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After Decades Of Activism And Motherly Love, A Longtime Pilsen Organizer Passes Away

A Mexican immigrant and mother of nine, Raquel Guerrero helped bring a high school, library, and summer festival to the Pilsen community.

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Raquel Guerrero, second from the right and seen here in a meeting in the 1970s, died this week. She was 84.

Raquel Guerrero, second from the right and seen here in a meeting in the 1970s, died this week. She was 84.

Courtesy of Raquel Guerrero’s family

Pilsen community activist Raquel Guerrero died Friday at her home, but her memory will live on in the neighborhood where she fought for decades to bring resources and expand opportunities.

Guerrero became an accidental community organizer when the mother of 11 children helped lead efforts to open a new high school in Pilsen during the ‘70s.

She was instrumental during the boycott and three-day occupation of Froebel High School in Pilsen. Froebel was a satellite branch of Harrison High School, a majority African-American school located in the nearby South Lawndale community, but its enrollment consisted mostly of Latino students from Pilsen. By 1968, students walked out in protest against a lack of resources and poor education.

Guerrero was one of the parent leaders that forced the Chicago Board of Education to allocate $8.9 million to build Benito Juarez Community Academy, which opened in 1977.

She also helped to start Fiesta del Sol, a popular festival held each summer in Pilsen for more than 45 years. Guerrero helped organize residents to open the Rudy Lozano branch library and she advocated for the city to hire Latino firefighters following deadly fires in the neighborhood.

Raquel Guerrero (center) at the groundbreaking of the Rudy Lozano Library in Pilsen. Guerrero along with other parents advocated to get funding for the local branch of the Chicago Public Library. (Courtesy of Raquel Guerrero's family)

“My mother’s legacy is that she had a motherly love for all those here (in Pilsen),” said Leticia Guerrero, Raquel’s daughter. “She wanted to better her community. She had a powerful voice. She didn’t need a microphone. My mother spoke and it radiated and she was able to communicate the things she felt as a community we needed.”

Guerrero came to Pilsen from Mexico in the ‘60s. She was a founding member of Asociacion Por Derechos Obreros or APO, a workers rights group still in operation. She also served for many years as a community school representative at Juarez until she retired.

Visitation will be held on Feb. 7 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at St. Procopius Church at 1200 W. 18th St. in Pilsen. The funeral Mass will also be at St. Procopius on Feb. 8 at 10:30 a.m., and the burial will be afterward at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleums in Evergreen Park.

María Ines Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her@mizamudio.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Guerrero died Tuesday and that she had nine children. It also misspelled the name of Froebel High School.

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