The cultural contributions of Latinas and Latinos in Illinois have had a tremendous impact on the lives of Illinoisans. The diversity and the complexity of Latino culture and traditions are not only rich in history but also intertwined in the fabric of daily life in Illinois.
In 1987 the Mexican Fine Art Center Museum opened its doors, receiving national acclaim for its art display and cultural celebrations. From Chicago to less populous rural towns, Mexicans and Mexican Americans celebrate Cinco De Mayo, 16 de Septiembre, Fiestas Patrias, and Dla de Los Muertos. Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations in elementary and high schools are moving beyond tacos and other cultural foods to actually learning about Latino people.
The Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center was founded in the early 1970s to showcase the artistic work of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community. The Puerto Rican community hosted its first Puerto Rican parade in Chicago on June 12, 1966. Many communities in Illinois celebrate Puerto Rican heritage with parades followed by music, food, and vendors selling Puerto Rico’s flag and other artifacts.
Our Lady Charity is the patroness of the island of Cuba. In Chicago, Cubans celebrate the feat of Our lady Charity with masses on September 8. This day is so special that a Cuban priest is flown in from Miami or New York to be the main celebrant.
Guatemalan-based organizations and churches in different U.S. cities have played a critical role in the survival of Central Americans trying to escape torture in their mother countries. In the 1980s, the U.S.-based Sanctuary Movement offered critical protection to Central American refugees. A Sanctuary alliance of Chicago-based churches and synagogues provided aid and shelter to Guatemalans and Salvadorans facing deportation. In 1982, Chicago’s Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ was the second church in the country to be declared a sanctuary.
Colombians celebrate Colombian Independence Day on July 20. Since 1974, Colombianos Unidos Por Una Labor Activa (CUPULA) has been celebrating this event. A group of medical students from Colombia started this tradition and it is now the largest annual Colombian celebration in the Midwest.
The Ecuadorian community holds organized events such as Ecuadorian Week, which involves cultural exhibits, a picnic, and a parade. Throughout the year, charity balls, beauty queen competitions, and fundraisers are held.
In the entertainment world, Illinois is the birthplace of Jo Raquel Tejada, better known as Raquel Welch. Welch is recognized as one of the most beautiful women of the 1960s and 1970s. Illinois is also home to Antonio Mora, the first Latino (Cuban) to serve as a main anchor at WBBM-TV in Chicago.
In the sports arena, Sammy Sosa, who some have described as one of the best baseball player ever, joined the Chicago White Sox in 1989, being traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1992. Sosa went on to become an All-Star, and in 1998 he won the Most Valuable Player of the Year Award. In 1999 Sosa became the first player ever to hit more than 60 home runs in two seasons.