Aurora's Fiestas Patrias, which started three years ago as a celebration of Mexican independence, has come to mean much more to the area's Latinos.
It brings together children and adults to celebrate the diversity of Aurora's Hispanic community.
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Hosted by the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the three-day festival concluded Sunday with a parade and a salute to Hispanic veterans. The free festival also featured carnival rides, children's activities, live musical entertainment, exhibits of traditional Latino clothing, jewelry and trinkets, and ethnic food vendors at Aurora's North River Street Park. First- through eighth-grade students from East and West Aurora school districts, dressed in ethnic garb, carried flags of different Latin American countries to emphasize the diversity within the community.
The theme of this year's festival was uniting the Latino community, said Tony Martinez, chairman of the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board, which coordinated the 135 volunteers for the event.
"Different cultures within our Hispanic heritage really came together to put on this event," he said. "It's the largest Latino festival in the Western suburbs."
The event also was about promoting and supporting Latino businesses in Aurora and the Fox Valley area to spur economic growth in the community, he added.
Martinez said the festival drew roughly 12,000 to 15,000 people from throughout the region.
"I love that there is good environment ... dancing and having a good time," said Yulissa Plascencia, 15, of Aurora.
Plascencia, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, said she has lived all her life in the United States. She appreciates the festival because it offers the diverse Latino community a chance to interact.
"We all come together and celebrate our heritage," she said.
That's also what Patricia Morales of Aurora enjoys most about the event. Morales, who came to the U.S. 20 years ago, said she likes being reminded of her Hispanic heritage, something she wants her three daughters to appreciate as well.
"I feel happy because I remember my country," she said. "I like everything, the food, the clothes ... the (Mexican) flag. I try to come here every year."