Mexican Independence Day celebrations are a community staple across many communities in Chicago and beyond. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, those celebrations are looking very different this year.
In South Chicago, the Mexican Independence Day Parade has been an annual tradition. For 80 years, hundreds of residents have flocked every year to the sidewalks of Commercial Avenue, from 83rd to 100th streets, to watch a variety of floats, low-riders, charros on horseback and school performances.
“It brings the community together and gives people a sense of pride,’’ said Carmela Vargas, president of the Mexican Patriotic Club, the nonprofit organization behind the event. “The parade also helped the local business make money.”
Longtime community member Anthony Martinez, whose family has been living in South Chicago for over 100 years, says his family has been marching in the parade since it began. “I continue my family history and march in the parade. I’m proud of it,” he said. “It’s a long family tradition.”
This year, the parade is canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Everyone is very sad,” Vargas said. “This would be the day we are out there. But everyone understands.”
But there will be other ways to celebrate in 2020.
The community group Bridges // Puentes: Justice Collective of the Southeast announced it will be organizing a Mexican independence caravan in the South Chicago community on Sunday, Sept. 20 called Until We Are All Free: A Mexican Independence Day Caravan.
The event aims to address an unjust immigration system, according to the group’s Facebook page, which states: “We know that there is no real independence to celebrate when thousands of migrant children have been lost, when thousands of migrant children have been separated from their parents, while thousands of men, women and children sit in cages in the midst of a global pandemic.”
The group says it will share more details about the caravan in the days leading up to the event.
In Little Village, this weekend would have marked 51 years of the 26th Street Mexican Independence Day Parade. It too was canceled.
According to the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, the parade has become one of the largest and most popular parades in the Midwest. “The parade helps promote local businesses and brings attention to the driving force behind the continued growth and success of the Latino business community,” the chamber wrote in June when it announced the cancellation of the parade.
Videos posted to social media Saturday night showed residents from not only Little Village but Elgin and the south Suburbs cruising together downtown waving Mexican flags, beeping their horns and playing banda music at full blast as they circled the Trump Tower to showcase pride and unity for Mexico.
According to reporting from the Chicago Tribune, the influx of caravans led to police shutting down several streets and blocking off access to several downtown intersections with squad cars and barricades.
And without parades this year, people may see more caravans in the lead-in to the holiday, which is on Wednesday.
NotifyChicago: Expect possible increased traffic & activity today in your area due to Mexican Independence Day events.
— Chicago OEMC (@ChicagoOEMC) September 13, 2020
And while the Mexican Civic Society of Illinois has canceled El Grito de Independencia, slated for Chicago’s Millennium Park, the Mexican Consulate in Chicago will hold a “Virtual Grito” to commemorate the 210th anniversary of Mexican independence. It will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday via the Facebook page of the Consulate General and include musical performances and interviews with local organizations and clubs.
Alma Campos is a freelance contributor to WTTW News: @alma_campos