PILSEN — A block on 18th Street will be honorarily named for late Pilsen leader and activist Magda Ramirez-Castañeda.
As the president of Pilsen Alliance, Ramirez-Castañeda, who died in 2019 at 69, was a fierce champion for social issues in the neighborhood: affordable housing, quality education and immigration reform.
Family, friends and local leaders will unveil the sign 11 a.m. Saturday at the northwest corner of West 18th and South Laflin streets, the block of Laflin Street Ramirez-Castañeda lived on.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said Ramirez-Castañeda was a “relentless” advocate, and it’s valuable to have mementos like honorary street signs recognizing community leaders.
“It’s always important to know our history so we know where we’re going,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
Ramirez-Castañeda committed her life to fighting social and economic injustices. From discriminatory hiring practices and prejudicial immigration policies to fair housing and farmworkers’ rights, she was on the front lines of many struggles until the very end of her life, family and friends said.
“She spoke very loudly and forcefully against injustice. In many ways, it was part of her personality. … She couldn’t see someone being bullied, put down or exploited without feeling a need to do something and do something at that moment,” said her nephew, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th).
Ramirez-Castañeda was also known for co-authoring the book “Chicanas of 18th Street: Narratives of a Movement From Latino Chicago,” which focused on six female community activists who lived and worked in Pilsen.
“She was a warrior,” her daughter, Julissa Castañeda, said through tears in 2019. “She was an amazing human being. She cared about the world … and everyone so much.”
Born in Coahuila, Mexico, Ramirez-Castañeda immigrated to Chicago with her family when she was a young child. They settled in the Tri-Taylor area before moving to Lincoln Park, then a predominately Latino, working-class neighborhood in the ’50s and ’60s.
In the late ’60s, Ramirez-Castañeda, then 18, moved to Pilsen, where she became ingrained in the Chicano/a and Civil Rights movements. She was among the few Latino or Latina students at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
While in school, Ramirez-Castañeda’s co-founded the Latin American Student Union and fought for more students of color to be admitted, her family said.
Ramirez-Castaneda co-wrote “Chicanas of 18th Street” in 2011 to preserve the history of Latinas who were activists in Chicago.
Ramirez-Castañeda battled diabetes for a number of years and ultimately lost one of her legs, Ramirez-Rosa said.
“Despite losing her leg, she remained at the forefront of so many fights,” he said.
Even after 50 years on the front lines of Pilsen’s battles, Ramirez-Castañeda felt the fight against inequality must continue — and young people would carry that mantle, her family said. She mentored many young activists, including Pilsen’s new alderman, Sigcho-Lopez, and her nephew, Ramirez-Rosa.
“She gave us courage, clarity and guidance,” Sigcho-Lopez, who met her in 2012 while working for Pilsen Alliance, said after her passing in 2019. “Through her own experiences and her own struggles, she led by example.
“She’s had a tremendous influence on me and, in part, is one of the reasons why I’m an alderman.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: