CHICAGO — For Tatiana Soto and her family, this year’s Mexican Independence Day caravan was pure joy.
Soto, her daughter, her nieces and her niece’s boyfriend were among thousands who filled Downtown streets to celebrate Mexico’s independence Sept. 16, honking their horns and waving Mexican flags, bonding over their culture.
“It was a beautiful moment to see fireworks in the middle of Michigan Avenue, people with their cultural masks and flags and their cultural dress, and even kids out there enjoying it,” Soto said.
But the experience turned sour weeks later, when Soto received tickets in the mail for participating in the joyful caravan.
Police cracked down on traffic violations during this year’s celebration, issuing belated tickets to people for waving Mexican flags out of their cars like Soto.
Police also ticketed Soto and others for passengers hanging out of their cars. In both cases, police said they were obstructing or interfering with traffic and in violation of city ordinances: “driving with view obstructed” and “driving or moving vehicle in unsafe condition.”
The caravan caused a gridlock Downtown along South Michigan Avenue, with cars stuck in traffic for several hours.
Police spokeswoman Margaret Huynh couldn’t say how many people were ticketed for traffic infractions at this year’s celebration, suggesting a Block Club reporter submit a Freedom of Information Act request.
Huynh said police have ticketed drivers for the violations at past celebrations and “regularly enforce these, and all, city ordinances.”
But those who received tickets in the mail in the weeks since the event are furious and disheartened. Mexican and Latin American Chicagoans took to the Downtown celebration to bask in their heritage, not realizing they were violating any laws in doing so, they said.
“You should be able to celebrate your culture. They made it a negative situation,” Soto said.
Soto is Puerto Rican, but her niece is half-Mexican and her niece’s boyfriend is Mexican. She said her niece’s boyfriend, 19, took it especially hard.
“He was like, ‘I literally just wanted to help celebrate my family who’s struggling in Mexico right now, to feel love and to feel freedom,'” Soto said. “Now he says he doesn’t feel safe doing that again next year.”
As a single mother, Soto said she’s also worried about paying the fines tied to the tickets. Fines are not listed on the two tickets Soto received, one for waving Mexican flags out of the car and another for a passenger sitting on her trunk. Police told her to wait for a formal notice in the mail.
But typically, tickets for driving with a view obstructed carry fines of $300-$1,000, said Rose Tibayan, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Finance.
“I’m already on a payment plan for my tickets because I struggle financially with bills, and to see two more tickets come in, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be on the boot list again,'” Soto said.
Tanya V., who is first-generation Mexican American, took part in the Downtown caravan with her friend and her cousin. Their car donned three Mexican flags — two in back and one large one in front, she said.
“It wasn’t anything but a celebration,” she said. “I had people on the side of me who had speakers. People would get out of their cars and dance.”
Like Soto, Tanya V. said she was dismayed to find a ticket in her mailbox a week later, especially because police officers stationed along the caravan route made no indication flags were an issue.
“We passed by several cop cars, and no one ever called my attention to have the flags removed or put the flags away,” Tanya V. said. “If that had been the case, I definitely would’ve complied.”
Soto said officers were cheering them on and celebrating alongside them, which made the tickets sting even more.
Mexican Independence Day is in recognition of Mexico’s independence from Spain following an 11-year war that ended in 1821.
In Chicago, many people fly Mexican flags from their homes and cars in a show of solidarity and pride.
The Downtown caravan sprouted up in recent years in response to Donald Trump’s presidency. It has become an important expression of the holiday, Tanya V. said.
“The thing that’s missing in the conversation, at least for myself, is I grew up in Logan Square, and I remember being about 8 or 9 years old, going to the corner [to celebrate]; I had my flag. But now that our neighborhoods are gentrified, we don’t really have that community there anymore,” she said.
“A lot of people, specifically on the North Side, don’t really have a hub anymore because we’ve all been dispersed to different areas. Downtown has become that hub for us.”
While Tanya V. is “really disheartened” by the ticket, she said it won’t stop her from participating in next year’s festivities — this time, “as a form of defiance.”
“I think the city does a really good job of saying they want diversity, equity and inclusion, and then they do things like this that make me feel like my culture isn’t being celebrated and isn’t being accepted,” she said. “I think they want diversity, equity and inclusion in their own, very strict way.”
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