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Article updated: 8/31/2013 7:29 PM

Elgin celebrates many heritages at annual iFest

By Tara García Mathewson

Storms stopped a parade in Elgin Saturday, but the weather didn't keep a diverse cross-section of the city from celebrating their heritage all afternoon and evening.

Elgin's second annual International Festival kicked off at noon with the national anthem, Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer that, among other things, thanked God for stopping the rain.

Ursula Borodzinska spent the afternoon in the Kids Zone teaching people about Polish pierogies and other traditions from her home country.

Borodzinska came to the United States more than a decade ago and has owned the downtown bar Martini Room for eight years. She participated in Elgin iFest for the first time Saturday, representing the city's small Polish community.

"All of us in the United States come from somewhere," Borodzinska said. "Anyplace we live, it's important to know your history."

Elgin middle schooler Nitzy Martinez, 13, volunteered at Borodzinska's booth as a member of the Youth Leadership Academy.

Her ancestors immigrated from Mexico, but instead of helping out at the table dedicated to our southern neighbor, Martinez learned where to spot Poland on a map and how Polish families traditionally paint eggs at Easter.

"I like talking to people," Martinez said. "I like being around people I don't know."

The festival was a chance for Elgin's many cultures to come together, learn about each other and celebrate as one community.

The food tent sported cuisine from Asia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, El Salvador, Germany and Greece with Hawaiian smoothies, barbecue, pizza and corn dogs also available.

A domino tournament hosted by the Puerto Rican Heritage Organization filled one tent as martial arts demonstrations occupied the space next door and local music blared through nearby speakers.

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain welcomed residents at the opening of the festival, recognizing the diversity in his hometown and also the unifying factor.

"Today," Kaptain said, "we all come together as Americans."

Storms Friday night and Saturday morning had people wondering whether iFest would happen at all.

Almost 40 tents were ruined by Friday's rain and wind and a communitywide call for short-term loans of pop ups resulted in such an outpouring of support, organizers started telling people not to bring their spares by 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

"Our whole community stepped up to make sure this would happen," Kaptain said.

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