Aurora Puerto Rican Heritage Festival returning after two-year pandemic pause
The Aurora Puerto Rican Heritage Festival is marking its return on Sunday with celebration and sadness.
The free festival is back to commemorate a significant milestone but reflects losses as part of its two-year cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's been 50 years of the Puerto Rican community -- the organization promoting our culture and heritage -- in the city of Aurora," said Iris V. Miller, president of the nonprofit Aurora Puerto Rican Cultural Council, which was founded in 1972.
"But the past two years have been hard for everybody," Miller said, referring to the loss of council board members Orlando Rivera and Ana Elba Rivera during the pandemic.
"They were two critical members of this organization and have been a huge part of this community," Miller said. "As we moved forward planning this festival, there have been a lot of emotions. We know they're not here physically, but their essence is here."
Like the 2019 festival, the council decided to return to downtown Aurora at 65 S. Water St. across from city hall. Miller said the decision not to have a parade or to stage the festival at RiverEdge Park, one of its previous homes, was financial.
The outdoor festival features live performances, a children's area and many vendors selling Puerto Rican clothes, cuisine and more. The festival is also when the council awards its annual multicultural scholarships.
"With much pride this year, we're going to be awarding over $20,000 in scholarships, which is huge for us," Miller said. "(The scholarship) is not only for kids getting out of high school going to college. It's for anybody looking to seek education."
The festival is one of several events during Puerto Rican Heritage Week in Aurora.
Bad weather last weekend forced a Puerto Rico flag-raising ceremony to be rescheduled to 9:30 a.m. Saturday at One Aurora Plaza, 8 E. Galena Blvd. The band Chicago Latin Groove also is performing at 6:30 p.m. Friday on the patio of the restaurant La Quinta de los Reyes at 36 W. New York St.
Miller said he is very proud that the council has done its part to preserve and share Puerto Rican culture with Aurora for five decades.
"Puerto Rico is always going to be our home," Miller said. "But for many of us, Aurora is our second home, and it feels good to be able to be here and have that piece of home in our hearts that we can also share and celebrate with others."
Aurora Puerto Rican Heritage Festival 2022Festival hours: 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday, July 31
Location: 65 S. Water St., Aurora
Admission: Free, but donations appreciated