iFest draws on the rich cultural history of Elgin
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News September 1, 2012 8:30PM
Ben Puffer, a Judson University student, holds a Cambodian flag during The City of Elgin’s inaugural International Festival in Elgin, Ill., on Saturday, September 1, 2012. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:33AM
ELGIN — The remnants of Hurricane Isaac began sweeping through the Fox Valley just after noon Saturday, sending festival goers huddling under tents and away from the rain at Elgin’s first-ever International Festival.
While attendance early in the day was slow, the festival’s organizers said they were happy with the turnout, particularly as skies remained overcast and threatened rain for most of the day.
The iFest, as the event was called by organizers, was the first large city-sponsored festival at Elgin’s Festival Park on South Grove Avenue since FoxFire Fest was ended two years ago.
“In past years, what has happened is the city sponsored various events and festivals … and attendance was dwindling,” said Danise Habun, chairman of the iFest committee and a member of the city’s Human Relations Commission.
Unlike FoxFire Fest, which cost the city an estimated $250,000, the iFest city budget was just $20,000 said Habun. The commission, which organized the festival, raised another $20,750 in cash donations from area businesses, and another $7,500 in in-kind donations to make the festival a success, Habun said.
Last year, Mayor David Kaptain reached out to the Human Relations Commission to create a festival representative of all of the ethnic and cultural groups represented in Elgin residents, she said.
“This is one big festival representing the diversity of Elgin,” Habun said.
That diversity was demonstrated in different music on the main stage, an educational children’s area with items representing several different countries, a children’s stage for small groups to perform, and food from many different cultures, too.
Celebrating Elgin’s current ethnic and cultural mix is representative of the city’s past, too, said George Rowe, president of the Elgin Area Historical Society and Museum. In fact, Elgin’s multicultural past is part of the museum’s exhibits, he said.
A person looking at photos of Elgin a hundred years ago would assume there was not a lot of diversity, Rowe said. Pictures the group dug up for the Elgin Police Department only showed white male officers — not brown or black faces.
But those officers were Swedes, Polish, Germans and Irish and back then, residents from those countries didn’t necessarily live and work together either. “Those people did not interact,” Rowe said, until the differences were broken down by commonality.
Elgin has always been a draw for new residents, too, he said — because of the industry the town was once known for.
“The Elgin Watch Factory needed skilled workers, and they didn’t care where they came from,” Rowe said.
For new residents, said Marlen Romero of Centro de Informacion, having festivals for residents is a way to help them become involved in their communities, whether they work here or live here.
“It helps people to feel that each country is represented,” Romero said. “That is what I like about Elgin events. They feel that they are a part of the community when they see their neighbors here, and it makes them feel that they are connected to Elgin, too.”