Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations kick off at Greenbelt Cultural Center

Honduran group Sagrado Corazon perform traditional dances during the Fiestas Patrias event at the Greenbelt Cultural Center on Sunday, Sept. 14. | Yadira Sanchez Olson/Sun-Times Media

To kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Monday and runs through Oct. 15, the Greenbelt Cultural Center hosted a Fiestas Patrias event on Sunday, Sept. 14, that included song and dance performances by local cultural groups.

The Fiestas Patrias, which means patriotic festivities in Spanish, celebrated the independence of eight countries: Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile, Belize and Mexico. Families gathered by the stage to enjoy the performances, while others took part in nature activities organized by the Lake County Forest Preserves.

It took about six months to plan the event, which aims to tell cultural stories through musical performances.

“This event is all about bringing the cultures to the young people,” said Chris Ayers, the cultural center’s manager.

A group called Tlacatel performed ancient Aztec dances while wearing elaborate costumes that included vibrantly-colored plumage headwear.

Dancing to the beat of a drum, the numbers honored Aztec ancestors, such as “La Paloma” or The Dove, which pays homage to the birds. The dance has been passed down over generations going back to the 1500s, said Tlacatel group leader Raul Cervantez of Waukegan.

Another dance the group performed honored the natives whose land they dance on today.

“We honor them because we’re stepping on their ground,” Cervantez said.

Another group showcasing its culture on stage was Marimba Maderas de Mi Tierra, performing songs from Honduras.

“It’s joyous to be here and experience the dances and songs that remind you of your birthplace,” said Jesus Escobar, the group leader of Marimba Maderas de Mi Tierra. “We feel happy being able to represent Honduras this way.”

The Ward family from Libertyville — Julie, Tom and their 11-year-old daughter Emma — attended to immerse themselves and learn about the medley of cultures.

Julie Ward, who has been taking Spanish lessons at the College of Lake County, said she thought the event would be a good place to test out what she’s learned.

“It’s just neat to see all these cultures come together,” Julie said.

Other performers included the student choir from the Most Blessed Trinity Church, which offered renditions of traditional songs that described the beauty of the Mexican culture. The group also staged a father/daughter duo dressed in mariachi suits.

Yesenia Nair said attended because she wanted her two young children, ages 4 and 7, to experience some of their culture.

Nair said she would like her kids, who are half Mexican and half Indian, to be immersed in their Mexican, Indian and American cultures.

“I want these beautiful traditions to be passed down to them so they can pass them on to their kids,” Nair said.

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