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The Hispanic community welcomed Evanston to its culture on Sept. 15, with songs, dance, speeches and awards that demonstrated pride in both the native and the adopted cultures. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Washington School Principal Kate Ellison and Fourth Ward Alderman Donald Wilson spoke briefly to the guests, many of whom stayed in the gymnasium for entertainment and several of whom remained outside for the traditional food simmering in the temporary kitchen.

Elena Garcia Ansani, who chaired the planning committee for this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, may have anticipated the spirit of the afternoon when she said at the Sept. 9 City Council meeting, “Viva Evanston.”

With Mirza Campos as translator, keynote speaker Henry Godinez, resident artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre and professor of theatre at Northwestern University, recalled his early life in this country with his mother and siblings, immigrants from Cuba. “My mother never took for granted the opportunities that this country offered her and her family, and she developed a ferocious sense of obligation to her new home. She came to this country with basically nothing, after spending half of her life in a comfortable upper-middle-class Cuban society, and then … worked two jobs as a single mom until all 10 of her children had graduated from high school.”

Mr. Godinez twined his own life and vision for Hispanic culture in Evanston and in the United States around the national theme for this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month: “Serving and leading our nation with pride and honor.”

Though Mr. Godinez embraced his mother’s patriotism, the two had differing views on how it was manifested, he said. “She never quite understood how it was precisely that sense of patriotism that drove me as an adult to defend civil disobedience as a manifestation of our right to free speech. … She instilled the importance of leadership and service in me by quietly setting an example as she led and served her family. … So when I look at this year’s national theme for Hispanic Heritage Month, through the lens of the example my mother set [for] me, I see it as a mandate that begins in the home – by celebrating at home and in public the values that we as Latinos traditionally hold dear: family, community, hard work and faith.”

The Latino/Hispanic community “must let our voices be heard,” Mr. Godinez said, by Congressmen and Congresswomen, senators, mayors, aldermen and governors. He cited “Latino Talent,” a book by Robert Rodriguez, that noted “our tendency to avoid conflicts, criticism and negative situations,” something that “non-Latinos often see as a tendency to be passive or subservient. … In fact, the humility and mutual respect that may well be at the root of our perceived passivity and subservience could be enormously valuable in a world grown callous and indifferent with self-absorption and greed.”

Participating in American culture, Mr. Godinez said, will not necessarily “compromise our identities and traditions. … To me, the future is one of inclusion, where some day there won’t be great Latino plays or great Latino actors or directors – just great plays, directors and actors that just happen to be Latino. My idealized future is one where we identify people first and foremost as good human beings – period. … I firmly believe that the more we focus on our similarities as human beings rather than our differences, the less likely we are to perpetuate stereotypes and ignorance and prejudice, and the more likely we are as a human race to confront the fundamental issues that affect us all.” 

Latino Resources President Aracely Canchola, Y.O.U. Executive Director Seth Green and Evanston Township High School Superintendent Eric Witherspoon presented Hispanic Heritage Awards to Juan Villaseñor for academic excellence, to Angelica Solano for civic engagement, to Cobi Ortega for athletic leadership, to Zoilt Resendiz for community service, to Emmanuel Patiño for community activism, to Katlyn Vergil for youth leadership in the Evanston Y.O.U. ETHS Connect Program and to Cristal Hernando for artistic expression and commitment to social justice.

Ms. Garcia Ansani said cultural afternoons such as this “raise awareness not just for Latinos but for everybody – it’s about bringing people together.”Young dancers from Tierra y Luz provided enter-tainment at the Sept. 15 kickoff of Hispanic Heritage Month at Robert Crown Center. The dancers are sponsored by the club Pro-Obras Juanacatlan, said its president, Ariadna Garbuno. The 35-year-old club, which has branches in several municipalities, promotes awareness of the culture of Jalisco, one of Mexico’s 32 states, whose capital is Guadalajara.

Funds raised through dinners and other means are sent back to Mexico to help schools and students there. At the same time, she said, “We try to get everyone in the community to learn more about the American culture.”

Pictured left to right are dancers Angel Gutierrez, Monserrat Valenzuela, Mia Garcia, Camila Cortes, Emma Cortes and Juan Pablo Gutierrez. Back row, left to right are State Senator Daniel Biss, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Elena Garcia Ansani of Latino Resources, who chaired the celebration committee for Hispanic Heritage Month in Evanston.

The City⁳ Proclamation Invites Evanstonians to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with Events That Include:

Sept. 27 • 4:30-6 p.m., Cine Familiar: “Biblioburro”/Family Movie Night: “Biblioburro,” Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.

Oct. 4 • 6 p.m., EPL After Hours Movie: “Bless Me Ultima,” Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.

Oct. 6 • 3-7 p.m., Dia de la Familia Sana/Healthy Families Day, McGaw YMCA, 1000 Grove St.

Oct. 6 • Time: TBD, Mariachi Mass and 5 p.m., Bilingual Mass: Northwestern University Sheil Center, 2110 Sheridan Road

Oct. 10 • 6:30-8 p.m., School District 65 Presents Dr. Kim Potowski of UIC, Location: TBD

Oct. 12 • Time: TBD, Hispanic Heritage Month Finale, ETHS, 1600 Dodge Ave.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...