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Beijing students perform at Lathrop High
Some of the students from a school in Beijing, China, in their colorful costumes gather for a final appearance at the end of their performance Tuesday night at Lathrop High School. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

LATHROP — The Chinese cultural invasion Tuesday night at Lathrop High School lasted nearly two hours. The event was met with applause and concluded with an exchange of gifts between the group of young performers from an experimental school affiliated with Beijing Niulanshan and the Manteca Unified School District.

Led by eight adults that included school principal Fenglan Gao and choir conductor Li Xiang Tian, the Chinese students ranging in age from 12 to 17 entertained the audience with song and dance numbers from their country halfway around the globe. A group of dancers in colorful bright costumes performed the traditional Chinese dai dance called “Heaven on Earth.” Their folk music ensemble included songs titled “Blooming Flowers and Full Moon” and “The Manly Song,” and a Guzheng ensemble that sang “Jasmine Fragrance” and a Midu Folk Song.

But it was not all traditional Chinese entertainment that the visiting performers lavishly presented to their enthusiastic audience that included Superintendent Jason Messer, Manteca Unified Board of Education president Don Scholl, and former Lathrop mayors Bennie Gatto and Joseph “Chaka” Santos. It was Santos who facilitated this cultural exchange program three years ago when he was elected mayor. The entertainers also charmed their American hosts with a hip-hop dance number, and a quartet of English songs that they sang in harmony – “Spring Came to the Fields,” “Flying Free,” “Ah, teacher, Mom,” and “Can You Hear Me?”

While the dancers and choir members were performing, a group of young artists were busy creating traditional Chinese art works whose themes revolved around the Chinese New Year which is the Year of the Snake. At the end of the show, the students’ masterpieces were presented as gifts to selected members of the audience. Two of the artists presented their drawings to their host families as their way of saying thanks for their hospitality and generosity.

Framed original Chinese art pieces were also presented by the Chinese group to the superintendent and to the five high school principals in the school district who also attended the show. The district returned the gesture by presenting leis made of Ghirardelli chocolate to the leaders of the Chinese group. Lathrop is home to a Ghirardelli outlet, which made the gift more memorable for the visitors.

The Chinese cultural exchange delegation arrived in Lathrop four days ago. During their sojourn here, they stayed with families in the community. One of the hosts was the family of Michael and Sandra Domingos. This was actually their second time to be a host family, said Sandra Domingos. They hosted two of the Chinese students, one of whom later gifted them with the original art work that she painted during the program. Receiving the painting was the Domingos’ daughter, 4-year-old Sydney.

The Domingos volunteered to be one of the host families because “it was a nice thing to do, and (the students) needed homes,” said Sandra who is a fifth-grade teacher at Mossdale School in Lathrop.

Kimberly Wright, the district’s director of risk management, called the program “an opportunity to broaden (the students’) cultural experience.”

The enthusiasm of the students who came to the show with friends, parents and even grandparents for some, was evident in the applause that followed each program number.

“It was amazing. It was really good,” a smiling Kimberly Durian, a Lathrop High junior, said of the evening’s entertainment.

Messer thanked Santos for helping bring the talented Chinese students to the school district. “This would not have happened without you,” Messer, addressing Santos, said during his concluding remarks.

In response, Santos said “it’s all about education, sharing what we have, hosting children in our homes, not in our houses, (and) people breaking bread together.”

Tuesday’s program, which was held in Lathrop High’s gymnasium to accommodate the large crowd that attended the show, was followed Wednesday morning by an encore performance that included more than 600 students from the school district.