As the Hispanic population continues to grow in the U.S., a local example of this trend is found in North Riverside, where Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. says one-third of his village’s residents are now Hispanic.
Thanks to the tireless interest and effort of resident Raul Pelayo, founder of the Hispanic Organization of North Riverside (HONR), these residents now have a voice in the doings of their hometown, while learning more about, and being able to celebrate their cultural heritage.
“Our village has about 7,000 people, and about 2,300 of them are Hispanic,” says Hermanek, adding that the gradual rise in this particular population has been related to “our low taxes and good services, but also the schools. So, a lot of young families [from Berwyn and Cicero] are moving here [related to that], and many of them are Hispanic.”
In 2001, Pelayo was hired as the first Spanish speaking Hispanic police officer in North Riverside. Five years later, he and his family became residents of the village.
Over those years, as Officer Pelayo walked his beat, he began realizing that “our Hispanic community is not united in any way, shape or form,” he said. “And that is why I wanted to start a group, because there’s no community events really promoted for the Hispanic population here in town.”
Choosing to “bring local Hispanics out of their shells” by creating family-centered activities that spurred civic and cultural pride, as well as local volunteerism among his Hispanic peers, was his proactive approach. To do it, Pelayo hand picked a small like-minded volunteer board of directors – Peter Garza, vice president; Matt Morales, treasurer; and Priscilla Skenandore, secretary – to help him gather the support of local businesses and other groups for his new nonprofit called HONR.
“I know all the business owners, and when I came up with the idea, and they knew what kind of person I was, they were happy to help,” Pelayo said. “We are not a political organization, or make any endorsements of any kind. Our purpose is to help anybody who needs it. That is why HONR was formed, why we are growing, and why we are still here.”
A year ago, HONR made its splash with the first of many annual events, “Family Fiesta.” On Sept. 11, 2015, it was a “picnic for Hispanic residents where we brought out traditional Mariachi music, had Mexican taqueria [traditional tacos]and brought piñatas for the kids. We invited the mayor to speak, and overall it was a huge success and great time.”
Since that opening, many other family-centered community gatherings have come and gone.
On May 1, was a well-attended Cinco de Mayo celebration at North Riverside Park Mall with all the cultural trimmings, including folkloric dancers. Since then, HONR has held a Mexican Christmas party, plus a free festival at the Village Commons where hundreds of people came.
They have also held a free seminar for Hispanics. Covered were the issues of wills and financial planning, as well as “problems around their status here,” Pelayo says.
As a proud Latina, Skenandore says, “I was so tremendously moved because this was my children’s first experience with seeing our culture in this way.”
For Mayor Hermanek, he believes HONR is “filling a niche in our village, and I am happy to help out,” he says.