New to Chicago, migrant family in mourning after their 11-month-old baby is killed in car crash

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webnexttech | New to Chicago, migrant family in mourning after their 11-month-old baby is killed in car crash
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At a tidy home in Chicago Lawn, an empty baby chair faces a small rectangular kitchen table.Plastic garlands and ornaments are still hung around the living room from the family’s first Christmas in the United States.
The family of four — migrants from Venezuela just getting their footing in Chicago — had their lives suddenly altered in a fatal car crash Friday afternoon when their 11-month-old baby died.
The family was coming home from an appointment with their lawyer around 3 p.m. when a car heading in the same direction struck them on southbound I-290.
Yusmelis Gonzalez, 31, and their baby, Theo Aleman Gonzalez, were rushed to the hospital.
Theo succumbed to his injuries early the next morning.
Gonzalez remains hospitalized.
“The house is alone.
It feels freezing.
Empty,” the baby’s father, Jhonathan Aleman, said Tuesday evening in his home, as he recounted the accident.
The Gonzalezes, like over 34,800 other migrants who have arrived in the city over the past 17 months, traveled thousands of miles north looking for opportunity.
They arrived with nothing, fleeing political persecution in their eastern home state of Bolívar, Venezuela.
They had waited months in a city-run shelter in Streeterville before being resettled with the help of Catholic Charities.
Their neighborhood in Chicago Lawn has been home since July, Aleman said.
Theo and his 9-year-old brother, Santiago, were just beginning their lives in Chicago.
Appliances line the counters in the kitchen, and a mobile with stuffed animals hangs over the crib placed next to the parents’ bed.
“We chose this house thinking about the baby’s first steps.
His first milestones,” Aleman said.
Aleman said he was driving his wife and Theo back from an appointment to apply for a permit to work legally in the United States.
He worked in construction and in restaurant kitchens in Venezuela, and was having difficulties finding work here.
Venezuelan migrant Jhonathan Aleman, 28, talks about the car accident that resulted in his youngest son, 11-month-old Theo, being killed and his wife, Yusmelis, 31, being hospitalized with injuries on Jan.
19.
He wasn’t sure where exactly on the highway the crash happened.
The incident is a blur.
At first, there were no police officers at the scene who spoke Spanish.
His wife and Theo were both transferred to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, one of the busiest Level I trauma centers in the Chicago area.
Aleman describes his wife’s condition at the hospital as “stable.” “My wife doesn’t recognize people close to her, including family members.
She doesn’t remember the accident, except what we tell her,” he said.
“She remembers who I am because I’ve told her.” Illinois State Police did not respond to a request for information about the accident.
Their eldest son, Santiago, has autism and was attending McKay Elementary School near their house when the accident occurred.
Since Friday, Santiago has been living with relatives and staying home from school, Aleman said.
Aleman has been sleeping alone in the family’s empty house.
The door to Santiago’s room is adorned with little shining stickers, and the words of an oración de noche, or evening prayer, are tacked above his bed.
Aleman is waiting for his wife’s condition to improve before he tells his son what happened.
He knows the news won’t come easily to Santiago.
“We think it will make him anxious,” Aleman said.
“We want to make sure the situation moves forward in a way that is bearable for him.” A high chair is seen in the kitchen of the Aleman-Gonzalez family in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood on Jan.
23, 2024.
The family has been in Chicago almost a year.
They had walked for three and a half months and across multiple borders to make it to the United States, as Gonzalez neared the end stages of her pregnancy.
In Matamoros, Mexico, she was experiencing labor pains but denied hospital care, Aleman said.
The family decided to cross the Rio Grande into Brownsville, Texas, on Jan.
28.
“Theo was born that same day,” Aleman said.
The family was given their immigration documents and transferred to McAllen, Texas.
They stayed in Texas for a little over a week while Gonzalez recovered from the birth, and decided to go to Chicago after hearing there were opportunities in the city.
Because Theo was born prematurely, Aleman said, Catholic Charities in Texas helped the family by giving them the option to go on bus or plane to their destination city.
They arrived in Chicago on a plane, with their newborn baby in their arms.
Ana Estrella, a social worker with SGA Youth & Family Services, has been making visits to the family’s home since September to help provide support with their new life in the United States.
She has been by their side since she heard about the accident.
“They’re new to this state.
They don’t know where to look for support, besides the people they met in the shelter.
They don’t have close family next to them,” she said.
A Christmas decoration features the image of Theo Aleman Gonzalez, 11 months old, in the apartment of his family in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood on Jan.
23, 2024.
Estrella described Gonzalez as “lovely” and attentive to her two children.
She said that in the days following the incident, Aleman has been playing the events back through his head, wondering if it was his fault.
Some friends have helped where they can, but the family doesn’t have the resources to pay for the baby’s funeral.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help.
Aleman walked through his house Tuesday evening, pausing to look at the empty crib and a handmade paper ornament with Theo’s smiling face.
“We’d just begun here,” he said, through tears.
“It’s been really, really hard.” He sat at his kitchen table, putting his hand on his forehead and looking down.
“OK, OK, OK,” he repeated to himself quietly.
More than 7,600 migrants have been resettled with funding from the state.
Many, like Aleman, have to navigate a city system in a language they don’t know — applying for asylum and work permits, registering for school and finding health services.
“Once they go outside the shelter, they’re on their own,” said Ana Gil-Garcia, founder of the Illinois Venezuelan Alliance.
Aleman said his son died about a week before his first birthday.
“Theo was pure happiness.
He laughed a lot.
At everything,” Aleman said.
Santiago loves learning languages, said Aleman, particularly English and Russian.
A sheet of paper with common Spanish phrases translated to English is taped to the kitchen cabinet: “Recordar → Remember.
/ Olvidar → Forget.” nsalzman@chicagotribune.com

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