WOODLAWN — About 35 South Side neighbors gathered for a heartfelt memorial service Saturday in honor of a Venezuelan asylum seeker who died earlier this month.
Luis Alberto Aguilar Peres, 26, was found unresponsive inside the temporary shelter in the former Wadsworth Elementary School, 6420 S. University Ave..
This is the first reported death at a city-run shelter since Chicago began receiving an influx of migrants from Texas and elsewhere. More than 10,500 men, women and children have arrived in Chicago since August.
Autopsy results are pending, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said. Peres was married and had a young daughter, family and friends said during the memorial at Concord Missionary Baptist Church, 6319 S. Kimbark Ave.
Yeniree Rodriguez, Peres’ sister, told neighbors that one of her brother’s biggest dreams was to come to the United States and work hard so he could buy a house for their mother one day.
“He was a fighter,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “He came [here] without a single penny.”
Rodriguez also praised Peres’ friends in Chicago.
“He always spoke very kindly about everyone and all of his friends,” Rodriguez said.
Enrique Real, a friend of Peres, told Block Club he was a joyful person who always found ways to help others. He said the two looked for jobs and shared meals together at the Wadsworth shelter.
Not only was he a “hardworking and a very generous person,” but he also cared a lot about his young daughter, Real said.
“She was practically the most important person in his life,” Real said in Spanish.
Pastor Kenneth D. Phelps of Concord, which previously organized bilingual resources to help asylum seekers settle into Woodlawn, led the memorial for Peres.
Phelps told friends, parishioners and family to end the service how they normally do — with hugs. Phelps also encouraged neighbors gathered at the church to tell each other “bienvenidos” or “welcome” between hugs as a way to connect, regardless of where they are from or what language they speak.
“No matter where you go, know that you have friends and family here in Chicago,” Phelps told Peres’ family.
Throughout the service, Phelps echoed a message about neighbors coming together to help asylum seekers throughout the memorial service.
The church collected donations from neighbors through its Home Away From Home Ministry, which will go toward funding Peres’ funeral service, Phelps said.
“They are resilient and incredible and brilliant people,” Phelps said, referring to the migrants his church has hosted for bilingual worship services. “I believe they are going to make a great contribution to our community and city.
“Luis’s death will make us appreciate life and to not take each other for granted,” Phelps said.
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