“Larger than life" is how one friend and fellow Central Ohio activist describes Ruben Castilla Herrera.
Herrera died at the age of 61 this weekend, after spending more than 30 years championing Latino/a causes in the Columbus area.
Ramona Reyes, director of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Center, says she met Herrera while they were students at The Ohio State University in the late 1980s. Both the children of migrant farm workers, Reyes and Herrera shared a similar background.
“If there was an issue we definitely knew that Ruben would have a presence and would be speaking for those that either were too afraid to speak or for those who just didn’t know how to do that,” Reyes says.
Reyes says Herrera fought for a wide range of causes, including to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA.
“He definitely had a huge heart and a relentless pursuit of our DREAMers, our DACA students that are here pursuing the opportunity to stay and be citizens and contributors to our society,” Reyes says.
Herrera was also a leader in the Columbus Sanctuary Collective, an organization that works to help undocumented immigrants. He advocated for Edith Espinal, a mother of three who sought sanctuary in the Columbus Mennonite Church in October 2017 to avoid deportation. She's lived there ever since.
“The influence from his mother and being in direct contact with people who are on the front lines fighting the big fight in the United States, that influenced how Ruben has grown in his work," Reyes says.
Last July, Herrera led a protest against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Reyes says Ruben had worked with the late labor leader Cesar Chavez to push for the rights of migrant farm workers.
“We would look to Ruben to provide us some of the facts to be that person that was out on the front lines,” Reyes says.
Beyond the impact on the activist community, Reyes says she will miss her friend.
“If we needed support, we knew to look to Ruben and we knew where to be and how to advocate appropriately,” Reyes says.
Funeral arrangements for Herrera are pending.