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West Chicago festival honors residents' Mexican heritage

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  • West Chicago will celebrate the community's heritage with a two-day Mexican Independence Day festival featuring food, music, a parade and performances.

      West Chicago will celebrate the community's heritage with a two-day Mexican Independence Day festival featuring food, music, a parade and performances.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer, SEPTEMBER 2016

  • West Chicago's annual Mexican Independence Day parade steps off at noon Sunday, Sept. 17, and heads through the city's downtown.

      West Chicago's annual Mexican Independence Day parade steps off at noon Sunday, Sept. 17, and heads through the city's downtown.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer, SEPTEMBER 2016

 
By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald Correspondent

This year's Mexican Independence Day celebration in West Chicago may make it into the record books.

"There's going to be an attempt to set a record for the largest mosaic made out of reusable cups," said Bethany Bayci, the city's special events coordinator. "Everybody that comes to the festival can participate for fun."

The mosaic will be assembled on Main Street, near Washington Street, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 17.

In all, some 11,800 cups, representing the number of households in West Chicago, will be placed using a template to create a mosaic depicting a series of train cars, said Fernando Ramirez, founder and president of the Mexican Cultural Center DuPage.

West Chicago's ties to the railroad began when the city was established at the first railroad junction point west of Chicago. The city's railroad history is entwined with residents' Mexican heritage. The city has long been home to Mexican immigrants, Ramirez said.

"The Mexican community has been in West Chicago for about 100 years," he said. "They used to live in the boxcars in the 1930s."

Today, about 51 percent of the city's population is of Mexican heritage, he said.

Ramirez said West Chicago has been celebrating Mexican Independence Day, which commemorates Mexico's freedom from Spanish rule, for the past 24 years.

"It's the equivalent of the Fourth of July for us," he said.

The celebration will include a parade, music, games, a giant piņata and food.

Ramirez said the whole community is invited to participate.

"We want people to understand who we are, outside of our culture," he said. "The biggest thing is the educational part of it."

Saturday's highlights include a piņata-building session for children from noon to 5 p.m. A parade steps off at noon on Sunday from Leman Middle School, 238 E. Hazel St. The route will head north on Joliet Street, east on Conde Street, north on Wilson Avenue, and west on Main Street to Center Street.

The weekend will be full of music with performances from Mariachi Herencia de Mexico, a group from Chicago, and a show featuring Mariachi Aztlan from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

"We'll also have a harpist coming from the University of Veracruz Mexico, Ivan Velasco," Ramirez said.

The Leman Middle School Ballet Folklorico and the Leman Middle School Mariachi Los Rayos band also are scheduled to perform.

Ramirez said business booths and food vendors will be on hand at the festival.

The festival's grand finale will involve the hoisting of a 13-foot tall piņata via a crane at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Bayci said the piņata will be opened by festival organizers, filling the street below with candy and toys for children to scoop up.

Ramirez said the oversized piņata is quite a spectacle.

"We do that as an easy way to tell people Mexico is celebrating a birthday," he said. "We want to make it a tradition."

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