Celebrators lined Center Street in Naperville on Sunday, proudly displaying their Indian flags, as floats and colorfully costumed dancers and marching percussionists filed past during the city's first India Day Parade, marking the 69th anniversary of India's independence.
The procession ended at Central Park, where a formal ceremony was held featuring speakers that included Mayor Steve Chirico and other Naperville dignitaries, as well as Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti.
Visitors later took in dance performances and visited booths with vendors selling food, jewelry and clothing.
Chirag Jani, a board member of event host Naperville Indian Community Outreach, said the celebration was the culmination of a three- or four-year planning process. Jani said 16 decorated floats were featured in the parade, while 1,000 people walked the parade route.
"It takes a lot," he said. "More than money, it's human effort. We have been working tirelessly."
Chirico, who helped form the board of Indian Community Outreach, said the day was not just about celebrating India's independence, but also celebrating the value the Indian-American community brings to Naperville and the United States.
"The Indian-American community is very important to the fabric and culture of our city," he said. "It adds color, music, food, dance, and these are all things that make us just a more interesting and enjoyable place to live."
Sanguinetti, the first Latina lieutenant governor, hailed the diversity being celebrated Sunday.
"There is a need in our community for an India Day," she said. "There is a need for more diverse cultures in leadership, so that we can represent all the colors and all the facets that make us a beautiful, diverse state."
The community turned out in great numbers, filling the streets for the parade and the park for the festival that followed.
Nilesh Shah of Naperville said having the parade was convenient for suburban residents, who would otherwise have to travel to Chicago for the celebration there.
"I think there is a huge community (in the suburbs) -- diverse backgrounds from different parts of India," Shah said. "This is a great place for everybody to come and celebrate."
Mark Trivedi, who lives in Georgia but hails from the Indian state of Gujarat, was visiting family in Naperville. He said he appreciated the display of the traditional values of Indian culture. Trivedi, 74, was only 6 years old when India gained its independence and retains memories of when it was a young country.
For him, Aug. 15 is "just like July 4."