WEST ORANGE, NJ — The flags of all 21 Hispanic countries were raised in front of Town Hall as West Orange residents continued to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at an Oct. 15 event hosted by the West Orange Hispanic Foundation. At the event, each flag was carried and planted on Main Street by an individual with close ties to the country; afterward, Grammy Award-winner Hernan Romero’s flamenco group performed at the West Orange Public Library.
Deputy Mayor Rodolfo Rodriguez, who founded the WOHF, said the event was meant to show off the Hispanic community that lives in West Orange. Almost everyone who carried a flag lives locally, and the population has only grown in the last several years.
“It’s getting the community together and making sure there’s someone to represent them,” Rodriguez said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “They feel like they have someone to reach out to when maybe they otherwise wouldn’t. I think it was a lot of fun, I want to do as much as I can.”
Councilman Victor Cirilo, another founding member of the Hispanic Foundation and the first Hispanic elected official in West Orange, said the event was another to way to show off the diversity of West Orange.
“West Orange is really a microcosm of all these different places,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “We want to give people exposure to that diversity. It’s really a credit to Rodolfo for having the vision and putting it all together.”
Consulate representatives from Argentina and Guatemala attended the event, some visiting West Orange for the first time. Alejandro Nervegna, the deputy consul general from Argentina, has been working in New York City since March. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said being invited to events like the West Orange flag raising is always enjoyable.
“Argentina is only a 10-hour flight; it’s not that far,” Nervegna joked. “The Argentine population in West Orange is large. It’s a pleasure to come here. You get to see new faces and meet other people.”
In his speech at the flag raising, Cirilo said that serving on the Township Council is his way of giving back to a community that gave to him.
“This country opened up its arms to me and it’s why I do the service I do, to give back,” he said. “We’re here to represent you, and I hope we’re doing a good job. Those values continue to move us forward and show that anything is possible if we work hard.”
Mayor Robert Parisi also attended the flag raising, and said it is another reason West Orange is a place where people continue to want to live.
“This is another wonderful example of what is great about this town,” Parisi said. “It wasn’t that long ago that this neighborhood was filled with Irish immigrants. That’s where my family was born and it’s my hope that it provides all of that support to all of you and your families.”
Cirilo said that holding events like the flag raising is a way to carry on traditions from other countries, and allows young people in West Orange to learn from them.
“It opens the door for the next generation,” he said to the Chronicle. “Getting to know and understand each other will only help us appreciate each other more. We can extend that to the next generation. It’s a way to express our pride about where we’re from and for our kids to experience it so they can carry it on.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic