Maria Cerda was a trailblazer.
In the 1960s, she became the first Latina member of the Chicago Board of Education and a strong advocate for bilingual classes.
Cerda went on to work under multiple mayors, helped start the Latino Institute and was a mentor to many Latino leaders.
She died on Nov. 8 at the age of 86 due to the coronavirus.
Her daughter, Marta, and her husband, David Cerda, the first Latino judge in Illinois and the first Latino judge on the Illinois Appellate Court, are also infected with COVID-19. Because of Marta’s infection, she was allowed to visit her mother in the hospital, where she helped her speak to her son, also named David, by phone.
“I watched my mother die on an iPhone, which is a cruel way to go,” said her son, David Cerda. “Not being able to breathe is a cruel way to go and knowing why it’s happening is a cruel way to go, too.”
Cerda hopes people remember his mother as a trailblazer. She was a catalyst for Chicago becoming a sanctuary city, he said.
While being dropped off by a chauffeur outside of her office, Cerda said immigration officers confronted his mother and started harassing her. The officers were not aware that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, he said.
“She thought, ‘If this could happen to me, imagine what could happen to someone that’s less powerful than me,’” he said. “Then she went to Harold Washington and he immediately agreed that that was going to stop.”
Cerda said he’s appalled by people who are not following COVID-19 restrictions. While vaccines could be coming soon, people still need to be careful because of the damage the virus causes, he said.
“When my parents got infected, we saw the case count go up,” Cerda said. “Well, now my parents are those statistics.”