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Alex ‘Big Al’ Medina dies; precinct capt., electrician, guitarist

A precinct captain and electrician, Alex "Big Al" Medina loved playing guitar. | supplied photo

As a little boy in Mexico, Alex Medina lived for a time on a diet of beans and cornflakes in a home without indoor plumbing. After moving to Chicago, he became a skilled electrician and confidant of politicians who credit him with getting out the Little Village vote on Election Day.

He also played guitar, but it was his electrical work that enabled him to meet his idol, Carlos Santana, during a Chicago performance. Mr. Medina helped with his soundboard.

Mr. Medina died last month of a stroke after a liver transplant, according to his brother, Rick. He was 52.

“He was one of my earliest and most enthusiastic supporters when I first ran for office during that historic period in the 1980s, when the struggle for racial and economic justice was anchored around Harold Washington,” said Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. “Big Al was warm, funny, and truly committed to the causes that moved him.”

Alex Medina | supplied photo.
Alex Medina | supplied photo.

Former state Rep. Sonia Silva, D-Chicago, who in 1996 became the first Latina elected to the Illinois House, praised Mr. Medina’s work as a precinct captain in the 22nd ward. “He is one of the people who used to get the highest turnout,” she said.

Grateful voters appreciated his assistance with electrical problems and his handiness with a paintbrush, Silva said. “On Election Day, he would go and knock on neighbors’ doors and get them out to vote,” Silva said. “He was so good, and so familiar with the routines of the people in the precinct, he knew what time people went to work; he knew when they got home.” If they didn’t answer the door in the morning, “he would just go later toward 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening” to coax them to the polls.

“He would drag me out and he would also get me to work with him,” said friend and fellow musician Alex Martinez. “We had some very cold days standing on the corner, knocking on doors.”

In the early 1970s, after he and his brother, Rick, arrived in Chicago from Mexico, their mother, Maria Medina, had the boys passing out campaign literature, Silva said.

Though Alex Medina was born in California, he and Rick Medina spent a few of their early years with a relative in Ciudad Juarez when their Mexican-born mother moved to Chicago to work in a hospital. “My mom tried to do a good thing,” Rick Medina said. “We were [in] a real poor place.”

“The only water was a hose outside. We had to walk half a block to use a washroom, an outhouse,” he said. “It was very sad. . . . It was beans everyday. And Saturday, it was cornflakes.”

Relief arrived when their maternal grandmother, Sara Garcia, took them into her home. “It was beautiful. It was the first time we had water inside, lights, an inside washroom, a brand new house,” Rick Medina said. “She fed us good.” Nearby were lush farms. “We used to go behind the house, we used to eat sugar cane. We used to eat melons.”

Sometimes, he said, they watched wealthy Americans play polo nearby.

Around 1971, their mother brought them to Chicago. It was a shock. “It was cold. There [were] no horses, there was no going outside, there was no river,” Rick Medina said.

Alex Medina | supplied photo
Alex Medina | supplied photo

“My brother, he was very smart,” he said. Alex Medina attended Whitney Young Magnet High School, where he refined his guitar skills. Later, he studied at DeVry University to be an electrician and landed an apprenticeship, Silva said.

As lead guitarist for his own band, Brotherhood, he could make his Paul Reed Smith guitar moan, said Martinez, leader of the group Latin Experience. He sounded like his guitar hero, Santana. “That’s how good he was,” Martinez said. One of his favorite Santana songs was “Samba Pa Ti.”

He also enjoyed concerts by Sting, Journey and guitarist Steve Vai, who once played with Frank Zappa.

A brother, Moses, who had Down syndrome, died before him. Mr. Medina “did a lot for him,” said Martinez. “He fixed up his room so Moses could reach out, press buttons, play music.” Mr. Medina is also survived by a sister, Blanca, and a daughter, TaliSol, according to Martinez Funeral Home, where services were held.