By Andre Salles email@example.com Sep 23, 2010 09:57AM
AURORA — When they first came together to resurrect Fiestas Patrias in Aurora, even the organizers weren’t sure how it would be received.
But last weekend’s two-day celebration was, by all accounts, a tremendous success. Roughly 7,000 people came out to River Street Park on Saturday and Sunday to eat locally made Mexican food, hear music from an international blend of artists, and commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence.
Fiestas Patrias was privately organized in Aurora for 18 years, before the annual celebration ended in 2003 amid concerns over the behavior of attendees. According to Norma Vazquez, executive director of the Aurora Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, when discussions about reviving Fiestas Patrias in Aurora began in earnest last year, all involved knew they had to do it right.
As far as the city is concerned, they did. Police reported no incidents whatsoever over the two days, and city spokesman Dan Ferrelli called the event “safe, fun and family-oriented.”
The Hispanic Chamber partnered with the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board and worked for a year to bring the festival to fruition.
Vazquez said organizers launched a campaign to keep attendees on their best behavior, enlisting local churches to help. Jesus Sanchez, co-owner of La Quinta de Los Reyes on New York Street, booked the bands for the main stage, drawing from local acts and musicians from Mexico.
La Chicanita Bakery constructed a 7-foot-tall cake on Sunday and handed out slices to attendees. The first piece of that cake was cut by Gov. Pat Quinn, and he ate it with gusto.
The parade, led by grand marshals Sanchez and Alderman Juany Garza, stepped off at noon on Sunday and drew thousands of people downtown.
Diana Torres, chairman of the Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board, said the only drawback was Saturday’s rain. Fiestas Patrias, she said, was “an opportunity to highlight everything the Latino community brings to the table, an opportunity to celebrate everything we do well.”
Bringing Fiestas Patrias back was important for Vazquez, a second-generation Mexican American. She remembers sitting on the side of Broadway as a young girl and watching the Fiestas Patrias parade. Getting to participate in Sunday’s parade as the master of ceremonies brought those memories flooding back.
Looking out over the crowd on Sunday, she knew there was at least one child having the experiences she once had.
“It was so important to us to champion this event, to bring it back to the community,” she said. “All the long hours, all the months of planning, was definitely worth it.”