Indian Americans mark Hindu festival with three-day celebration in Aurora

  • A Hindu priest from the Sri Venkateswara Swami Balaji Temple in Aurora, left, offers prayer to Lord Ganesh joined by Aurora Alderwoman Shweta Baid and her husband Virkam last week during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Aurora.

    A Hindu priest from the Sri Venkateswara Swami Balaji Temple in Aurora, left, offers prayer to Lord Ganesh joined by Aurora Alderwoman Shweta Baid and her husband Virkam last week during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in Aurora. Courtesy of the City of Aurora

  • Traditional Indian dance performances were part of a three-day Hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturthi, held last week in Aurora. The festival was organized by the Fox Valley Ganesh Utsav Samithi of Aurora and Naperville.

    Traditional Indian dance performances were part of a three-day Hindu festival, Ganesh Chaturthi, held last week in Aurora. The festival was organized by the Fox Valley Ganesh Utsav Samithi of Aurora and Naperville. Courtesy of Narasimha Reddy

  • Shweta Baid

    Shweta Baid

  • A long line of cars streamed from the Elgin High School parking lot during the second annual Mexican Independence Day Caravan Saturday in Elgin.

    A long line of cars streamed from the Elgin High School parking lot during the second annual Mexican Independence Day Caravan Saturday in Elgin. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Eira Corral Sepulveda

    Eira Corral Sepulveda

  • Toni Preckwinkle

    Toni Preckwinkle

  • Daily Herald Diversity Editor Madhu Krishnamurthy

    Daily Herald Diversity Editor Madhu Krishnamurthy

 
 
Updated 9/19/2021 5:20 PM

Thousands of Indian Americans gathered last week under an outdoor tent to celebrate the Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi in Aurora.

The festival, which began Sept. 10 and ends Tuesday, honors the birth of Lord Ganesh, known as the "Remover of Obstacles" and "Lord of New Beginnings" in Hindu tradition. The deity is depicted as a human with an elephant's head.

 

A three-day celebration was hosted by the nonprofit Fox Valley Ganesh Utsav Samithi. It featured prayer services, youth performances and a proclamation by Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin honoring the holiday.

"It is pretty big here," said Aurora Alderwoman Shweta Baid, 45, the first Indian American elected to the city council. "Last year, due to COVID, nobody could meet."

More than 4,000 people from throughout the Chicago suburban region attended this year's festival, according to organizers.

Aurora is home to two Hindu temples, and Indian Americans are one of the fastest-growing ethnic communities there. The community will mark two other Hindu festivals -- Navaratri and Diwali -- in October and November, Baid said.

Mexican Independence Day

Aurora and Elgin celebrated Mexican Independence Day, observed on Sept. 16, with special ceremonies last week.

The day commemorates the moment when Father Hidalgo, a priest and leader, called for Mexico's liberation from Spain in September of 1810.

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Elgin held its second annual festive car parade Saturday. A caravan of 100 vehicles decorated with Mexican flags made its way through city streets, honking horns and blaring music as spectators waved flags along the parade route.

Aurora hosted its first Mexican flag raising ceremony Thursday to mark the occasion and kick off Hispanic Heritage Month festivities. The state's second-largest city is home to a large Mexican community.

Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin and Alderwoman Juany Garza, Alderman Emmanuel Llamas and Deputy Mayor Guillermo Trujillo -- all three are Mexican American -- hosted the ceremony at North Island Center in the heart of downtown.

The Mexican flag was raised on a staff next to the American flag.

Garza, an entrepreneur, has represented the city's predominantly Latino Ward 2 for 16 years. She founded the Aurora Hispanic Pioneers Council.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Llamas, a 34-year-old attorney, is the city's youngest alderman. He was born and raised in Ward 1, which he now leads.

Trujillo served 30 years as an investigator with the Aurora Police Department before becoming the city's first Latino deputy mayor.

More than a dozen events are part of Aurora Avanzando (Aurora Forward) to mark Hispanic Heritage Month. For a listing, visit aurora-il.org/AuroraAvanzando.

Support for refugees

Suburban residents can browse a collection of handmade clothing products sewn by local refugee women available for sale between 1 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25, at ICNA Relief Refugee Resource Center, 1793 Bloomingdale Road, Glendale Heights.

Items include crocheted hats, blankets, pillow cases, tunic tops, aprons, potholders, masks and decorative place mats.

Proceeds will benefit ICNA Relief's refugee empowerment program.

"It's an important way to support the hard work that refugee women are putting in ... to help them on their path toward independence in a new country," said Shazia Khan, of Barrington, a physician whose nonprofit, All Sorts, helps train refugee women to be seamstresses.

Racial equity

Cook County has adopted a new Racial Equity Policy and Action Plan.

It establishes a framework to advance and promote inclusion in all aspects of government and social services. The plan calls for providing racial equity training to county employees and access to services for the one in five residents who speak a language other than English.

"We have encouraged our staff to use a racial equity lens with every policy and program, including our COVID-19 recovery initiatives," Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said at a kickoff event for the county's third annual Racial Equity Week, Sept. 13 through 17.

All county residents must have access to affordable housing, good jobs, healthy food, convenient public transit, quality health care and green space, she added.

"It means we can't settle for expanding access to public transit, if that access is only improved for able-bodied residents," Preckwinkle said. "We can't provide rental assistance, if we only provide it for people with immigration papers. We can't impact maternal and infant mortality without addressing the fact that Black women are at least three times more likely than white women to die as a result of pregnancy."

Preckwinkle debuted several episodes of "Talk with Toni" throughout the week on the county's cable and YouTube channels. To view equity week programs, visit Facebook.com/PresidentPreckwinkle.

Black business grant

The Coalition to Back Black Businesses is accepting applications for its 2021 grant program.

It will provide $5,000 grants each to more than 400 small business owners to help meet critical business needs, longer-term resources, such as mentorships, trainings and additional enhancement funds. Eligible Black small business owners can apply for the grant online through Sept. 22.

The coalition was launched last September by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and American Express.

Grantees will be paired with industry specific mentors to help grow their business. Selected grantees also can apply for $25,000 enhancement grants next spring.

For eligibility requirements and to apply, visit webackblackbusinesses.com.

Latinos in trades

A coalition launched last week aims to increase Latino representation within the construction industry and trades.

The Illinois Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Coalition also will focus on promoting Latinos in business and labor markets, funding for infrastructure projects, eliminating barriers to construction careers and outreach to the Latino community.

Illinois' Latino population increased by 15%, growing from 2 million in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2020, census data shows.

"It is now the second-largest demographic in the state," said Eira Corral Sepúlveda, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago commissioner and chair of the coalition's Equity in Construction Jobs Committee. "We are not just asking for equity, but also parity in getting resources and services from government agencies all across the state."

Sepúlveda is the first Latina elected to the MWRD board and the youngest and first commissioner from the Northwest suburbs.

She led a group of Latino elected officials on a tour of Wheeling High School's vocational pathway programs Friday. Such programs play an important role in cultivating inclusive career pipelines to the trades, Sepúlveda said.

• Share stories, news and happenings from the suburban mosaic at mkrishnamurthy@dailyherald.com.

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