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Student artists show off the Cuba in their mind


Special to The Miami Herald
With a Sharpie pen in hand, Carlos J. Finlay Elementary fourth-grader Thaylí Gómez felt like a star as she autographed dozens of posters she drew to honor her birthplace of Cuba.

“It makes me feel excited that a lot of people like my drawing” said Thaylí, 10, who painted a colorful house in Cuba with a palm tree, a smiling sun and a flowery garden.

Thaylí, who came to the United States when she was 1, shared the spotlight with other youngsters who entered drawings for an art contest sponsored by the nonprofit group Cuban Cultural Heritage.

The contest asked kids to artistically explain the theme, How I see Cuba.

On May 22, more than 240 entries were showcased at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Expo Center as part of the 12th annual CubaNostalgia, a weekend festival that celebrates the Cuba of yesteryear. Children of many nationalities from more than 30 Miami-Dade schools participated.

Three judges with art experience chose the winners, who were recognized in an awards ceremony.

Thaylí’s drawing was picked as the official painting of the contest.

A replica of her work was sold at the event, with proceeds going to the nonprofit organization.

She credits her dad for helping her create the masterpiece.

“I tried to make it colorful,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be all plain and boring.”

Parents snapped pictures as winning contestants claimed prizes like gift cards to Best Buy and Books & Books, art supplies and DVD movies like Up and Monsters Inc. The competition was divided into four categories: pre-K, kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grade, and sixth through eighth grade.

In the exhibit, visitors got a chance to see children’s drawings of Cuba’s countryside and beaches — as well as images that commented on political issues faced by those on the island, such as a picture depicting stick figures in chains.

Nicolas Porras, 11, who was born in Colombia, drew Havana’s El Malecón in colored pencils. The Eugenia B. Thomas student was inspired by his Cuban friend to color the Caribbean island’s landmark.

“When our Spanish teacher told me to draw something of Cuba, I remembered the pictures he showed me,” said Porras. “Then I prepared it my way.”

Porras won honorable mention.

Nicolas’ mother, Alcira Arevalo, said it is important for children to learn about other cultures.

“We live in Miami, where there are people of different countries,” said Arevalo as she watched her son accept an award.

The Coral Gables-based Cuban Cultural Heritage organization is dedicated to preserving the cultural values and history of Cuba for current and future generations.

Tania Mastrapa, vice president, said the contest was not only an artistic lesson, but an educational one.

“We wanted to know if their culture was being lost and, even for non-Cubans, what their perception was through their parents and friends,” said Mastrapa, who came up with the concept.

During the ceremony, Cuban-born Angel Enrique Pardo played music from his homeland on a violin while festivalgoers took in the artworks at the Cuban Cultural Heritage booth.

Xiomara Alvarez, a Spanish teacher at Riverside Elementary Community School, encouraged her students to compete in the contest.

“A lot of times, Spanish isn’t easy for them, and in this case it intrigues them through painting,” she said.

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