As a North Riverside police officer and village resident for over 10 years, Raul Pelayo cares about the community where he chose to raise his family and pursue his career.
However, despite developing great friendships with neighbors and local families, Pelayo has always felt North Riverside was lacking one very important thing — a civic organization for fellow Latinos in North Riverside.
After speaking with other area Latinos, Pelayo discovered he was not alone. With that in mind, Pelayo teamed up with a group of local Latinos in May to establish the Hispanic Organization of North Riverside, or HONOR.
“I noticed that our Hispanic community is not united in any way, shape or form,” Pelayo said, explaining what ultimately motivated him to start the group himself. “There’s no community events really promoted for the Hispanic population here in town.”
While Pelayo has been very pleased living in North Riverside, he and his Latino friends have talked among themselves about what things the village could do to make them feel more included.
“One of the first things residents said was there’s nothing specific towards the Hispanic population as far as traditions and the stuff that interests us as a community,” Pelayo said. “There was mention of [a lack of] networking between all the Hispanics in town. There are so many here, but we don’t know who we are. There’s just nothing that holds us all together.”
With a growing Latino population in North Riverside, Pelayo says the time is right to establish a civic group for Latinos of all ages to work together and be more vocal in the community.
According to statistics from the United States Census Bureau, in 2010, Latinos comprised 23.8 percent of the population in North Riverside. In 2000, Latinos made up just 8 percent of the population. Since 2010, said Pelayo, that percentage has likely grown.
Pelayo, who is serving as the group’s president, is working alongside longtime North Riverside residents Peter Garza and Fernando Flores, who form the group’s executive board.
Flores, a North Riverside resident for 15 years, is serving as HONOR’s treasurer and is excited to finally see the group come to fruition.
“Hispanics are very united and we’d like to celebrate our customs and just be together,” he said. “[Others should join] to be part of an organized group and have togetherness.”
Pelayo agreed, saying the group will strive to bring back the celebration of important traditions for Latinos in the community who may be new to them.
“The older population of Hispanics see traditions getting lost in the younger population and they’re visibly worried and concerned,” Pelayo said.
Activities HONOR plans on creating include celebrations for Cinco De Mayo, Mexican Independence Day and Christmas, and that the group is also striving to both get the entire community involved and give back to the community at the same time.
“We eventually want to set up a soccer league, give out a couple of scholarships and sponsor local sports teams,” Pelayo said.
Despite the group still in the process of becoming a recognized 501(c)(3) civic, non-profit organization with the state, HONOR held its first celebration in September for Mexican Independence Day at the Cook County Forest Preserve grove off of 26th Street.
The event featured a mariachi band and various Mexican foods, with Pelayo estimating close to 200 people in attendance. At the event, North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. came to formally welcome the group and invite them to participate in the village’s Autumn Fest and Chili Cook-Off.
It was at the Autumn Fest where Pelayo says the group received its most attention yet.
“A lot of Hispanic people came up to us and were like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s finally happening. It’s been a long time coming and we don’t have a voice in town.’ People were saying they’re so excited and looking forward to helping our organization,” he said.
No general meeting dates have been established yet, but Pelayo says as soon as dates are set, fliers and advertisements will be posted at local businesses and municipal buildings.
Additionally, Pelayo says that locals from neighboring suburbs and people who are not Latino are also encouraged to participate.
“North Riverside is going to be our home base, but we’re going to be open to any other community Hispanics that want to be a part of us.”
Anyone interested in further information about joining HONOR can contact Pelayo at 708-309-9606 or by email at email@example.com.