The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

On Day of the Dead, a grieving community celebrates the lives of Chicago women murdered or disappeared, and seek justice: ‘She’s not forgotten and she’s still loved’

Community members across the city come together to pray and protest for their late loved ones through a tradition that has transcended borders.
Alyssa N. Salcedo
Ofrenda, or altar, at the National Museum of Mexican Art celebrating the lives of those who have died this past year.

The community of Little Village is still mourning the loss of dozens of women who have been victims of gun violence, domestic abuse, or disappeared. Reyna Cristina Ical Seb, a 20 year old Guatemalan migrant, was one of them.

Just days after her birthday, Feb. 22, Ical Seb was found dead in a dark alley in the Little Village neighborhood. 

She was killed while making her way home from work and to this day, her parents still question why their daughter, who had promised to help them build a home, was killed, according to reports. 

For this year’s Day of the Dead, Ical’s life was honored, along with the lives of hundreds of other women who have been murdered in the Chicago area in ofrendas and other events that commemorate the Mexican tradition that celebrates life by remembering those who have passed. 

This year, the National Museum of Mexican Art’s (NMMA) annual Day of the Dead exhibit honors women who have been violated, disappeared, or murdered both in Chicago and around the world, said Cesáreo Moreno, Visual Arts Director and Chief Curator at the NMMA. 

Painting by Paulina Jaimes titled “Descanso” (Rest), at the National Museum of Mexican Art’s Day of the Dead exhibit. (Alyssa N. Salcedo)

The curators, Dolores Mercado and Gustavo Herrera, also wanted to honor those who died as a result of the earthquakes in Syria and Turkey. 

“Once you’re curating, there’s a responsibility to make people aware of things, to bring up not only the beautiful lives that were part of the community, but also to remind people that there are some terrible things that happened that cannot be avoided, or cannot be ignored,” Moreno said. 

Baltazar Enriquez, President of the Little Village Community Council (LVCC), has been fighting for justice and honoring the lives of women who have been killed in both Little Village and Pilsen over the past years. 

The LVCC created a committee called Las Valientes that advocates for women experiencing domestic violence. The committee provides education on how to report sexual harassment and assault, financial literacy courses for financial independence from abusers, and helps connect those experiencing domestic violence with legal support to obtain orders of protection, according to Enriquez. 

Las Valientes has also held protests and rallies for two women who were killed in Little Village this year, Ical who was killed, and Rosa Chacon who was found dead after being missing for four months. 

When Rosa Chacon was reported missing, Enriquez and Las Valientes were quick to mobilize, stressing to the community that Rosa needed to be found. After nearly four months, Chacon’s body was found off the 2300 block of West 24th Place, according to reports. However, Enriquez and Las Valientes have continued pushing for justice for Rosa and her family. 

They continue to march in her honor. 

Mara Castillo, a member of Las Valientes and the LVCC, has been working to encourage police to get these cases resolved. 

“One thing that we want to make sure of is, we want to tell the government or the officials that we’re here. We’re here and we’re gonna be the voice for those who don’t have a voice, for those women who are dead.” Castillo said. 

Equipped with the group’s trademark pink ski masks, as a symbol for women who are afraid to speak out, Castillo and other members of Las Valientes have participated in protests and rallies for Ical, Chacon, and many others throughout the year.

During their marches they ring bells and say the names of women who have been murdered in the community, said Castillo. 

“We try to bring their names back and remember them. We do rallies, we do caminatas (walks), we get together and we remember them, we honor them,” Castillo said. “I’m here to speak up for them. I’m here because I’m not grieving, but I feel their pain.” 

Multi-piece art installation at the National Museum of Mexican Art’s Day of the Dead exhibit.
(Alyssa N. Salcedo)
Photo of a woman with sugar skull face paint, at the National Museum of Mexican Art. This photo is part of the Day of the Dead exhibit at the museum.
(Alyssa N. Salcedo)

Elizabeth Bello, Chacon’s sister, honored and remembered her sister by celebrating Day of the Dead this past Thursday. She met with her siblings and her mother at the cemetery, and celebrated Chacon’s life by sharing her favorite foods, drinks, and music, Bello said. 

“I recently started googling and found Dia de los Muertos Facebook pages that connected me to the community. It brought me a little closer to the Hispanic heritage behind it. Then I watched the movie Coco and I got the idea to make an ofrenda for Rosa,” Bello said. “This is the first year that we’ve celebrated like this…It brought me peace knowing that she knows she’s not forgotten and she’s still loved.” 

Bello shared that witnessing the community rally for her sister and seeing large ofrendas like the ones in the NMMA helped her feel more connected to the community. 

“It brings the community closer together, it lets the community know that you’re not alone in this… it means a lot because it allows you to lean on one another,” said Bello. “Seeing that not just you, but the whole community remembers your loved one and is there for support, is important.”

This is the first year in the exhibit’s long-standing history where 60 percent of the contributing artists are women. This was made possible by one of the exhibit’s lead curators, Mercado, said Moreno. 

“She has curated probably more women-focused exhibits than anyone else I know, and she’s done it here at the museum. She really has a good ongoing relationship and connection with local women artists,” Moreno said. “She invites them to create a piece. Whether it be somber, or angry. Either a protest piece or a memorial piece to not forget them.” 

Some of the ofrendas in the exhibit are made by the families of local community members who have passed on. 

“I think that it definitely allows grieving. The Day of the Dead exhibit transforms our galleries into a space where it is welcome,” Moreno said. “…You’re not stuck with grief in the moment of losing somebody, but rather, it’s an annual event that lets you consider death, sort of in a safe space.”

More to Discover