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  • Writer's pictureAlex Orona

I Took My Mom to ACEN 2024

The Anime Central convention was this past weekend as of this writing, and with it came a plethora of cosplayers and nerdy enthusiasts from all over. Despite being an anime convention, ACEN is more known for its cosplay.  With arguably the most cosplay out of any of the localized conventions, ACEN generally stands above all the rest. Along with that, it’s also one of the few cons that goes 24 hours which then also leads into its title of being one of the more salacious enthusiast cons around, so why on Earth would I bring my mother?

For context, my mother and I haven’t always seen eye to eye growing up. She started going through menopause at the exact right time for me to be an angsty angry teen, but nowadays, being a father myself, we’ve definitely hit that best friend stride. I’ve finally grown to understand where she was coming from, and she’s settled into a more adventurous lifestyle in her retirement. Despite being a supportive mother to two very nerdy sons, she never once accompanied me to a convention. That was usually my fathers domain. Then, two years ago, she asked to finally tag along and experience what I always loved in that type of community atmosphere. 

Enter ACEN, one of the biggest conventions in the Chicagoland area. Along with C2E2 and Fan Expo (formally Wizard World), ACEN stands as a pillar of nerdy gatherings, and one I wanted her to experience. Encompassing the majority of the Donald E. Stephens Convention center and the attached Hyatt, it stands to host famous voice actors and celebrities alike. With areas to play board games, video games, choreography competitions, cosplay photography, contests, shows, theater rooms, and even two accompanying night raves, there’s a lot to be said about it as an event. 

I had warmed her to the experience with the Fan Expos and C2E2s but now it was time to dive into the weird world of ACEN. On the walk in, I provided her with a primer of the necessary lingo, and things to expect. She was familiar with the cosplay but less so on the sheer magnitude. I was practically getting whiplash as she ping ponged around trying to get photos of all the cool Star Wars costumes she recognized. A little liquid courage from some Gin and Tonics plus some food cart Sushi and we were off to the show floor to explore. 

There’s a lot to see at a con like this. Vendors selling art work, homemade crafts, fashion, and of course, like any good shopper, we had to see it all. This led to a lot of questions regarding sexy body pillows, furries and BDSM attire.  Which brings me to one of my favorite things about the con community: Inclusivity. To best answer any questions she had, we engaged with the community, asked questions and were happily given thoughtful answers. The fans want to engage with everyone. As long as you are genuine, the courtesy is returned right back. 

Throughout our experience, I was able to give some brief interviews with other parents who were there with their young children. What came of these conversations were glowing praise on how the fans treat their own. With mutual respect and care. The parents felt safe, and were excited to share in their children's interest white engaging in a positive culture. The show floor had tons of family activities for all ages, so no matter the fandom, there was something for you. 

We concluded our trip with the Oriana Peron cosplay drag show, which blends the classic nerdy cosplay with a full drag presentation. Musical numbers spilled out from the stage into the audience, with lots of participation from the crowd. My mother clapped along to each song, while the cast performed impressively. Jumping off the stage into splits, impressive dance maneuvers and cartwheels were only some of the impressive feats that were displayed at the show. My mother, along with the rest of the crowd was left in awe. 

I did later return for the rave, but I chose to leave my mother out of that particular event. In the end, she really enjoyed her experience at ACEN. We came for the cosplay but left with a comradery that comes from something like an ACEN or Fan Expo. Community. Nothing will ever replace the community felt in these kinds of fandoms. A desire to share in something you love with other like minded individuals and having my mother there only emphasized this value. Leave your gatekeeping elsewhere, here, as they say at Olive Garden, you’re family. We came, we saw, we conquered. Until next year ACEN!



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