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La Catrina Cafe Launches Overdose Awareness Forum In Memory Of Owners' Son

By Ariel Cheung | August 31, 2017 8:18am | Updated on August 31, 2017 10:52am
 La Catrina Cafe will host an International Overdose Awareness Day event Thursday in memory of the owners' son, Gabriel Cisneros.
La Catrina Cafe will host an International Overdose Awareness Day event Thursday in memory of the owners' son, Gabriel Cisneros.
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Provided/La Catrina Cafe

PILSEN — Diana Galicia had plans to meet with her 22-year-old son on Mother's Day 2016, but he didn't show. No text, nothing.

Instead, Gabriel Cisneros was found with a syringe of heroin mixed with fentanyl that killed him "as soon as it got in the blood stream," Galicia said.

In keeping with their mission for The Gabriel Project, Galicia and her husband Salvador Corona are inviting neighbors to their Pilsen coffee shop, La Catrina Cafe, on Thursday's International Overdose Awareness Day to meet with people and experts who might be able to help people with drug addictions and their loved ones.

A little past the one-year anniversary of Cisneros' death, his mother said speaking up about her son's two-month struggle with heroin is "not something to be embarrassed of," Galicia said.

"A lot of people know somebody that's struggling through this. They say, 'My cousin passed away,' 'my niece,' 'my brother's friend.' But the sad thing, is nobody is talking about it."

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Galicia reached out to politicians who attended her son's funeral last year, among them Ald. Danny Solis (25th), state Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Pilsen) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

La Catrina Cafe owners Salvador Corona and Diana Galicia (left) pose for a photo with their family, including son Gabriel Cisneros (second from right) before he died last year. [GoFundMe]

"They told me if I ever needed something to reach out to them," Galicia said. "And International Overdose Awareness Day is the perfect way for them to come out and be supportive."

The alderman and Mah will be at the Time To Remember Time To Act event, and Garcia helped bring in presenters and experts from the Cook County Medical Examiner's office and Cook County Health and Hospital Systems. Organizations like Chicago Recovery Alliance and Vida/SIDA will also be part of the event, which starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at La Catrina, 1011 W. 18th St.

Galicia wants to let parents and other loved ones know that help is available and introduce them to the organizations with resources to do just that.

Chicago Recovery Alliance, which seeks to make "any positive change" for people with addiction, offers a free needle exchange, addiction treatment, HIV and hepatitis testing and instructions on how to use overdose antidote Naloxone or reduce the transmission of diseases through injections — information that can save the life of someone using drugs.

Vida/SIDA, a product of Chicago's Puerto Rican Cultural Center, provides HIV prevention services for Latinx people and other people of color, with a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people at risk or living with HIV.

Gabriel Cisneros, a beloved member of the Pilsen community, died in May 2016 at age 22. [Provided/Diana Galicia]

La Catrina Cafe, which opened in 2013, is the perfect venue for Thursday's event. Cisneros, a gifted artist who was going to be a father when he died, worked there with his family and hoped to one day run the cafe. After he died, Galicia and Corona dedicated a room to Cisneros and his artwork, painting the walls with images of his favorite T-shirts and adding a bicycle with wings.

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"He had a future. He had registered for school, and he wanted to change our menu and eventually take over," Galicia said. "He has a lot of art I didn't even know existed. He was so organized about it."

Outside, the distinctive, Mayan-inspired mural is getting an expansion painted by its original artist, Salvador Vega.

Muralist Salvador Vega is adding on to his mural at La Catrina Cafe, 1011 W. 18th St. in Pilsen. [Provided/La Catrina Cafe]

While the addition will continue to celebrate the colors and culture of Pilsen, Vega is also dedicating the new portion to Cisneros.

But the main way in which Galicia plans to honor her son is through The Gabriel Project, which also pairs young artists with established mentors in the Chicago art community. Eventually, Galicia hopes to expand the project to include talks with schools and community organizations to help staunch the tides of addiction that she said continue to ripple through the Pilsen community.

"We're losing our children left and right," Galicia said. "There's not enough support to help these young individuals, and I want people to know there is help available."