PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off Thursday, Sept. 15, and right here in Peoria, there is a small, but mighty Hispanic community ready to celebrate.

Recognizing the contributions and influence of Hispanic Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States — That’s Hispanic Heritage Month.

“To see this dedication to talking about the Hispanic community and putting the spotlight on Latinos here in the United States gives us a chance to recognize what we bring as Latinos into the American culture and into our local communities,” said Andres Diaz, a Hispanic Peoria resident.

The month is celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. According to the 2020 census data, just under 7% of Peoria is Hispanic.

“This is the largest our population has been in the last 10 years,” said Owner TequilaRia Wine and Spirits Christell Frausto. “And this is also the largest boom we’ve seen of businesses and inclusion and not just festivals, also in theater and music and food in Peoria.”

Being a Hispanic in America, Diaz said, is the American dream.

“As a Latino, it touches my heart, it makes me proud to say that other people recognize us in a time of deep political divide that we can actually look at the positive and look at the way that Latinos made an impact here in the United States and that is making a huge impact even here in Peoria,” said Diaz.

It is not just something for the Hispanic people to celebrate though, it’s a time for the whole community to come together.

Frausto said, “It’s important to get involved because you learn about the melting culture around you and the people that are your neighbors. I think we’re in a period of strengthening our connections because the population is growing, not just within ourselves, but with all of Peoria.”

It’s also the message the month sends to future generations.

“For the little kids, it lets them know that know that they’re welcome here, that they’re valued, and for older people, it shows them that their struggle was real,” said Diaz.

“We shouldn’t live in fear of what other people think or feel about not being inclusive to everyone. We should operate out of wanting to thrive, out of wanting to give back and not settle for how things are,” said Frausto. “And that’s really the message that we want, not just to the youth, but to everyone.”

For those who want to take part in this month’s festivities, check out the list below:

  • Caravana Via Mexico: Riverplex on Sept. 16 from 4-5 p.m. and ends at Morton Square Park from 5-8 p.m.
  • Mexican Independence Day: Yeni’s Palarte on Sept. 16, from 5 p.m.
  • Noche Latina: Saddle Up on Sept. 16, late after party
  • Latin Fest: Casa De Arte on Sept. 17, from 5-11 p.m.
  • Latin Nights Social: Hacienda el Mirador on Sept. 24, from 8 p.m.
  • Hispanic Heritage Gala: Peoria Riverfront Museum on Oct. 8, from 5-9 p.m.