What better way to get acquainted with the city of Elgin than to experience its cultural diversity?
That was McHenry resident Tim O'Toole's thinking on Saturday when he joined his sister and brother-in-law in Elgin to check out iFest, the city's first international festival. The festivities began at 11 a.m. with a parade that stepped off at Chicago and Grove avenues and ended at Festival Park, where the festival took place.
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The trio came armed with lawn chairs to watch the parade, and then decided to get some lunch from Mama Lou's Shrimp & BBQ's booth.
"My sister just moved to town," O'Toole said. "So we thought we'd check out the parade and the festival. It seems like there is a great variety here."
Fourteen-year-old Crystal Perez, a freshman at Streamwood High School, said she really enjoyed participating in her first parade as a guitar player for the Elgin Area School District U-46 mariachi group. Performing classics like "Cielito Lindo" sitting on the back of a moving truck was easier than she anticipated, Perez said. "It was really fun," she said.
With Elgin's diversity continuously growing, it's great to highlight that with an international event, said Angel Pence, who lives just outside of town. Pence and a friend sat under a tree for the parade, which they said was good, but could have been better.
"It was a little small, and there were a lot of political groups," Pence said. "Parades are lot of fun for kids, so it could have been a little more eventful."
The festival offered food, entertainment and plenty of informational booths that highlighted the blend of cultures that abound in Elgin. Food vendors offered cuisines from countries including Mexico, Thailand, and Laos. Booths offered services and goods ranging from Thai massages to Mexican "calaveras" skull-themed art.
With the remnants of Hurricane Isaac expected to dump on the area throughout the weekend, organizers powered through the first bout of rain just as the musical entertainment started shortly before 12:30 p.m. "Dancing is even better in the rain!" one MC yelled in Spanish.
Colleen Anderson, O'Toole's sister, said the group planned to go back home after lunch and return later in the day for more musical entertainment. Anderson said she was looking forward to hearing a gospel choir in the afternoon and Pops Plus later in the evening.
"I like this festival," she said. "It's a great way to spend the day, eat some good food and listen to live music."