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Article updated: 10/12/2013 8:00 PM

Families learn about Hispanic culture in Elgin

Army veteran Andrew Balafas, left, salutes Navy veteran Rupert Siete of Elgin after presenting him with a certificate of appreciation for his military service and giving him an American flag pin at the veterans ceremony kicking off the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

Army veteran Andrew Balafas, left, salutes Navy veteran Rupert Siete of Elgin after presenting him with a certificate of appreciation for his military service and giving him an American flag pin at the veterans ceremony kicking off the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Army veteran John Higareda of Elgin has an American flag pinned on his lapel by fellow Army veteran Andrew Balafas during the ceremony honoring veterans at the start of the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin on Saturday.

Army veteran John Higareda of Elgin has an American flag pinned on his lapel by fellow Army veteran Andrew Balafas during the ceremony honoring veterans at the start of the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin on Saturday.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

Navi Gonzalez of Elgin, left, talks to about her Venezuelan heritage to Gloria Melchor and her daughter, Litzy, 8, also of Elgin, at the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin on Saturday.

Navi Gonzalez of Elgin, left, talks to about her Venezuelan heritage to Gloria Melchor and her daughter, Litzy, 8, also of Elgin, at the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin on Saturday.

 

Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

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With "passports" in hand, local children and their families visited Venezuela, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and other Latin countries Saturday at Gail Borden Public Library's fourth annual Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration.

Families stopped at tables filled with books, maps, artwork, statues and even empanadas to munch on as they learned about different cultures at the event titled "The Cultures We Carry."

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They could listen to a live mariachi band, watch a dance troupe or do crafts, marking off their stops on their passports. Completed passports could be entered in a raffle to win various prizes at the end of the event.

Navi Gonzalez, a dual-language first-grade teacher at Garfield Elementary in Elgin, displayed a large spread of items at her table. She came to the United States in 2000 from Caracas, Venezuela.

"I like this (event) because I can share my culture," she said, adding that the event helps educate people about all Latin countries. "People get to know that all Latinos aren't Mexicans, and we are all different but we have things in common, too."

The day's celebration opened with a ceremony honoring local Hispanic veterans, with 13 veterans recognized in the library's rotunda.

Each was given a certificate of appreciation and a white rose, and they had an American flag pinned to their lapel by Army veteran Andrew Balafas of Elgin, who led the ceremony. He told of their service histories, saluting each person and giving them a warm handshake as he went down the line. He is the veterans community liaison at Vitas Innovative Health Care in Lombard.

"I really enjoyed it," said Johnny Vargas of Elgin, a Korean veteran who served in the Army. He said he considered it a privilege to see Latino veterans honored.

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