David “Boogie” Gonzalez was 23 when two .38-caliber slugs pierced his heart on June 19, 1973, at Harrison Park.
Gonzalez died on the job. He was an outreach worker with El Centro de la Causa, a Pilsen community center founded in 1971, mediating gang disputes.
Four months before his death, Gonzalez brokered a gang truce. It wouldn’t outlive him.
Pilsen honored Gonzalez with a march and a mural on 18th Street. In time, the mural, like his legacy, has faded. Now, nearly 50 years later, Gonzalez’s sister is trying to bring his story back to life — and hoping to save the mural.
Gonzalez had three older brothers — Job, Neftali and Jacob — and a younger sister, Annabelle. Their parents were farmworkers from Texas who crisscrossed the Midwest chasing crops. They eventually settled in Pilsen.
“We lived up and down 18th Street,” Annabelle Gonzalez says.
In 1966, Jacob Gonzalez enlisted in the Marines to fight in Vietnam. Four years later, he came home traumatized.
“I tried taking my brother to church, but he couldn’t take it,” Annabelle Gonzalez says. “He just kept saying, ‘I need to get out of here.’ That’s when I knew how bad it was.”
In May 1971, a gang member gunned him down on 18th Street. He would have turned 23 two weeks later.
“My brother survived Vietnam, but he couldn’t survive Pilsen,” Annabelle Gonzalez says. “He lived through all that just to come here and die in the streets.”
Boogie Gonzalez was 21 when his brother was killed. As a teenager, Gonzalez was a Rampant, one of a dozen gangs that carved up 18th Street in the 1960s. His older brother Job, known as “Crazy Tony,” headed another Pilsen gang, the Morgan Deuces.
But by the time of his brother’s murder, Gonzalez had become an active member of the Chicano movement, fighting to promote unity among Mexican Americans in Chicago.
“Boogie kept a foot in both worlds,” says Phil Ayala, a founder of El Centro de la Causa. “He was always on the street talking to guys, trying to convince them not to kill each other.”
The night he was killed, Boogie Gonzalez went to Harrison Park to try to ease tensions between the Deuces and the Latin Kings. A drive-by gunman shot him twice in the chest.
Gonzalez’s death rocked Pilsen. Three days after he was killed, dozens of people marched on 18th Street calling for peace. At the front of the march was a banner that read, “Boogie Lives” and “While the man laughs, la raza cries.”
Gonzalez was buried June 23, 1973, at Elm Lawn Cemetery. According to the newspaper Chicago Today, the only English-language news outlet to cover the funeral, members of six gangs carried his casket.
“The thing to stress about Boogie is that he didn’t want to see his people killing themselves. That’s why he died. He died for the peace,” Henry Villagomez, a fellow outreach worker and Gonzalez’s roommate, told the newspaper.
The history of murals in Pilsen stretches to the late 1920s, when the first wave of Mexican immigrants landed on the Near West Side. The scene exploded in the 1960s and 1970s, as artists used murals to celebrate their Mexican roots and protest social ills.
Gonzalez’s mural — on the south wall of a 140-year-old apartment building at 18th Street and Throop Street — was painted in 1978 by Aurelio Diaz and Sal Vega, who titled it: “Organicémonos Para Que Haiga Paz (Let’s Organize So We May Have Peace).”
On the left side, the image of Gonzalez hovers over the sidewalk with red paint splattered across his chest. On the right, a large male figure leads a classroom, his eyes fixated on Gonzalez.
But time and the elements have chipped away at the mural. And city workers caked much of it in brown paint to cover suspected gang graffiti.
Raised in Pilsen, Vega painted Gonzalez after a friend suggested they add him to the mural.
“It’s dedicated to him, but it’s also a reminder for all of us to keep going and to do the work,” Vega says.
The mural is on a gentrified slice of 18th Street, down the block from Thalia Hall and trendy bars and restaurants. Doug Danby, a developer who bought the building in 2011, has remodeled much of it. A one-bedroom, 500-square-feet apartment there recently was listed for $1,395 a month.
Danby says he’s open to having the mural restored.
“I have no intention of removing the mural,” he says. “I am a strong supporter of the arts and of the mural tradition in Pilsen.”
Told that, Annabelle Gonzalez, now retired after working at the University of Illinois Hospital, began to cry. She’s hoping to find a way to save the mural.
“My brother loved this neighborhood,” she says. “He cared for his people, he cared for his community. Why else would he put his life on the line?”
- People marching down 18th Street in honor of David “Boogie” Gonzalez, June 23, 1973. Provided by Alexandria Roman
- A flyer announcing a march down 18th Street in Pilsen in honor of David “Boogie” Gonzalez. Provided by Annabelle Gonzalez.
- Chicago Today’s coverage of David “Boogie” Gonzalez’s murder, July 25, 1973. Chicago Today
- David “Boogie” Gonzalez’s funeral card. Provided by Annabelle Gonzalez.
- David “Boogie” Gonzalez and his sister, Annabelle Gonzalez, in San Antonio, Texas, in the mid-60s. Provided by Annabelle Gonzalez.
- Six pallbearers, each from a different Pilsen gang, carrying David “Boogie” Gonzalez’s casket, June 23, 1973. Provided by Alexandria Roman
- David “Boogie” Gonzalez (right) with friends in Pilsen wearing the clothes he would be killed in on June 19, 1973. Provided by Annabelle Gonzalez.
- Henry Villagomez, center, with friends in Pilsen. Villagomez was David “Boogie” Gonzalez’s roommate and colleague at El Centro de la Causa. Provided by Annabelle Gonzalez.
- A young David “Boogie” Gonzalez sporting a leather jacket in Pilsen. Provided by Annabelle Gonzalez.
- A painting commemorating David “Boogie” Gonzalez and Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. Provided by Alexandria Roman
Click on map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.