CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's one of the oldest Mexican Independence Day celebrations in the state, but the South Chicago Mexican Patriotic Club does much more than organize a parade. The group also works to provide scholarships to help teens in the community.
The colorful costumes, floats and music are straight out of the Mexican culture - that's why the South Chicago Mexican Patriotic club has been organizing this event for 83 years.
"We want to keep those traditions alive and pass down some of those things that are important to us," club president Carmela Vargas said.
These days South Chicago has a diverse population. Many residents are challenged with crime and unemployment problems that plague many inner city neighborhoods. But nearly a century ago, South Chicago was the first entry point for most Mexican immigrants who came to Chicago.
"Back in the 60's and 70's this was a thriving community because of the steel mills," said Phillip Vasquez.
Vasquez's grandfather worked in the steel mills for 40 years. The immigrants founded Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, which is home to the Shrine of St. Jude. The church helped start the patriotic club. But by the late 1980s, however, membership in the club was in decline and in the club was danger of extinction.
That's when a handful of new people joined and eventually took over leadership.
"We were like, let's see what it's about and we never left," Vargas said. "That was 35 years ago, if not more."
And it's been going strong ever since. Club leaders say their mission has evolved over the years. They host a dinner dance and coronation every year to choose the parade queen. But they also raise money to provide college scholarships to Mexican American high school graduates. Through it all, the church has played a central role.
"It all started here at the church and it comes back to the church," Vargas said.
Just as when they joined the club decades ago, the senior members say they're interested in keeping the history and culture alive in this community and they're confident the new members they're recruiting will do just that.