Naperville Hispanic Heritage Festival Review

This past weekend, the City of Naperville set up a celebration to recognize their Latino population in the area and in other cities like Aurora and Bolingbrook. The event was officially called Naperville’s Hispanic Heritage Festival and was set up primarily by the Sister Cities Commission along with sponsors from the City Council. As someone who is Latino and lives in Naperville, the event immediately piqued my interest. It’s always nice to see part of my culture being represented in Naperville where diversity of people is very lacking. However, it goes without saying that the event coordination was far from perfect with the compromises that had to be made between Sister Cities and the City Council.
First I want to speak about the good of what I experienced. I went on Saturday, September 17, and arrived at the beginning of the event. The location was Central Park in Downtown Naperville and the structure was food/drink stands near benches that faced the community music stage. Even though the coordinators were mainly white and other people of color, there were still many Latinos and even Afro-Latinos operating the stands and selling different items like food, drinks, and other items like rosaries and accessory items such as hats and ponchos. I was also very pleased with the amount of people who visited the event. As mentioned earlier, for a place like Naperville, it was great to see more Latinos in the area to enjoy the event. Even outside of Central Park on the streets throughout Downtown, there were many cars displaying Mexican flags driving down on main roads. Stores like Barnes and Noble were filled with Latinos browsing the store and the same thing in other shops and public areas viewing what Naperville has to offer. Looking through an optimistic perspective, the event overall was positive. It was an unforgettable experience to see Naperville take a break from being a white conservative area to being a host for another heritage that I personally belong to.
However, as said before, the compromises that the Sister Cities commission had to make with the city of Naperville ushered in alterations to the event that made it centered around Naperville’s reputation rather than an actual culture. While three prominent Latino speakers were able to introduce themselves, it was vastly overshadowed by the fact that Naperville city council members and politicians were also on the stage. These other speakers spoke as if it were a political statement for how great and “diverse” Naperville is when it could be perceived by people that only three Latino speakers wasn’t all that much in the first place. An analogy I like to bring into thought is the difference between Naperville’s Hispanic Heritage Festival and last month’s India Day at Rotary Hill. The group that set up India Day was different from Sister Cities in that they had much more of their own funding from private donors and didn’t need that much from the city in terms of money. The outcome was as simple as the title, India Day. No blaring message about the city of Naperville’s political correctness to hold such a spectacle but instead a specific event for a specific audience to celebrate an ethnicity that many in Naperville are a part of.
Furthermore with fewer Latino coordinators than other coordinators, it led to an oversaturated attempt to replicate the culture in some minor instances. For example, there was a mechanical bull machine that people in Texas and the south would usually put in celebrations and not in Latin America. Latino culture is not cowboys and Indians mixed with other pop culture references that pertain more so to American culture. It’s sophisticated and includes so many different countries other than Mexico that have completely different histories. Spectacles with features like these tell me that while the city of Naperville has the potential to be diverse, it can still take for granted the role of being politically correct while not overbearing for the purpose of reputation.
However, this is not to say that events like these shouldn’t happen in the future, as this festival is a yearly thing that just started in 2021. I am stating my belief that Naperville shouldn’t take advantage of possible events like these where funding is needed to attempt to appear politically correct. Diversity should be sincere, not for the sake of spreading a message.