If you forgot Chicago is home to one of the largest Mexican communities in the United States, you were reminded over the weekend.
Thousands of revelers descended on downtown Chicago to wave huge red, white and green Mexican flags. Many danced in the street — blaring traditional Mexican music and shouting the battle cry for independence, “Viva Mexico!”
But the impromptu celebrations forced the city to shut down large sections of streets to vehicle traffic into the Loop Friday and Saturday nights. Officials didn’t reopen to the wee hours of the morning. Some wondered if there was a better way to handle the annual celebration.
“This was a missed opportunity for the city as a whole and, with all due respect, for our mayor, because the energy of our Mexican American community is unbridled and we’re going to represent and we’re going to love our city,” said Roberto Montano, a founding member of the Mexican Cultural Committee of Chicago.
Throughout the weekend, Chicago police and Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) said they closely monitored large car caravans and heavy pedestrian foot traffic downtown.
“All closures were put into effect only when it was deemed necessary due to large car caravans creating gridlocked traffic in the Central Business District. This was done to restore traffic flow and ensure emergency vehicles could pass through the area,” said OEMC in a statement. “It remains the City’s responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all those participating in celebratory activities citywide, as well as ensuring first responders and medical workers can travel unobstructed within the affected areas.”
While some welcomed the celebrations, others said the incidents of violence marred the celebration.
“This holiday is officially a black eye for the Chi-Mexican community. Domestic terrorists fighting cops & drunken clowns making rodeos of roadways, the last 2 nights have been vile, ignorant, & embarrassing. TY to 8th Dist, Streets & San, & vols for attacking the clean up,” tweeted Sunday Ald. Silvana Tabares, 23rd Ward.
Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, tweeted, “Celebrating our heritage isn’t about caravans; rather, it is about paying homage to those that paved the way for families.
Montano said the celebration is no different than for St. Patrick’s Day or for a sports championship.
“Think of Mexican Independence Day as the Chicago Bulls sixth-peat. It’s going to be like that every year and every year it’s going to get bigger. So why not put your arms around that and say look at a wonderful, world-class city we have,” Montano said.
Montano said the city closing roads downtown was ineffective and suppresses the Mexican community.
“Let Mexicans share their culture with you. We love Chicago and we know Chicago loves us. So why not embrace this vibrant, thriving, contributing culture,” Montano said.
Mayor Brandon Johnson called the celebrations amazing but defended the street closures as his ultimate responsibility to make sure the city is creating safe spaces for the people of Chicago.
“The balance is we celebrate culture and make sure that our first responders have access to hospitals and clinics and all the type of movement that takes place day to day, whether there’s a celebration going on or not,” Johnson said Monday. “Now, as far as how we can make it better. There are some ideas that are already rushing in trust me…. But again, the beauty of the city of Chicago is really our diversity. And it was an incredible display of Mexican independence, which is really a remarkable testament to liberation across the diaspora.”
Michael Puente covers Northwest Indiana and Chicago’s Southeast Side and South Suburbs for WBEZ. Follow him on X @mikepuentenews.