and have it be projected on the screen in front of them.
3/23/2024 - Located right outside the Honda Pacific Visions Theater is a space where attendees can color their own fish and have it be projected on the screen in front of them. Photo credit: Leila Alarcon

“Celebrating diversity and you know, just seeing all what each culture has to offer through different songs, dance, art, food, things like that,” Fuller said. “It’s really great to just take it all in and you know, see what other people do that are different from ourselves.”

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