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A first for Forest Park: celebrating Hispanic heritage

Mayor wants to 'open the community to everyone'

October 8th, 2019 2:00 PM

Mariachi Michiocana performs during the first annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at Constitution Court on Madison St. | Alex Rogals/Staff Photographer

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By Maria Maxham

On Saturday, Oct. 5 Forest Park's Constitution Court was filled with music and dancing during the town's first Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, Bailando en Las Calles 2019.

Forest Park resident Claudia Medina was one of the event organizers, but she credits Mayor Rory Hoskins with bringing the idea up and forming the event committee.

"Rory really wants to open the community to everyone," said Medina. "He wants to honor the history and cultures of all the people in Forest Park."

Hoskins, who brought the annual Juneteenth celebration to Forest Park 11 years ago, gathered a group to organize the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, including Medina, Marjorie Adam, Solskin Gomez-Krogh, Tanzla Davis Rodriguez and Jessica Espinoza. The group planned the festivities for about two months.

"We really wanted to represent as many cultures as possible," said Medina. "A lot of people think of Mexican culture when they think of Hispanic culture. Mexican culture is a big part of it, but we also wanted to bring elements from South and Central America and the Caribbean. There is so much diversity, and so much beauty from all the different cultures."

The event featured performances by children from Medina's Bilingual Montessori Lab Academy in Forest Park, musicians from Forest Park's Gasse School of Music, and the bands Mariachi Michiocana, Ecos del Pacifico and Kreyol Roots. 

Authentic tacos were provided by El Tocanazo, and Forest Park's Café De Luca served margaritas and sangria.

PASO West Suburban Action Project had an information booth, and there was an opportunity for voter registration as well. 

Erica Ochoa, owner of Pineapple Dance Studio in Forest Park, taught different Latin dance moves during the festival. Ochoa, who has been teaching at the Old Town School of Folk Music for 15 years and has owned Pineapple Dance Studio for over 12, was happy to be included in the event.

"It was nice to see this happening in our community," said Ochoa. "It was the first festival in Forest Park that really included and embraced different cultures."

She added that Forest Park is a diverse town, and an event representing Hispanic heritage is important.

"There is so much power in music and dance," she said. 

Although the weather turned rainy, Doc Ryan's opened its doors to the festival in the evening, providing a space for the event to continue inside.