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Romeoville host community for 2013 Day of the Immigrant

Alex Ortiz | 7/22/2013, 10:46 a.m.
With the fight for immigration reform at a key point in Washington, members of the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project knew ...
This year's Day of the Immigrant event was held in Romeoville. By Alex Ortiz

With the fight for immigration reform at a key point in Washington, members of the Southwest Suburban Immigrant Project knew this year’s Day of the Immigrant was as important as ever. The event was previously held in Naperville in 2010 and Bolingbrook in 2012 and after attending last year’s event, Romeoville Mayor John Noak wanted it to come to his town.

“I was excited to be out there and part of their program last year,” Noak said. “And really looking at how large an immigrant population not only Bolingbrook but Romeoville has…it was a great opportunity with them to bring this event into our community.”

The SSIP is a non-profit organization advocating for immigrants’ rights and community involvement. Members also work closely with schools in Bolingbrook to mentor children and involve them in programs to keep them off the streets and learning something about culture along the way. The organization is based in Bolingbrook but also has members in Romeoville and Woodridge.

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2013 Day of the Immigrant

This year’s program attracted several notable names in the community. Elisa Perez Montalvo of the People Helping People Agency and Vicente Serrano, formerly of Telemundo News and now the radio personality of “Sin Censura” on 750AM, were the Masters of Ceremonies. Several community members were recognized for their contributions including David Garcia, the first Latino judge of Will County, Jorge Fonseca, an Afghanistan War Veteran and Police Officer, Rico Onsurez, a first generation immigrant who is now the VP Relational Manager at Chase and others.

Sheena Kauzlarich, the founding director of the SSIP was also on hand as well as U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville), state Rep. Natalie Manley (D-Joliet) and state Sen. Pat McGuire (D-Joliet) to show their support for the cause. Special recognition was given to the Concerned Citizens of Joliet who were part of a successful movement against plans to bring a for-profit immigrant detention center to Joliet.

“When we… started, we started meeting with several elected officials, and they told us there was a big notion in the suburban community that immigrants were takers and…not contributing back to the community and were often seen as a burden.” Jose Vera, SSIP Community Organizer said. “So we decided to highlight these stories of people that are involved in their community and they’re giving back in different ways.”

One of the biggest facets of the SSIP is mentoring and the fruits of its labor were on full display for the entertainment. The SSIP Youth Mariachi Band from the Mariachi Matters Program opened the festivities. The Bolingbrook Dance Force and Folkloric Ballet also performed traditional as well as modern dances. The program was full of young talent like Esmeralda Castelan who recited a moving poem entitled “Once a Pot a Time.”

Many local sponsors were present including Nancy’s Pizza, the Romeoville Area Historical Society, Farmers Insurance Group and DuCap, whose members provided face painting for kids. The array of individuals and groups participating were all part of this year’s theme: Sharing our American Dream. Many speakers mentioned the diversity of the immigrant population and the benefits that has brought to their respective communities.

The event concluded with a showing of “A Better Life,” a movie about an undocumented immigrant father and his son trying to live their American dream. Through all the entertainment and fun, many of those involved, like Elizabeth Cervantes, a SSIP Co-Founder and immigrant, recognized the implication of the event.

“It’s a crucial time and we’re right in the middle, right in the heat of the moment, which is why today was such an incredibly significant (and) impactful day,” she said.