A migrant’s dream cut short: Woman’s killing in Chicago prompts Guatemalan community to band together, speak out on dangers of migrating north

CHICAGO — The last time that Reyna Cristina Ical Seb saw her family, she promised them that she would send enough money to fix their small home in a rural Indigenous town in Guatemala. At just 20 years old, she made her way north, crossing several borders before settling in Chicago last October.

Ical Seb was hopeful that she would be able to help her parents after finding a job shortly after arriving in the city where she had no other family, only colleagues from other towns in her native country.

“She just had many dreams, just like all of us,” said her friend Josue Isaias Caal.

But she couldn’t keep her promise to her parents.

On her birthday, Feb. 22, Ical Seb was found dead in a dark alley in the Little Village neighborhood. She had been killed while making her way home from work, her friend said.

Her death brought together the Guatemalan community in Chicago to raise money to ensure that Reina’s remains could make it back home to her parents, and to honor the sacrifice that the young woman made by migrating to the United States, eager to work.

“She had made it so far, and came here to die,” said Caal.

Like Ical Seb, most of the Guatemalans that attended her Feb. 27 funeral service in Chicago are from Indigenous towns. Many have recently arrived in the city and only speak Mayan. They have found a community in “La Villita,” or Little Village, the predominantly Mexican immigrant neighborhood on the Southwest Side.

While staring at her coffin, draped in an American flag, hundreds lamented Ical Seb’s death, and encouraged each other to take care of one another.

On March 3, her body was repatriated to her hometown. Hundreds of Guatemalans waited alongside her parents for the return of her body to pay tribute to the woman who has become a symbol in the country of the dangers of migrating north, said Mario Caz Yaxcal, a friend of the family that assisted Ical Seb’s parents with translating information in Spanish to Mayan.

Young girls from her hometown held American and Guatemalan flags as they walked through the streets before the burial. Caz is also a journalist in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, the municipality where her family lives. Aldea Chantaca in San Pedro Carchá has nearly 100 families, he said and their livelihoods depend on agriculture.

“They’re a very humble family,” Caz said. “They can’t comprehend what happened to their daughter.”

More than two weeks since her body was found, the Chicago Police Department says the investigation is ongoing and have not provided information on any leads. A neighbor discovered her body while returning home from work about 2:55 a.m. on Feb. 22 in the 2200 block of South Drake Avenue. She died several blocks from where she lived in the 4100 block of West 24th Place., said police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Ical Seb died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to the medical examiner’s office. Her death was ruled a homicide.

Her family, and those who knew the young woman, are in shock at the killing, still trying to find answers and praying for resolution, Caz said. They learned of her death after several people in Chicago watched a news report about the lifeless body and suspected it was Ical Seb after realizing she was missing from her home.

Caal, one of the few friends that Ical Seb had in Chicago, said he is heartbroken and in disbelief. He was the one who went into the morgue to identify her body after communicating with her family in her hometown.

“I wish we weren’t sending her back home in a coffin,” he said.

Ical Seb, who was found on her 21st birthday, was quiet and sweet, her friends said. She was hardworking and while living in her hometown, spent most of her time in church.

“Her family does not believe that the killing was targeted,” Caz said. “She didn’t deserve that. And though nothing will ease their pain, they hope to get some clarity of the murder. Why Reyna?” he asked.

Local leaders, immigrant rights advocates and Guatemalan social media influencers have demanded that the investigation continue and that police solve her slaying.

Pablo Pineda, president of the Coalición Coordinadora Guatemalteca in Chicago, said that the killing has sparked fear and concern among the city’s growing Guatemalan community. But it has also shown them that they are not alone, he said.

“They may not have family here, but we have each other,” Pineda said.

More than 1,000 people attended Ical Seb’s funeral service in Chicago. Most were from neighboring towns in Guatemala, some were her friends and others just wanted to support and pay tribute to the young woman.

“Tenemos que compartir el dolor,” said Rutilia Coc, “We must share the pain.”

“I hope that we learn to take care of each other,” she added. Coc did not know Ical Seb but can see her younger self in her story, she said.

“We all come here hoping to change our life and the lives of those who we love,” she said. Even though she arrived in Chicago five years ago, she still wears her traditional huipil and it wasn’t until recently that she learned Spanish.

Pineda made a call to local leaders to be more aware of the needs of recent migrants in their neighborhoods and promote public safety by encouraging them to be aware of their surroundings and always share their location.

But he also hopes that leaders in Guatemala feel the pain of the family of Ical Seb “to begin making moves to create jobs and stability in their town and avoid pushing them to migrate north.”