The girls, both adopted from Guatemala as infants, were among the 517 campers — and several hundred parent-volunteers — who came together last week for La Semana, a culture camp for children adopted from Latin American countries.
The camp, now in its 33rd year, was started by a group of moms who wanted to instill in their children a sense of pride and an understanding of their heritage. This year, campers came from 22 states and Canada. Many come back year after year to spend time at a place where everybody looks like them.
“There’s truly a sense of community,” said Brandy Koster of Eagan, chairwoman of the camp this year. Her three children, two of whom were adopted from Colombia, come every year.
“My daughter put it best just about a week ago,” Koster said. “She said, ‘I want to go see my second family.’”
“I remember my son Mateo [now 14 years old], at the end of the first day saying ‘That was fun, can we go again next year?’ I told him, ‘We can go again tomorrow!’ After a couple of years he was like ‘I wish camp was two weeks long.’ ”
The camp, sponsored by the nonprofit Parents of Latin American Children, runs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Parents pay a sliding fee, from $60 to $250 for the week, depending on how many hours they can volunteer to be teachers, classroom facilitators or organizers.
Each year, camp begins with a flag ceremony. Flags representing the campers’ countries of origin — Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil and more — are carried one by one through the crowd of children wearing purple, yellow, orange, blue, teal, or red T-shirts that designate their grade level. Parts of each country’s national anthem are played as the flags are placed on a small stage.
The week culminates with a fiesta at Lakeville South High School attended by 1,500 people. The younger children perform traditional dance in costumes. The older children perform a modern dance to Latin music.
In between, campers rotate through classes in Latin American arts and crafts, dance, simple Spanish lessons and “life” classes, which focus on age-appropriate adoption issues. There’s playground equipment, soccer and basketballs and jump ropes for playtime. Campers bring their lunch or buy it there.
Each year, a specific country is highlighted; this year it was Honduras. Campers learn about the country, try food from there and raise money for a children’s charity in that country. Kid-friendly, authentic food like empanadas, arroz y frijols (rice and beans), pozole and quesadillas are sold at lunch.
Last year, Paraguay was in the spotlight. That’s where Tadeo Nelson, 24, was born. He grew up in Roseville and attended La Semana until he was about 10 years old and other family commitments got in the way. He returned three years ago as an alum, and this year helped out in a seventh-grade classroom.
Campers in kindergarten through seventh-grade spend the day in classrooms and on the grounds of All Saints Church in Lakeville.
Middle-schoolers, called amigos (friends), are bused to the Boy Scouts’ Base Camp at Fort Snelling, where they take classes, work on team-building exercises and participate in a quinceañaro, a traditional ceremony in many parts of Latin America that celebrates a 15th birthday and marks the transition from childhood to young adulthood.
Teenagers and young adults, called ayudantes (helpers), help out in each classroom, hear speakers and learn a modern dance that they perform at the fiesta.
Amigos and ayudantes
Maddy Green, 19, of St. Cloud, who was adopted from Brazil and graduated from Groves Academy in St. Louis Park last year, was an ayudante at camp this year.
“We basically just watch over the kids,” she said. “I’m in charge of a fourth-grade class. I looked up to the ayudantes when I was younger.”