Convivencia celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month in Oak Park

As part of the annual recognition of Hispanic culture in the United States, Oak Park hosted a cultural festival on Saturday that highlighted its vibrant Hispanic community and inspired the city’s diverse residents to enjoy living together.

Organizers estimated that 500 people attended the first “Convivencia! Hispanic Heritage Month Festival” Saturday in Oak Park.

The four-hour event held in Taylor Park began at noon and was organized by the Oak Park Regional Housing Center in partnership with the Oak Park Public Library, the Park District of Oak Park and the Village of Oak Park.

According to event signage, “convivencia” means “living together,” which the organization’s leaders say has been the OPRHC’s mission for 50 years.

“Diversity, integration and inclusion has been our mission since 1972, which is why we wanted to host this event this year,” said Jackie Mota, communications coordinator at Oak Park Regional Housing Center and organizer of the event.

Offerings included performers, a resource fair, a bouncy house, face painting, balloon animals, story time at the Oak Park Public Library, dance groups, music and more.

Multimedia artist Alejandro Martell of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood painted a convivencia mural of a crow on plywood using paint markers.

“I feel like this (raven) is very symbolic for people who are kind of here in the present,” Martell said.

The youngsters took turns swinging on a large tiger piñata during the first piñata session on Saturday.

After everyone had their turn at bat, the kids gathered around Mota, who handed out pinata treats.

“It’s been so much fun,” Mota said. “A great participation, really exciting. …One thing I love about Oak Park is that the community is strong here, everyone knows each other, everyone tries to be helpful to each other, and that’s why so many people came today.

Athena Williams, executive director of the OPRHC, said the organization, in its half-century of being in Oak Park, has helped encourage people to “really start learning to live with each other “.

“We know there’s work to be done, and it’s events like this that are going to help us in the community do that work,” Williams said.

Susan Pineda of US Bank was on hand as part of the range of resources festival attendees have access to at the free event.

“It brings us together and we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month,” Pineda said. “And we’re here to educate the community about home ownership. We are here to promote home ownership for all.

She said that currently about 50% of the Hispanic community owns a home.

“We want 100% of the Hispanic community to own their own property, land in the United States,” Pineda said.

Cuban-born Oak Park resident Lisa Pintado-Vertner owns a home near Taylor Park where the festival was held. Pintado-Vertner is aware that “it could be difficult” for new owners to break into the Oak Park real estate market.

“It’s very expensive here,” Pintado-Vertner said of Oak Park, noting property taxes and housing prices. It’s “really out of reach for some people”.

Baxter Swilley, legislative director of the OPRHC, said the idea for the festival began in early June last year, drawing 24 resource partners to the event on Saturday.

“It’s a mission strategy for us. Essentially what we’re doing is we’re recognizing that racial integration can only happen with cultural integration, cultural visibility, cultural vibrancy,” Swilley said. “Nobody feels welcome anywhere if they can’t be visible in their own culture, in their own ethnicity, in their own race.

“It’s one thing for all of us to live together in Oak Park, but it’s another for us to be celebrated, to share and exchange ideas, cultures,” Swilley said.

Sarah Lutz was present with her children aged 3 and 8. She said she hoped they would learn “appreciation for cultural heritage,” Lutz said.

Lauren Achurra, from Oak Park, was also present with her children and said she hoped they would be exposed to “a little piece of heritage and fun”.

Maria Lobato-Martinez said she and her family have lived in the western suburbs for 42 years.

“It’s been a long road and finally starting to recognize Latinos in our community is always a good thing,” she said.

Karie Angell Luc is a freelancer.

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