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'Queen of light': ABQ's international district remembers activist Reynaluz Juarez

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Bryce Dix / KUNM
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Friends and family throw flowers during a blessing before Reynaluz Juarez's memorial service.

Renowned community champion, life-long organizer, and the heart of Albuquerque’s International District Reynaluz Juarez died on Feb. 7.

On Saturday, Feb. 12, hundreds of community members, friends, and family gathered to pay tribute to the legacy she left behind.

Cars lined the street as around 200 people packed a small courtyard in Southeast Albuquerque on an unusually warm afternoon to tell stories and bring flowers to an altar dedicated to Reynaluz Juarez.

Greeting almost everyone was Enrique Cardiel, one of the organizers of the event and long-time friend of Juarez.

“Well, ‘Reyna’ means queen in Spanish and ‘luz’ is light,” Cardiel said. “She’s one of those persons that always let her light shine and always encouraged other people to let their light shine––that’s part of her legacy, is for all of us to step up for each other, not just ourselves.”

Well-known for her saying “Just trust the process,” Juarez was very involved in nearly everything related to empowering communities in the International District––and she was even one of the organizers involved in renaming the area. Her work included leading the South San Pedro Neighborhood Association and organizing as a parent in Albuquerque Public Schools

Most recently, she served as the school coordinator for Whittier Elementary and helped prevent its closure and keep kids in class. Cardiel said she never stopped organizing.

“During the pandemic she was part of coordinating food drives, vaccine drives for the flu vaccine, COVID vaccine,” Cardiel said. “She was always just trying to figure out how we provide the basics for folks.”

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Bryce Dix / KUNM
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Friends, family, and community members held a memorial service for Reynaluz Juarez in the heart of the International District.

Nearby family member Magdalena Avila Silva sat waiting for the service to start. She said Juarez was extraordinary.

“Community organizers in OUR community are the gems," she said. "They’re our diamonds. They speak out for us, they talk about the issues and Reyna’s leadership was instrumental to change.”

The memorial began with a blessing, complete with singing and chanting, while people threw bright and colorful flower petals beneath a large picture of Juarez that read “Badass” in large letters.Music and stories full of laughter and tears followed.

Bernadette Hardy is co-coordinator of the International District Healthy Communities Coalition, where Juarez also worked.

“We lived really close to each other and were really good friends for a long time.”

Hardy said Juarez was relentless in her commitment to the International District.

“She never stopped working and supporting our families and that’s who I’m worried about the most,” Hardy said, fighting back tears. “No one can fill her shoes and continue what she did. There's a huge void she leaves behind.”

Cousin Maria Esteli Juarez said the Juarez family has a long history of activism around New Mexico, but Reynaluz stood out.

"She always moved with love, without an ego," she said. "Her humility was her greatest quality and it taught those of us who were raised up under her, the value of that humility.”

Juarez’s impact did not go unnoticed among city and state officials. When the news of her passing reached lawmakers, they observed a minute of silence on the Senate floor. And Mayor Tim Keller declared February 12th, 2022 as Reynaluz Juarez Day in the city of Albuquerque.

As a band played some of Juarez’s favorites tunes, daughter Eloisa Silva said her mother brought many important problems to public attention.

“The issues that she was facing, that she was dealing with, are things that a lot of people don’t notice,” Silva said. “She made real, systemic change. Those things affect entire communities in a different way that you just can’t quantify.”

Now family and friends will focus on keeping Juarez’s legacy alive–– following her example of serving those you love with humility and grace.

NOTE: This story has been updated to correctly reflect Magdalena Avila Silva's relationship to Juarez.

Bryce Dix is our new local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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