The walkways of the McAllen Convention Center were adorned in many red Asian lanterns, while hanging above were lines of colorful papel picado banners on Saturday.
Here, locals of all ages and nationalities celebrated the diversity of the Rio Grande Valley at the 14th annual Fiesta De Palmas event, hosted by the City of McAllen.
Four large banners hung across the area, showing attendees what region of the world they were about to step into — Asia, the Middle East, Latin America or Europe. Attendees were able to take photos with lotertia posters which were scattered across the area, or the giant and shimmering Chinese dragon that stood next to the fountain.
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley student Miram Molano was at the event with her Beginning KorEan 1 class, and was wearing a hahoetal mask, a traditional headwear worn during a Hahoe byeolsingut talnori ceremony.
The ceremony, which dates back to the 12th century, is a masked dance-drama performance that also presents A six-act story.
Molano’s mask represented Ch’oraengi, or the aristocrat’s servant. This is her first semester taking Korean classes and she said that she has already made connections of what she’s learning to the Hispanic traditions she grew up with.
“One thing that makes the Korean and Hispanic culture similar is the way they are both family oriented,” Molano, 24, said. “They both have respect for elders, and also, some of the sounds in the Korean language are similar to Spanish.”
Isidro Zapata, who is also a UTRGV student, made a similar connection between Korean and Hispanic cultures.
“In Korea, when you thank a superior, you bow,” he described. “But in the Hispanic culture, you kiss their cheek. So, in some ways it’s different, but it is all the same respect for family. They always want the next generation to do better than the parents.”
Zapata is studying computer science, and said that he has always been intrigued by Asian cultures and that most of his friends are international students. He is fluent in Chinese and is currently learning Korean, and his favorite part about learning new languages is surprising people with it.
“Whenever I greet someone in their natitve language, their faces light up and they ask me how I knew how to say that,” Zapata said.
“This event is really about connecting and learning more about each other, and closing the gap between cultures.”
Zapata volunteered at a Chinese booth, where attendees could have their name transcribed into Chinese characters. And, on the other side of the convention center, Amal Alvorado offered henna tattoos.
Alvorado, 20, said that though hennas are usually associated as a Middle Eastern tradition, the tattoos are part of many cultures.
“Hennas are derived from cultures all around Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and has even made its way here,” she said.
Alvorado, an Edinburg native, was raised in an Isalmic household and said that hennas keep her close to her heritage.
“It is a sign of your culture,” Alvorado said. “I love having it on me because it is a reminder of who I am.”
Henna tattoos are made from a paste containing dye of henna plants, which is then put inside a small piping bag to ink skin. The placement of the tattoo has distinguished meanings; brides get hennas on the palms of their hands for blessings, while talisman get them on the top of their hands to mean that they will protect her.
McAllen District 5 Commissioner Victor “Seby” Haddad said that the mission of Fiesta De Palmas is to acknowledge and celebrate the different nationalities that make up McAllen.
“We (McAllen) really have a mixed culture, and we really appreciate whatever contributes to our little world down here.
“There was a 45 percent increase in sponsorships this year, showing how much the local corporate community wants to get involved in these types of events. So, I think that this is a strong reflection of the positivity and growth of it.
Festivities will continue to run on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and attendees have the opportunity to shop at the Artisan Market, which will close at 9 p.m. Performances of dances from a variety of cultures are scheduled throughout the day, while the Southern Lights Laser Spectacular will close the evening.