Raul Castañeda, 48, died of COVID-19 in April. Credit: Enedelia Martinez

Raul Castañeda, a restaurant worker and immigrant from Mexico, loved to dance. When he wasn’t busy working, he enjoyed playing ranchera, cumbia, and mariachi music at parties.

But when Castañeda fell ill with COVID-19 in April, he feared going to a hospital because of his immigration status.

Castañeda died April 24 at 48 years old. Castañeda’s family remembered him as a service-minded person who always looked out for his family.

After moving to Minnesota in 2000, Castañeda fell in love with the weather and enjoyed camping in the state. Castañeda’s partner, Enedelia Martinez, said in Spanish, in a translated interview that Castañeda wanted to come to the United States to provide a better life for his future children. 

Martinez said that Castañeda struggled to accept treatment because he did not want to leave his family in medical debt.

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.

Castañeda lived with his family in Roseville. To support his two youngest children, 15-year-old Elena Castañeda-Martinez and 10-year-old Paolo Castañeda-Martinez, Castañeda and Martinez would often work 60 or more hours each week at several jobs—including a cleaning job at a restaurant.

Martinez remembered a time when Castañeda was on his way to work and saw a woman with children on the side of the street, asking for money. Without a word, Castañeda went over and gave them some food, as well as the $5 he had on him. 

“He is like that anyway,” Martinez said. “Any food that he was going to eat, he would be glad to give it to somebody else.”

Martinez and Castañeda attended the St. Odilia Parish in Shoreview, which held mass in Spanish, and were quickly welcomed into the community. Castañeda also wanted to go to school to improve his English and pursue other studies. 

In April, Martinez noticed Castañeda felt fatigued after coming home from work one day. She gave him some tea and told him to rest. Castañeda started feeling feverish and couldn’t sleep through the night. They figured he had the flu. 

He felt better after a few days, so the two went to visit his brother, but when he felt sick again they went home. Martinez said she started showing symptoms too, so they isolated themselves from their two children.

Although he was still sick, Martinez said Castañeda waited on her and her medicine. He was concerned about her and wanted her to feel better, Martinez added. After a few days, Castañeda’s condition worsened and a friend working at Regions Hospital in Saint Paul told Martinez to bring him in immediately. 

While waiting for a friend to drive them, Castañeda shaved his face and Martinez helped him put on a blue sweater. Abruptly, Castañeda gasped for breath and collapsed on their bed, where he lost consciousness. Martinez told their children to call 911 and gave CPR to Castañeda. When the paramedics arrived, they pronounced him dead.

Martinez said through tears it was a lived experience she would never forget. She still thinks about if there was anything more she could have done for him.

“The main thing is that people take care of themselves and take care of the people that are around them, because when somebody goes your whole life is turned upside down,” she said. “You are missing somebody that was the integral part of your life when somebody dies from not getting the help [they] need.”

Castañeda’s ashes were released to a priest at St. Odilia and the church had a mass honoring him in June. Following his passing, members of their church and community started a GoFundMe to help the family with expenses.

Castañeda is survived by his father, four sisters, and son Victor Manuel Martinez, who all live in Mexico. He is also survived by his brother, his two youngest children, many cousins, and partner. Castañeda’s mother passed away in November, without knowing her son had died months prior.

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.

Becca Most is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and freelance reporter based out of Minneapolis.