Chicago’s Celebration of Latino Children and their Families
During the early part of the 20th century, Latinos began slowly arriving in Chicago. Today, “The Windy City” is home to almost two million Hispanics — mostly of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Guatemalan descent. The city represents the fifth largest Hispanic community in the country, and almost 40 percent of children in Chicago under the age of five are Latino.
Year-round, Chicago hosts many events dedicated to children. One of the most popular is the celebration of the Día de los Niños (“Children’s Day”) in Pilsen, one of the city’s oldest Mexican communities. Dating back to 1925, April 30th is recognized across Latin American countries to commemorate the hopes and dreams families have for their children.
Each spring also marks the annual Chicago Latino Book & Family Festival, who just celebrated their 15th event in 2014. Founded by renowned Latino actor and director Edward James Olmos, this cultural event is produced in partnership with the non-profit organization Latino Literacy Now. At the last festival, over 22,000 attendees experienced book readings, storytelling sessions, and other cultural entertainment in the predominantly Latino community of Cicero. Some of Chicago’s top Hispanic media personalities, Angélica Aondo, Alfonso Gutiérrez, Tsi-tsi-ki Félix, Aureliano Salgado, Omar Ramos, Ericka Pino, Diane Fong, David Miranda and Marialen Magaña participated in the event that was supported by local schools, authors, government, businesses, charities and corporations.
The annual Día de los Niños parade is timed to take place the Saturday closest to April 30. The free event begins at Plaza Tenochtitlan (1800 S. Blue Island Avenue) and heads west to Harrison Park. Families gather to enjoy entertainment performed by kids, face painting, storytelling experiences, sports activities, jewelry beading, fun games, and a variety of food vendors. College scholarships are awarded to well-deserving youth, and this popular event brings together more than 60 local schools, community organizations, city and government agencies, museums, universities and corporate partners.
Chicago offers plenty of other family-friendly things to engage children and pay tribute to Latino culture. Established in 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is a 75,000-square-foot site that is open daily. Admission is free, and it’s no wonder the non-profit organization attracts 3.5 million visitors every year. Kids delight in seeing a plenitude of exotic animals, such as giraffes, ostriches, kangaroos, antelopes, meerkats, zebras, salamanders, jaguars and red wolves. The Farm-in-the-Zoo area allows children to personally connect with nature, interact with cows and learn about the fascinating milking process. Wild armadillos, pandas, hyenas, lemurs and gorillas roam state-of-the-art natural habitats, while polar bears, turtles, sea lions, rhinoceroses, ducks, crocodiles and otters swim about in impressive water enclosures.
Another favorite go-to destination for Latino families visiting Chicago is the National Museum of Mexican Art, located at 1852 West 19th Street. Admission is free, and this cultural arts institution houses some of the country’s most well-preserved Mexican, Latino and Chicano works. Among its hundreds of paintings and sculptures, the colonial religious art is a must-see.
The museum’s indigenous textile collection showcases 400 artisanal crafts, embroidery and weaving, and the extraordinary folk art exhibit of 1,500 pieces features colorful Día de los Muertos masks. A permanent collection of precious stone, ceramic and shell items represents ancient Mayan, Toltec and Mezcala cultures and civilizations. Also, the museum’s unique “Family Sundays” offer entertaining art sessions, interesting talks on Latino art and group tours that explore its different galleries.
Children are at the heart of the Latino family, and Chicago offers plenty of wonderfully entertaining and diverse activities for the entire family to spend quality time together. Pack up your loved ones and explore this unforgettable city through Amtrak’s daily departures.