Leo Escobar, a restaurant worker and janitor from El Salvador will be remembered by his family for his humor and hard work. Credit: Maria Ibarra

Leo Escobar, a restaurant worker, janitor, and immigrant from El Salvador, passed away this fall at age 56 after falling ill with COVID-19. Funny and hard-working, Escobar will be remembered as a man dedicated to his wife and three children.

At a young age, Escobar lost his father and two siblings in the Salvadoran Civil War. His mother also passed away when he was 9 years old. As she was being taken to the hospital, she told Escobar that it would be his responsibility to care for his three younger siblings, said his wife, Maria Ibarra. Despite his age and circumstances, Escobar managed to care for his family as a farm hand and factory worker. He had two children of his own before embarking on a journey to the United States at age 25, Ibarra told Sahan Journal in a translated interview. 

Escobar first came to New York, where he spent most of his life working two shifts a day to support his family. Working tirelessly as a waiter, in kitchens, and as a janitor, Escobar eventually raised enough money to bring two of his siblings to join him in the United States.

 “Despite his difficult childhood and being orphaned at a young age, he never failed to care for those around him,” Ibarra said.

Sahan Journal COVID-19 Memorial Project

Here at Sahan Journal, we’ve committed to memorializing the lives of Minnesota’s new Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19. Imagine a photo album with all their faces and names. Flipping through the pages, we’d see our family, friends—and, of course, more. 

We’ve begun creating some version of that album and have documented stories about people from the Hmong, Latino, and East African communities. We’re covering people who have disproportionately suffered through this pandemic, by speaking with people who knew and loved them.

Escobar’s primary occupation in Minnesota was at Park Nicollet Clinic Minneapolis, where he worked as a janitor. He was a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 26, whose “Justice for Janitors” campaign organized over 4,500 janitors in the Twin Cities area.

In Minnesota, Escobar became a devout Christian, spending much of his time laughing and socializing in church, where he met his wife. Maria said that, knowing she was single, Escobar would talk to her often, always making her laugh. He joked about how they would one day get married. 

One day, Ibarra remembers, her mother called Escobar out: “If you’re going to make jokes about marrying my daughter, why don’t you actually make a move?” Escobar responded, “Are you joking? You really want me as your son in law?” 

Eventually, the jokes turned serious, and Escobar took Ibarra out to dinner. A month later, they were married.

Always a jokester, Escobar would take countless pictures of himself and others he knew in church, disregarding any concerns about asking people to be in his pictures, Ibarra remembered. He would sing elaborate songs for his and Maria’s dog and two cats, making a big show out of his performance. 

Leo Escobar is survived by his many siblings, his three children, Antonio, Edgar, and Jordan Escobar, and his wife, Maria Castillo Ibarra.

Here’s how you can contribute

We’ve started finding their stories, but we have a long way to go to memorialize Minnesotans from immigrant communities. We’ve expanded this project to include community contributions. If you’ve lost a family member, a friend, or a coworker to the coronavirus, we can honor them with your help.

1. By filling out the form below, your responses will provide us with the information to write an obituary about your loved one.

2. If you share your contact information at the end of the form, a reporter may reach out to learn more about the story you’ve shared. They will also ask for a photo. This step is entirely voluntary: It’s there to help us find out more for the story. 

3. Our reporters will then catalog these stories on Sahan Journal’s website, where readers can remember those who lost their lives to COVID-19, while also learning about what made their lives special.

Zach Batia is a senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in journalism and psychology.