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

Families learn about Hispanic culture in Elgin

By Laura Stoecker

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."

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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