Just a year after a lack of interest and support forced West Chicago to scrap plans to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, a re-energized group of volunteers is working to revive the tradition and pump new life into the daylong party.
Valeria Lopez, who heads the organizing committee that formed earlier this year, says the celebration of Mexican history, culture and pride will go on from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15, along Main Street in the city's downtown -- come rain or shine.
That last part is important because ever since 2008 when the city took over what had been a resident-led effort, it has been battling an uncooperative Mother Nature who too frequently insists not only on raining on West Chicago's parade, but threatening to sweep the whole thing away in a torrent of floodwater.
Rain and flooding washed out the event in both 2008 and 2011, leaving vendors and volunteers disappointed and so reluctant to get involved again that last year's celebration had to be canceled even as the city's first Hispanic mayor, Ruben Pineda, looked on.
This year, with Pineda's full support, Lopez -- the city's liaison on the volunteer-based committee -- got organizers together much earlier than in the past and scheduled two meetings a month to get the celebration back on track.
"This year it will be a rain-or-shine event," she says. "No matter what, we will be there."
Some details are still in the planning stages, but Lopez says the celebration will start with a parade downtown featuring roughly 30 marching units, followed by a re-enactment of El Grito, the ringing of the bell that signaled Mexico's independence from Spain in 1810.
Following the parade the rest of the festival will be centered in downtown where there will be booths for food and craft vendors, children's games and activities, displays of Mexican history and heritage and even a 3-on-3 soccer tournament.
When the weather has cooperated, previous celebrations have drawn as many as 3,000 people, Lopez says, and organizers are hoping for even more this time around.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm from residents," she says. "It's a celebration that brings everybody together."
A resident of West Chicago for almost 27 years, Lopez says the celebration took root in the city during the early 1990s when residents were trying to keep the tradition alive, especially for their children. She and other members of her committee, along with many city staff members, are working to ensure that doesn't change.
"This event has been reinvigorated by the energy of a group of people who didn't want to see a 21-year-old tradition die," Pineda said in a written statement. "They stepped up to the plate and brought a fresh enthusiasm for sharing their love for the culture, traditions and heritage of Mexico."
And just in case Mother Nature or maybe Jerry Taft is listening, Lopez says it would be nice if the weather on Sept. 15 is, you know, kind of pleasant.
"We have," she says, "put the word out for this specific date."