A familiar scent filled the air as Jalen Williams made his way to class.

The junior's nose led him to a plate of tamales chunks ready to be eaten.

Student organizations, parents and local vendors - including Noot's Thai Kitchen and Toscana Artisan Bakery and Bistro - worked together to provide food and beverages representing each part of the world.

Students at Victoria West High School hosted a Cultural Diversity Day in conjunction with a nationwide movement called, "Every Monday Matters," aimed at improving attendance numbers at school.

Italy, Hawaii, Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America as well as the Native American culture were the six areas selected for representation.

The 18-year-old, who appears African-American on the surface, said he has some Latino blood running through his veins.

"My mom's grandmother was Mexican," Williams said. "Every week my mom used to cook something Mexican, like enchiladas, tacos."

The student council was introduced to the initiative through a statewide conference in Arlington.

"Mondays and Fridays are the lowest attendance days," said district spokeswoman Diane Boyett. "It's an effort to get kids to come to school."

The diversity day was the second in a series of "Every Monday Matters," events the student organizations plan to host.

Last Monday was dedicated to a blood drive, where 127 units were collected from students, parents and community members.

Student attendance the day of last week's blood drive was at 93.7 percent and for Monday, preliminary numbers showed 1,680 - not including students who showed up late or after doctor appointments.

A percent for Monday was not available because the final numbers are not processed until the day after.

The day was scheduled to coincide with Columbus Day and Dia de la Raza, which translates to "Day of the Race."

"This new race is called mestizo in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries," wrote Spanish teacher Ron Leos. "In the United States, we call it Columbus Day, giving the Spanish credit for their discoveries in America."

The Latino population at Victoria West High School was 52.47 percent last fall, and 61.4 percent overall in the Victoria school district, according to numbers reported for the 2011-2012 fall semester.

Andrea De Los Santos, 17, said she spent about five hours with her father preparing 140 tamales for Monday's event.

"Our perceptions of different countries are old-fashioned and somewhat skewed," Andrea said. "Knowing about different cultures is an important part of opening ourselves up to the real world."

The senior said she also helped cut out about 120 black paper mustaches on a stick, which were the hottest item of the day.

"Everybody loved the paper mustaches," said Student Council President Bethany Garza. "Nobody made any negative comments about them."

English teacher Larry Rodriquez said the mustache is a sign of wisdom in Mexican culture.

"They signal the transition from boy to man," Rodriquez said.

Paper mustaches became popular in about 2009 when the hipster scene introduced it as a commonplace accessory at concert venues and festivals.

The puberty-on-a-stick ornaments also fit the student body's 1980s-outfit theme on Monday for the school's Spirit Week in anticipation of this Friday's game against Victoria East High School.

"We're going to crush them," Bethany said. "Today was a complete success."

Kudos to those kids. Diversity and acceptance is key in this day and age, especially with the bullying epidemic going on and I call it an epidemic because, well, that's what it is.

Thanks to the Victoria Advocate for this story and picture.