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Rockford residents honor their heritage with Mexican Independence Day celebrations

Maria Gardner Lara
Mexican Independence parade in Rockford, IL, Sept. 2023.

Mexican Independence Day celebrations helped to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month. That included festivities in Rockford.

Standing before a crowd gathered in the city’s Broadway district, Rockford 11th Ward Alderman Isidro Barrios upheld the names of the heroes in the Mexican War of Independence, and the values they held dear: peace, liberty, justice.

On the eve of Mexican Independence Day, the pomp and circumstance served to commemorate El Grito, considered the beginning of the war for Mexican Independence. The largest celebration happens in Mexico City with the country’s President presiding over the proclamations.

Rockford’s El Grito had all the elements: Mexican flag waving, bells ringing and a crowd.

For one Rockford woman, the ceremony brought tears to her eyes. Carmen Lucas for 28 years has called the Forest City home.

“I love the United States. I don’t want to leave, but at the same time I miss my country . . . I don’t how I’m going to resolve this, Lucas said, “I think that when I die, I want to be cremated and a pinch of ashes will stay here, and another pinch will go to my country.”

Alderman Barrios says the celebration is not a matter of picking sides between the U.S. and Mexico.

“La cultura Mexicana, la cultura indigena llegaba hasta aca. Entonces las personas que vinieron a dividir fue los europeos. Ellos impusieron la fronteras.”

“Mexican culture, indigenous culture made its way up to here,” Barrios said, “And thus, the people that came to divide were the Europeans. They imposed the boundaries.”

He said celebrations such as these can also draw interest in economic development to the city’s Broadway district.

The commemoration event also included food.

Attendees freely made their way to the food station, where for no charge folks could enjoy chicken and steak tacos.

Cecilia Barrios managed the grill.

“What am I adding?” she replied when asked, “I got arrachera seasoning, some onion powder, a little bit of Lowerys and some lime, lots of lime. A lot of lime makes it real nice.”

Several children ran around in a game of tag. Others hovered over the foosball table focused intently on the ball.

Folks looked relaxed as they enjoyed the Mariachi band and the cool temperatures.

Among the crowd was Pinky Langdon, the city’s 11th ward precinct captain. She’s also one of the sponsors of the event through her nonprofit -- the Broken Wings Club.

“When it’s Cinco de Mayo, I’m there. When It’s Saint Patrick’s Day, I’m there. Just don’t call me late,” she said, “it's important that if we don't embrace other cultures, we lose them. And we learn from them.”

The following day was the Mexican Independence Parade that included a caravan of cars and trucks.

Local and state officials were in attendance and veterans.

Ninety-eight-year-old, World War two veteran Ted Quiñonez didn’t actually walk the parade. Instead, he attended the festival that followed it.

He's the father of the late Tuffy Quiñonez, who was the first Latino Alderman in Rockford. Isidro Barrios was appointed to replace him.

Families strolled throughout the park, visiting with vendors. Among the booths was one held by the League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford. Maria Mendia, a volunteer with the league said voting is one way that Latinos contribute to our shared present and future.

“It is a great opportunity for people to register to vote," Medina said, "to see to see the potential that we need to be out there voting."

The Mexican Independence Day celebrations also launch Hispanic Heritage Month. It’s a time to remember Latinos’ shared history and contributions to the U.S.

It initially started as a week, first launched under President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was expanded to a month by President Ronald Reagan.

In addition to Mexico, other Latin American countries that hold independece commemorations in September include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile and Belize.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.