CHICAGO -- Sundays are special for David Pasqual Ruiz. He honors the memory of his father by inviting others to run through the neighborhood where he once walked holding his dad's hand as a child. Pilsen for him means family. The murals, the sounds and the tamales all remind him of his community, he said.
So when he learned that a local tamale stand was targeted in a the string of armed robberies of street vendors in the last few months, Pasqual Ruiz and other leaders of the Tortugas Run Club decided to organize a run to help the tamale stand owner, Aurelia Alvarez.
The success of the event inspired the club to keep helping neighborhood tamaleras, women who make and sell tamales. After all, the running club Pasqual Ruiz founded in 2021 is about more than just the sport, he said. In fact, the running comes second; it is family, friends and culture that come first.
When more than 200 people, including members of diverse running crews from across the city, showed up on Jan. 22 to buy tamales from Alvarez's stand and other nearby vendors who had also been robbed and assaulted, Pasqual Ruiz was touched.
It was more than double the number that join the club every Sunday. And thanks to their efforts, the tamaleras who set shop at 21st Street and Damen Avenue sold almost all of their tamales for the day.
"All it does is take a simple post, but with a very intentional idea, and that alone inspired and gathered so many people to support these ladies," Pasqual Ruiz said. "These women are a staple in our community. So if something is important to them, we gotta support and care for one another."
The women have been selling tamales at 21st and Damen for several decades. Their fear has grown after reports of a spike in armed robberies of vendors in Little Village and other Southwest Side neighborhoods.
Aurelia Alvarez said her daughter and other women who help sell tamales at her stand were assaulted the morning of Jan. 15 by a group of men, leaving them in shock and concerned for their safety.
But tamales are their livelihood and the only way to move on was to keep running the business, Alvarez said.
"To be honest, we felt joy by having so much support. Thank you," Alvarez said in Spanish.
Christopher King, a member of the Tortugas Run Club and a Pilsen resident, had told Pasqual Ruiz about the robbery at Alvarez's stand. He buys tamales from her, "so the robbery hit close to home," King said.
Tamaleras are essential to the culture of the neighborhood, but they are vulnerable targets for criminals because they are women working with cash, King said.
On Jan. 22, the runners gathered at Belli's, a juice bar at 1850 S. Blue Island Ave. They ran a mile to the vendors to get the tamales, and then ran another mile back to eat their tamales and drink champurrado, a sweet Mexican drink.
The tamaleras who were robbed, Pasqual Ruiz said, are someone's mom or someone's grandmother. He invites others to find ways to help those vendors.
The running crew has two more events planned to support the community, including a fundraiser for a scholarship for college students and a community cleanup in Harrison Park.
Kaira Peyton, a runner with Gumbofit, a group on the South Side, attended her first run with Tortugas despite the icy sidewalks and cold temperature when she heard about the purpose of the run.
"The vibes of run groups are to promote community and fellowship through fitness - and there is something very powerful and positive about people showing up, holding each other accountable, and doing real work that can't be ignored," Peyton said. "And it serves as an inspiration and an intensive way to get up and get out in whatever way you can."
Tortugas is collaborating with DDLR Scholarship Fund to raise money for undocumented college students by hosting an event following the Shamrock Shuffle on March 26.
The DDLR scholarship was created in memory of Dennis De La Rosa, an undocumented student who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Pasqual Ruiz said Tortugas will continue to promote the Sunday runs, encouraging people to live a healthier lifestyle and also to come together to help each other.
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