The queen of light

Reynaluz Juarez spent her life championing her community in the International District and beyond

February 11, 2022 4:15 am

Reynaluz Juarez (Courtesy of Enrique Cardiel)

I was in a meeting many years ago, and someone had just stated the traditional “two birds” quote. Then one of the participants spoke up: “Why do we need to use that violent way of framing this? I want to be more positive. I want to feed two birds with one scone.” 

I’ve used that saying that way ever since. Rarely overbearing, this voice was still influential for many people in the International District and beyond. 

This Monday morning, Albuquerque — and New Mexico — lost an important community champion. A family lost a treasured mother, wife, niece, tia, prima, second mother. Many in the community lost a good friend.

Reynaluz Juarez was also a lifelong organizer, someone who often stated that “it’s time to put on my hustle hat.”

She worked organizing with the Sawmill Advisory Council decades ago, mentored by family elders, such as her mother Margo and her Tia Teresa. She always acknowledged that work as part of her formation.

Reynaluz Juarez (Courtesy of Enrique Cardiel)

Yet she never stopped trying to organize even further. She organized as a parent in Albuquerque Public Schools when her children were at Emerson Elementary. She was an active parent until her children finished high school. She was president of the South San Pedro Neighborhood Association for a decade and continued to be involved.

Reynaluz was one of the organizers involved in the naming of what we now call the International District. While that was not her first choice, she was willing to live with the process of pulling together neighbors to give her community a positive name. Her commitment to improvement was unwavering.

Her dedication was solid and creativity boundless. When she felt that her children needed more Chicano-oriented education she participated in La Raza Youth Committee. Her children and other neighborhood children organized to give input into what is now Jack and Jill park. I remember the call, “come to this meeting and bring the kids.” It was decided to get surveys for community input. Of course, the youth were outnumbered by adults. In the end, the youth, after an inspiring speech by Reynaluz, returned with more than 10 surveys to one on what people wanted in the park. The young people said, “We even interviewed old people like you all, so you wouldn’t think we were biased for just the kids.”

When she felt that the City of Albuquerque was not responding to continued concerns about poor street-lighting, she worked through the International District Healthy Communities Coalition to develop community-based lighting where solar-powered lights are placed on private property to increase lighting and safety. Most importantly, it created a sense of community cohesion and self-determination. 

Reynaluz worked with others to develop the Many Hands Building Cooperatives group to grow the economy of the International District and Albuquerque as a whole. When funds were tight, she would say: “Let me liberate some money.” Then she would find small and large funders for the project at hand. She disliked being featured in media, yet when it was important, she would step up for her community.

Many people considered her a second mother, or an auntie, and definitely a friend. Even though she faced many struggles, she would say, “Never let your heart fill with hate, only love.” Today many are remembering her sayings and holding onto the love she shared with them.

She was a community schools coordinator and helped many families directly, acting as both community organizer and social worker. She knew people needed help today, and that the systems people live in need to change. Reynaluz didn’t hope that we would return to normal after the pandemic. She wanted us to have a newer normal that better supported working class, people of color families in ways we saw hints of during the pandemic up until now.

The walking school bus procession reaches Whittier Elementary in Albuquerque’s International District on the morning of Friday, Feb. 11. (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

It would take a book to cover all the different aspects of this powerhouse’s life. She was humble and may not have recognized the impact she has had. Part of it was also that she always wanted better for others.

One of Reynaluz’s favorite sayings seems to be the hardest to fathom right now. She would very often say, “No hay mal por bien no venga.”

It is hard to think of the good that will come from her passing at a young age. Maybe we will all step up and take a little more responsibility for our community. Maybe others will be inspired to act as the “queen of light” (Reynaluz) did and take up standing for their community, continuing to light the way for the rest of us to follow.

Reynaluz Juarez will be deeply missed by many. Likely more than she ever expected. It has been a blessing to know her.

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Enrique Cardiel
Enrique Cardiel

Enrique Cardiel, lives in Albuquerque’s International District, one of the most urban and most diverse communities in New Mexico. He’s been a long-time member of La Raza Unida, also part of the South San Pedro Neighborhood Association, and the International District Healthy Communities Coalition. As Executive Director for the Health Equity Council, Enrique remains focused on the social equity required to attain health equity. He sees power as a critical public health issue and supports traditional public health work, and also work to organize with communities to redistribute power to reach social and health equity. He hopes that people will consider vaccinations and masking up to help us get through this pandemic. He promotes the hashtag #IMaskUp.