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Grandpa Juan, Papa Juan, Don Juan, Juan Villanueva Guzman was born on May
16, 1926, in the city of Houston, Texas in the barrio known as El Alacran at the
corner of Jensen & Clinton. At age 7, during the historic removal of Mejicanos
from the Southwest, he and his family were removed from the US and returned to
their hometown of El Rancho de Cuaracurio, Michoacan, Mexico. He remembers
being put on a train and their family was left at the border and made to walk the
rest of the way back to their villages (a distance of approximately 600 miles).
Dad often tells the story of the hard work it took to remove all the lava rock from
the land grant given to his father back in the 30’s. The land was then planted with
corn and crops for sustenance, which was met with long days of grueling labor.
LABOR – a word that defines my father’s life.
He was a man who labored for many years. Dad (about 18 or 19 yrs.) eventually
returned to Houston with his younger brother, Nicolas, and joined his uncle
Cipriano and wife, Cruzita who had remained in Houston. He says when he first
returned (also walked back) he crossed the river as an undocumented. Luckily,
Dad and his brother having been born in Houston were able to get their birth
certificates issued because they had proof of their US citizenship via the baptismal
records maintained at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church (at that time a
segregated Mexican catholic church built in 1923 for the Mexican community in
Our father eventually married Guadalupe Cornejo (also from El Rancho de
Cuaracurio) and their first three children (Concepcion, Eva & Francisco) were born
in Cuaracurio, Michoacan. He eventually arranged to bring them to Houston and
the rest of the children were born in Houston – Samia, Graciela, Cruz, Louis,
Guadalupe & Juan as well as half-sister Josefina and Rosario.
Dad labored in many areas including agriculture, road paving, construction
worker, ditch digger, fruit seller, and a litany of other trades. At one time he
worked a night shift as a laborer for over 17 years at the subsidiary of Brown &
Root (Southwestern Pipe) until he had a most unfortunate accident – jumping off
an 18-wheeler that transported huge pipes that were to be harnessed with chains
for transport. He jumped off just in time before the pipe chain burst and spilled
over. He was not crushed but he sustained a huge contusion to his knee – enough
to make it difficult to walk, climb or stand for long periods. When he asked to
have light duty until his knee healed, he was denied by his Superintendent at
which point I quit for him. I thought he was going to be very angry but instead, he
knew the unfairness of the situation and accepted it. Because of that decision,
Dad found other ways to bring food to the table and I believe it also led to his long
life. We did not allow this company to kill him before his time.
Dad made sure we learned the work ethic – which meant many times the family
worked together – i.e. there were times that he would take us to pick cotton and
with the little earned – he would buy us hamburgers. He would have us cleaning
up the Pan American Nite Club for many years – we enjoyed dancing with the
mops and brooms and the many Saturday and Sunday mornings and after school
on weekdays of working together. Dad made sure all his children knew the value
of a good work ethic – often saying – You work, you eat. He also had high values
– You work, you do not steal, and you do not disparage our name. But he also
knew that after a good day’s work, you enjoyed the fruits of that labor – a good
barbecue, a good fish fry, days at the park, fishing expeditions, birthday
celebrations, graduations, weddings, baptisms, and a good Saturday night dance.
And on top of this, the many summers we spent in Michoacan visiting our
grandparents, and relatives. The journey often took up to 24 hours – can you
imagine – a station wagon with up to 11 in it. Never had new cars but the used
ones had their own stories to tell.
Dad had a good sense of humor. He spent time entertaining friends and relatives
with good stories of his past and telling a good joke, or two, three, or four. He
had great knowledge of history, geography, and singers. Strong laughter, a hearty
appetite and don’t forget the good drink – to the very end, Dad was known to
take his shot of tequila in his coffee – which many of us truly believe was the real
reason for his long life.
Yes, Dad lived a long life, and much can be said that he was a very strong man –
short but with a body that most 30-year-olds would have envied. Muscular and
energetic. His strong arms and back provided for so many. Dad made sure my
mom had a place to live – he bought three homes for her – one in Houston, one in
El Rancho de Cuaracurio where he was born, and one in Morelia (the capital of
Michoacan, Mx). This kept him rather busy – always cultivating their gardens (the
envy of others) but because of his and my mother’s generosity – their gardens
flourished. It was amazing to see how a humble abode could provide for so many
– throughout the years, their homes became the refuge for many – his children,
his grandchildren, his brothers, his cousins, his nieces, and nephews, and even a
few strangers here and there.
Juan Villanueva Guzman now leaves a legacy of 150+ children, grandchildren,
great-grandchildren, and yes even great-great-grandchildren.
If you would like to order flowers in memory of Juan Villanueva Guzman, https://www.azarflowers.com/sympathy.