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Feisty, opinionated, hardworking mom and wife Lupe Alvarez, 61

MariGuadalupe Camacho de Alvarez Pacific Ocean beach her native Michoacan Mexico.

Maria Guadalupe Camacho de Alvarez, on a Pacific Ocean beach in her native Michoacan, Mexico.

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Updated: August 17, 2013 6:37AM

Feisty, opinionated and unshakeable in her love for her family and Mexican singing superstar Juan Gabriel, Lupe Alvarez worked more than 22 jobs (her family lost count) to help raise her kids and pay for private school.

Her complex pozole rojo had more toppings than she had jobs: pork, avocado, onions, lime, tortilla chips, shredded cabbage and dried chiles were just the start. She knew the delectable hominy stew could lure back to the dinner table any family member who might have a nose out of joint after a disagreement.

She believed full makeup was a prerequisite for going to the gym, mass or grocery store, and that pink lipstick was a necessity.

After immigrating to Chicago from Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, she navigated the city for two decades almost entirely by bus and train. But quietly, she squirreled away her money, until she presented her family with a brand-new 1992 teal Toyota Corolla.

“My mom had come home from work one day, and she had bought a car from a dealership. She didn’t tell my dad,” said their daughter, Vanessa.

As her family put it in her eulogy, “Lupe believed that women can do it all and men should just listen. Period.”

Her husband, Enrique Alvarez Alcantar, was delighted at the purchase, Vanessa Alvarez recalled. “He was just, ‘That’s great — you can take the kids to school in the car.’ ”

She believed a strong spirit could overcome much. After a few lessons from an uncle, she announced she had learned to drive. And she had.

At first, she didn’t believe she was as sick as the doctors said. In 2011, they diagnosed her with cervical cancer. She retorted that she felt fine. Mrs. Alvarez underwent chemotherapy and radiation but wasn’t able to beat the disease, which claimed her last month at Rush University Medical Center. She was 61.

In her last days in the hospital, her family played her the songs of her beloved Juan Gabriel. Though she called Enrique “my man,” the performer known as “Juanga” inhabited a special chamber in her heart. His songs brought her to tears.

In 2005, Gabriel fell from a stage in Houston, suffering a concussion and breaking a bone. This led to family teasing that was worthy of a bad telenovela, their daughter said.

“She would cry at a DVD, about what a wonderful singer he was,” Vanessa Alvarez said. “Whenever she would sing one of his songs, my dad would pretend he was Juan Gabriel, and say ‘Oh, my ankle,’ and he would fall, and he would lip sync. And my mom would say, ‘You have no education! Oh, that’s a terrible thing to say about him.’ ”

“She’d get up and go somewhere else in the room until my dad would say, ‘I’m just kidding, come sit with us.’ ”

Her family called her “Spanglish” words Lupe-isms. “Froggy” meant foggy. “Compuri” was the computer. She called CDs “GDs,” — “which is kind of a Chicago funny thing, because it’s a gangbanger,” her daughter said. “She’d be like, ‘put on the GD,’ or ‘Listen to the GD; it’s so good.’ ”

Sometimes, Mrs. Alvarez announced: “I need jelly for my hair.”

Her family was prosperous in Ciudad Hidalgo, but she wanted to explore. She came to Chicago to visit an uncle and began compiling the first of her 22 or so jobs. She worked as a nanny, in factories, at a dry-cleaner, and as a caregiver for the elderly.

Back home, she had met Enrique Alvarez Alcantar when he coached her soccer team. She called him every week and asked him to come to Chicago. He did; they married in 1974.

They raised their family in Ravenswood and Andersonville, where their five kids learned to swim, play basketball and do gymnastics at Welles Park. Lupe and Enrique Alvarez scraped together the money to pay for tuition at St. Matthias grade school and Gordon Tech College Prep. The couple also liked attending dances at Queen of Angels church hall for the Club de San Felipe de Ciudad Hidalgo football club.

A big proponent of eating right, she rose at 6 a.m. to get the best fruits and vegetables before they sold out at the farmers’ markets. On holidays, she loved to grill steak and onions at the lake, bringing her own rice and beans.

Spanish was the language at home when her oldest children were small, but by the time the younger ones came along, she told them: “No Spanish, only English now.” Vanessa wonders if something happened at work to make Mrs. Alvarez change. Her children speak Spanish today with varying degrees of fluency.

Though she wasn’t a huggy mom, Mrs. Alvarez believed in greeting people warmly. “Be Mexican — hug with meaning,” she’d say.

In addition to her husband and her daughter, she is also survived by her children Ary, Mitchell, Chanel and Alex; her sisters, Mayra Yolanda Samano and Blanca Franco; her brothers, Rogelio, Sergio and Gerardo, and one grandchild.

Services have been held, and her family is bringing her ashes back to Ciudad Hidalgo.

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