The game of dominoes might be just a fun family pastime for most people, but to Alfredo "Cuco" Garcia of Elgin it is serious business.
Garcia, the director of the domino tournament at the 20th annual BoriquaFest held Saturday at Festival Park in Elgin, shuffled through a pile of papers, intently taking down players' names and making sure everyone knew the rules.
"I go to Aurora, I go to Chicago, but nobody plays dominoes like here in Elgin," Garcia said.
Nodding emphatically, player Victor Perez agreed. "That's right. The best competition in the entire state you will find it in Elgin," Perez said.
The tournament is just one of the elements of the long-standing festival organized by the Puerto Rican Heritage Organization; the event also featured salsa lessons, musical entertainment and booths selling Puerto Rican food, jewelry, crafts, dresses, T-shirts and an impressive array of knickknacks bearing the Puerto Rican flag.
Even Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain, whose own roots are Hungarian, donned a Puerto Rican-themed T-shirt. "The Puerto Rican community here goes back 50 years, and it's great that they have been having this for the last two decades," he said. "We have to celebrate culture. That's what America is."
The organization's president, Rosemarie Ramos, was tying up loose ends in the afternoon to make sure everything would proceed well after an initial delay in getting the entertainment started. "I'm happy for all the people who came to celebrate our 20th anniversary," she said.
Elgin resident Esmeralda Castro came with her husband, Jose, and their daughters Samantha, 2, and Clarissa, 5 months. "We came for the food, and to walk around and enjoy everything," said Castro, who is Puerto Rican and especially liked the pork "ponchos," or meat on a stick. "He's Mexican," she said of her husband, "and I go to all the Mexican events. So now he comes to this."
Festivals such as BoriquaFest are a way to keep her family connected to their roots, said Nina Garay of Schaumburg, who came with her daughters Natalya, 14, and Teciana, 13. While the girls enjoyed passionfruit and coconut ice cream, Garay explained she is reluctant to take them to Humboldt Park, Chicago's Puerto Rican neighborhood, where she grew up.
"It has changed so much. It's too dangerous," said Garay, who found out about BoriquaFest on Saturday morning when friends who live in Elgin called her to tell her about it. "I came on a whim," she said. "They should market this a little better, because if I knew about things like this, I would be here all the time."