From La Villita, to the Army, then to Heaven

Salvador “Chava” Posada J.R was born October 31, 1986. He was raised in La Villita, a neighborhood in Chicago’s West Side.

My cousin, Chava, was a simple person. He enjoyed things like playing video games, watching TV shows, watching WrestleMania, and many other things. There wasn’t anything grand about him; he was a man of simple taste.

Growing up in La Villita, Chava always told us the truth. He constantly reminded us to stay away from gangs and drugs. He would tell us, “If I ever find out that you guys are doing drugs, gangbanging, or doing any other dumb sh*t, I will kick your a**.” Words that may seem hostile to others were words in which we found care and love.

He told us that he experienced these things and that he never wanted us to experience them. As a young kid, my cousins and I pretty much ignored him. I didn’t understand what he was saying. I didn’t process the gravity of why he wanted us to stay away from drugs and gangs.

Growing up, I was never very close to Chava. I saw him around and he would talk to me, but our age gap made it hard for us to find a bond. Beyond that, a few family problems made it hard for us to be able to see each other and to stay in contact.

Fast forward a few years, Chava went to community college to study to be an electrician. Even though he was almost done with his electrical training, he decided to enlist in the army and build his career there. I would hear stories of how Chava would work on tanks and do all these cool things. Once again, family problems made it difficult for us to stay in contact so I don’t know how valid these stories were.

Years passed by and news reached me that Chava was diagnosed with cancer. I remember wanting to reach out, but I was scared because I had not talked to him in a while and family issues would make things awkward. I thought to myself, “Chava is young, he will make it through this rough patch.”

As humans, we often have a tendency to believe that others are eternal. Well, unfortunately, they are not. On April 7, 2011 when I was in seventh grade, I came out of school and was interrupted by a phone call. My mother frantically told me “Mijo, I can’t explain everything, but I’m not picking you up from school. I’m going to Washington D.C. Chava is dying. I love you.” I froze — my skin was covered with goosebumps. She hung up on me. It took me a minute to process what was going on.

Chava was dying. I didn’t understand how or why. I had never experienced a death in my family, and I was just perplexed. I got home that night to find out that my brother, my uncles, my cousins, and I were going to travel to D.C. in the car.

I can’t quite put into words the experience that we had driving to D.C. We were caught in a storm that literally followed us to the East Coast. Throughout our journey, there were times that we were driving at 100 mph. The sense of urgency we had to see my cousin, after years, was enough for us to not worry about how bad the storm was or about the many times we almost got into car accidents.

It took us around 12 hours to get to D.C. I clearly remember us driving into the army base hospital, parking the car in the front of the hospital, and running to my cousin’s room. Words will never do justice as to how I felt when I saw my cousin. The cancer consumed him to the point that he was unrecognizable. I remember telling myself, “That can’t be my cousin.”

On April 8, 2011, Chava passed away. Chava was a simple person, and that is what I liked best about him. He liked watching TV shows, playing video games, and other simple things. But he died being grand. His character made him make it out of the hood to seek a better life for himself. His character inspired those around him to continue working hard and shooting for the stars.

Every Halloween I am reminded of Chava’s absence. But I am also reminded of the good childhood memories we had trick-or-treating and watching WrestleMania to celebrate his birthday. This Halloween Chava would have turned thirty years old. As I reminisce of my childhood Halloweens with Chava and my cousins, I find myself wishing I could go back — wishing that I could let him know how much he mattered to me and those around him. His death taught me that life is a precious thing and when you are given two hands, two feet, and a healthy body, then you have no excuse to stop chasing your dreams. It also taught me to constantly show those around me that I am grateful for them because we are not eternal.

This Día De Los Muertos I will honor my cousin by simply doing what he wanted his little cousins to do: be the best we could be. I will continue working hard and continue to stay away from bad influences. I might also watch an episode of Supernatural or play a videogame to honor him too. But, one thing is certain: Halloweens aren’t the same. Happy Birthday Cuz, we miss you.

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Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo is a Chicago native currently studying at Stanford University -- class of 2020. His intended major is in engineering, but he is still not sure what specific type of engineering he wants to study. He was born and raised in Chicago’s West-side neighborhood, La Villita. Guillermo identifies as a first-gen, Latino, and low-income student. His true passions are in STEM, advocacy for oppressed groups, equity in education, mentorship, and helping others. Being the son of two undocumented immigrants, Guillermo is seeking to find ways to not only be their voice, but the voice of other individuals that are voiceless. He gained global recognition because of his “Dear Dentist” letter that addressed the common theme of individuals trying to discredit the accomplishments of minority, low-income, first-gen students. He hopes to continue to tell the other side of the narrative.

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