Delfina H. Pereda-Echeverria, who was considered the matriarch of Baltimore’s Hispanic and Latino communities, died Saturday from complications of dementia at Stella Maris Hospice. The former longtime Oakenshawe resident was 99.
“I was pleased when she accepted an appointment to the commission on Hispanic affairs,” former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke wrote in a statement. “In that role she was an effective voice in bringing to the attention of public officials the growing impact of the Latino residents in our community. I will miss her smile and gracious manner.”
Yolanda Maria Martinez, former chair of the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has known Ms. Pereda-Echeverria since she was a child.
“She was a disciple of the people. She wanted to make everyone feel better, not just the Hispanic community, but all communities. She believed in the United Nations of all communities,” said Ms. Martinez, an Ellicott City resident whose family were close friends of Ms. Pereda-Echeverria’s for decades. “She meant the world to us, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without her influence. She nourished me in the spirit of our culture,” she said.
“Delfina was so devoted to the Hispanic and Latino communities. It was her mission in life,” said Dr. Estela Chavez, a psychiatrist, close friend and former Oakenshawe neighbor who now lives in Cross Keys. “She was working for the community all of the time. She was just an amazing person.”
The Rev. Paul Osorio, former deacon of the now-closed St. Michael Roman Catholic Church in Fells Point and St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church on Broadway, worked closely with Ms. Pereda-Echeverria through the years.
“She was a very dear friend of mine, and she had such a great heart,” said Father Osorio, who is now a priest in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “She was always deeply concerned about the Hispanic community in Baltimore and we worked together. One of the many things she did was make the Hispanic Festival a huge success for us. I was delighted to have been able to work with her.”
He added: “Her home and heart were always open to Hispanics who needed assistance. She was my partner in helping people.”
The former Delfina Haydee Pereda, daughter of Eduardo Pereda Hernadez, a Spanish immigrant, and his wife, Candelaria Echeverria, who was of Mexican and Spanish descent, was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
She completed high school in Guatemala City and had started studying accounting when at 21 she married Efrain Rodriquez Gomez, a lawyer.
Ms. Pereda-Echeverria was director of the Instituto Moderno de Capacitacion Comercial, a Guatemala City secretarial school, before emigrating to Baltimore in 1962, after her marriage ended in divorce.
“Pereda came with a wave of newly arrived immigrants from Cuba, Spain and South America,” Haydee Marilu Rodriguez de Leon, a granddaughter who lives in Oakenshawe, wrote in a biographical profile.
“She was the founder in 1963 of the Centro Social Hispano Americano, (Hispanic American Social Center), which was Baltimore’s first Hispanic social organization, which sought to bring together the many Latin Americans who made Baltimore their home in the 1960s and 1970s,” wrote Ms. Rodriguez, who was Mayor Schmoke’s spokeswoman on Hispanic affairs, and later projects and outreach coordinator for former Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
“A strong, fiercely independent woman, with a huge heart, she developed relationships across many communities, and became active in Baltimore’s civic life. She welcomed everyone to her home — and opened her heart to many immigrants from all over including Spain and Latin America,” she wrote.
During the administration of Mayor William Donald Schaefer, Ms. Pereda-Echeverria was a founding member of the Mayor’s Committee on Hispanic Affairs, and continued into Mr. Schmoke’s administration.
She was a member of the Archdiocesan Hispanic Pastoral Council and for a decade was director of the Hispanic Festival. For 40 years, she was active with the Hispanic Apostolate, now the Esperanza Center. She was also a member of the Baltimore City Commission for Women.
Mr. Schmoke said that Ms. Pereda-Echeverria never missed an opportunity to meet members of the Hispanic and Latino communities.
“She escorted me around festivals, introduced me to religious leaders, taught me enough Spanish not to embarrass myself and always did things with a huge smile on her face,” he said in his statement.
“As an advocate, she always used her voice and diplomacy responsibly,” Ms. Martinez said. “She was dealing with many cultures and wanted to find common ground.”
She was a communicant of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Highlandtown and St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Fells Point, where she helped prepare lunches for Hispanic seniors.
When Pope John Paul II visited Baltimore in 1994, the Archdiocese of Baltimore selected Ms. Pereda-Echeverria to read at Camden Yards during the papal visit.
“She was a woman of deep, deep faith,” said Ms. Martinez. “She represented our Latino and Hispanic communities and we were so, so proud and just beaming.”
Through her efforts In 1999, and with the support of the Rev. John Lavin and the Latino community, she brought a replica of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, a wooden image of Christ that stands in the Cathedral Basilica of Esquipulas in Esquipulas, Guatemala, to St. Patrick’s, where it was installed in 2000, and later relocated to Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church on Conkling Street.
“”Because of who she was, she will pass by Purgatory and go right to heaven,” Dr. Chavez said.
Because of her many activities, Ms. Pereda-Echeverria didn’t necessarily have time for hobbies, but was a dog lover.
“Being out in the community and her church work took a huge chunk of her time,” her granddaughter said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Mass of Christian burial for Ms. Pereda-Echeverria will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Church, from which it will be streamed via the church’s Zoom and Facebook pages.