Welcome to Chicago Voz’ inaugural 18 on 18th Street, an annual series that profiles 18 people from the Pilsen community. This series will feature residents, leaders, artists and small business owners who have contributed their time and skill toward the betterment of Pilsen. Various names were nominated and voted on by our editorial board and they will be released throughout the month.
While there are many influential Pilsen individuals to choose from, one criteria was to highlight people who are not media regulars. Chicago Voz will profile those who have not received proper media recognition for their work, but are nevertheless the unsung heroes of our community. Congratulations to Pilsen’s 18 on 18th Street!
Community Leader and Volunteer – St. Procopious Church
A mural of Micaela “Miquita” Ibarra graces the side of Poder Learning Center, next to the St. Procopius Church rectory. It depicts a joyful Ibarra with the United States flag draped over her head. Known by many as “La Abuelita de Pilsen” or “The grandmother of Pilsen”, the work of art honors Ibarra’s 30-year commitment to the community, volunteering her time to help the homeless and Pilsen families in need.
Ibarra grew up in an impoverished village in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. She never received a formal education and she married young. When her husband passed away shortly after, she was left to care for three young children and in dire straits. But it was the kindness of a priest that changed the course of her life. Ibarra was taken in by a convent on the recommendation of that priest. “My children were given the opportunity to have a home and get an education,” she said. It became their home for eight years.
In the early 1980’s, the family came to the United States, arriving to the North Side. Years later, Ibarra and her son moved to Pilsen permanently. She first joined St. Procopius as a volunteer for their summer kermés. “I have always been inspired to be part of the church and of the community,” she said. She remained active in their emergency services program and began to take adult literacy classes that taught her to read.
Over the years she has helped to organize food and clothing banks, overseen the assembly of holiday baskets and worked in the kitchen preparing hot meals for the homeless. “We have families come in who need help and who are sick. Some people are struggling because they have cancer, some who are elderly people that can no longer care for themselves,” she said.
In March 2008 she became a U.S. citizen. She made the national news when a photo of her at the May Day pro-immigration march was featured in prominent publications. Ibarra insists that she never tried to make a political statement. “I didn’t do it intentionally,” she said. “When we were walking I felt cold, and it occurred to me that I could wrap the flag around me to keep warm.” The photograph has become iconic in the movement for immigration reform, however, and it inspired the mural by Pilsen artist Alejandro Medina.
(AP/M. Spencer Green) 2008
At 86, Ibarra continues to service her community. An active parishioner at St. Procopius, servicing God and the poor is an honor for her. “I feel like I have been inspired by God to help others in need. This is my home and I want to give back.”
Interview by Luiz Magaña
Photos by Luiz Magaña