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Hispanic-Latino Student Association Commemorates "Boxcar People"

Gayla Perez Pacheco
A 1931 photo of the Boxcar People, workers at the Galesburg railroad tie yard.

A local Hispanic-Latino student group is memorializing the history of Mexican immigrants in Western Illinois.

In the early 1900s, Mexican laborers were recruited to work the railroads in Galesburg as many young American men were drafted into World War I. For housing, the railroad company offered these immigrants boxcars--the enclosed metal freight cars used on trains.

In total, there were nearly 20 families of these so-called "Boxcar People," including the grandfather of Sandburg trustee Gayla Perez Pacheco . Pacheco credits her grandfather for his work to create a better life for his descendants--many of whom are still important parts of the local community.

Gayla Perez Pacheco
Sostenes Perez, one of the Boxcar People.

"A lot of them became doctors, lawyers--my cousin has a restaurant that's been in the community since the early 60s, so he is on the land where my grandfather had his entrepreneurship."
Pacheco spoke about her grandfather's story to the Hispanic Latino Student Association at Carl Sandburg College. The students know where two of the boxcar camps once stood--and they're looking for the exact location of the third one.

"They will get permission, hopefully, to get approval just to put a commemorative plaque of some type, just to say: 'Yes, this is one of the three boxcar locations where past generations had come to live and to work and to be a productive part of our society.'"

Pacheco says her focus is on education--both the education that her ancestors worked to provide for her, and to teach modern Galesburg citizens about their community's history.