Lily Stark, 6, selects a book at El Dia de los Ninos, a celebration of children organized by the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board. (Linda Girardi / The Beacon-News)
Thousands of families gathered at the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora Saturday for an event that pays homage to children.
The annual El Dia de los Ninos, or Children’s Day, started in Mexico in 1925 to emphasize the importance of loving, accepting and appreciating children.
Although it is a deeply rooted Mexican holiday that focuses on children and family values, Aurora’s diverse cultures were well represented.
"Children’s Day is celebrated universally," said Adrienne Merced-Holloway, chairman of the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Advisory Board that organizes the festivities.
Organizers decided to move the El Dia de los Ninos to the indoor park district venue to avoid having to postpone it due to inclement weather, as had happened in the last two years. Previously it was held outdoors at the Aurora Transportation Center’s overflow parking lot just east of Broadway Avenue.
Aurora Mayor Robert O’Connor gave the opening remarks. "I have two grown sons and now I have four grandchildren to celebrate every day," O’Connor said.
An estimated 3,500 people attended the event.
Organizers calculate the attendance each year from the number of books distributed, in both English and Spanish languages, that covered different fields of interest related to science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
Performances by young dancers from Ballet Folklorico Quetzalcoatl and Greenman Elementary choir entertained the crowd.
The festivities began with a presentation of colors from the East Aurora Navy Junior ROTC Color Guard. The high school military organization’s Dance, Drum and Bugle Corps performed as well.
At a craft table, children cut-out papel picado, colorful decorative banners representative of Mexican folk art used for special occasions.
While children had fun in a variety of amusements, educators from Aurora’s four school districts were there to promote learning.
West Aurora School District 129, East Aurora School District 129, Indian Prairie School District 204 and Oswego School District 308 allocated funds to purchase new books to give away to each child.
"We want to bring our communities together," said Rafael Segarra, director for English Language Learners at Indian Prairie School District 204.
Judy Manriquez came with her two sons, Andres, 11 and Daniel, 6. "We appreciate the selection of books," Manriquez said. "Reading opens children’s minds to what is in the world. It’s important to encourage their interests," the Naperville mother said.
Neerhj Suri is a math teacher at Oswego’s Thompson Junior High School. "There are families here; families from throughout the Aurora area," Suri said.
The teacher came with his two daughters, Suleyka, 7 and Sabella, 3. "You have to find subjects that motivate a child to read. Kids will gravitate to books that interest them," he said.
Lily Stark, 6, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, wearing a traditional Mexican dress in the color of fuchsia with gold, blue and orange ribbons that represented a region of Mexico.
Lisa Stark said her daughter’s native language is English. However, she is learning to speak Spanish in the dual-language program at Oswego School District 308. "The children tend to teach one another," the Aurora mother said.
Elizabeth Aguilar, of Aurora, came with her two daughters, Samantha, 12 and Amanda, 4. Samantha said she likes reading. "I like how reading takes you into another world," the youngster said. "The words jump off the page," she said.
"At one time we were all children," said Master Chief George Allen, Naval science department educator at East Aurora High School.
"We want to honor our children and let them know every day that they make the community what it is. Our children should always feel special," Allen said.
Maria Lozano, director of English Language Learners at West Aurora School District 129 and Beatrice Reyes Childers, assistant superintendent of educational services for East Aurora School District 131 both said the day creates memories the kids likely will not forget. "It’s a validation of their culture that helps to build their confidence," Childers said.
Aurora Mayor-elect Richard Irvin mingled with the crowds of people. "This is an event where kids can be themselves. We want to assure them that we know they are important," he said.
Linda Girardi is a freelance reporter for The Beacon-News.