PILSEN — The National Museum of Mexican Art dedicated a new plaza Thursday to honor Ray Castro, a U.S. Navy Veteran and the first Latino committeeman in Chicago.
Gov. JB Pritzker, museum leaders and members of the Castro family gathered to honor the late leader’s legacy at the newly completed Ray Castro parking lot plaza just east of the museum, 1852 W. 19th St.
The plaza will serve as both a parking lot and an outdoor community plaza. It includes 50 parking spaces for guests and a space for youth events, concerts and more, officials said.
In addition to his political work, Castro, who died in 2005, is remembered for organizing sports programs for South Chicago youth and fundraising for a monument honoring 12 fallen soldiers from South Chicago, among other contributions to his community.
Martin “Marty” Castro, Ray Castro’s eldest son and a museum board member, said he was “proud beyond words” that his father’s legacy was being honored.
“This is a celebration of his life and of his legacy,” Martin Castro said.
After delays in state funding, the museum received a grant to pay for the plaza in 2019.
Pritzker said Ray Castro was a champion for community and veterans’ rights, dedicating “his life to being a voice for this communities’ culture, history and values.”
“It’s a pleasure to celebrate this long-awaited investment in Pilsen today,” Pritzker said.
Champion For South Chicago
Born and raised in South Chicago, Ray Castro was the fourth of 17 children born to Mexican immigrants Juana and Juan. He dedicated his life to serving his community before passing away in December 2005, his son said.
In 1951, Castro enlisted in the Navy during the height of the Korean War. After returning to Chicago, Castro worked in South Side factories before becoming a CTA bus driver, according to the Tribune.
Castro organized after-school sports programs including baseball, basketball and boxing for youth in South Chicago in the late ’60s, his son told the Tribune.
President Lyndon Johnson tapped Castro to join the national Model Cities urban development program where South Chicago residents worked social workers, the Tribune reported.
“My father was a multifaceted leader. When he came back from the Navy he immediately got involved the community because he saw the need in our community,” Martin Castro remembered. “He created programs for [youth] to get them involved.”
During the height of the Vietnam war, Castro led a fundraising effort to create a monument at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in honor of servicemen who died during the war. The South Chicago parish lost 12 servicemen in the war, more than any other parish in the U.S., his son said.
“He always felt like the contribution [of Mexican Americans] to our country was overlooked and undervalued,” Martin Castro told the Tribune. “It was his mission that people knew of the blood we shed.”
In an effort to empower the Latino community, Castro became politically active, eventually becoming the first Latino Democratic 7th Ward Committeeman.
At the dozens of members of the Castro came to honor their relative Ray Castro.
His nieces remembered Castro as a man of great dignity.
“He stood for justice, for the community, for veterans, for all people, ” his niece, Debra Sandoval, said. “He did a lot for the community.”
Those lessons have been passed on to his family members who honor his legacy daily, Sandoval said.
In reflecting on his father’s work, Martin Castro remembered his father as a relentless champion for his South Chicago community.
“My dad never took no for an answer when it came to empowering the community,” Martin Castro said.
Martin said his father taught him to “never forget where you come from and never forget where you’re going.”
“‘Always strive to do better, not just for yourself but for your community,'” Martin remembered his father saying.
“As we create this plaza named after Ray Castro at the National Museum of Mexican Art…we share the world that Mexicans can do a lot more than you expect we can do. We can make history,” Castro said.
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