By: José G Grau López
It’s early in the morning and as the rooster greets the dawn with confidence and belief in self-sufficiency, Juanita Gonzalez looks forward in telling her life’s story. Her face and eyes reflects the melancholy and generosity that characterized her infectious and adventurous spirit, product of a hard life.
Juanita Gonzalez was born in 1924 in Jayuya P.R., in times where women from the neighborhood were hired to assist in the delivery of pregnant women. She comes from a humble family where she learned her values and virtues, such as compassion and perseverance in life.
“During these times the life of women was full of hardships, due to the ignorance and ego of the puertorrican man” said Juanita referring to “el machismo”. “The overblown masculinity of a manly man” is the definition of “machismo” given by http://www.vocabulary.com. Despite of the social limitations of women at her time, Juanita persevered and was able to direct her life towards her goals.
Moreover, Juanita’s family was immensely large which helped her to learn how to share and help each other because of so many people and the scarcity of the necessary things.
At this point, Juanita Lopez met Rosaly (female name but was a man), her husband in 1940, a relationship that lasted for more than 50 years, something hard to achieve in these days. “The key is to go forward with faith in God no matter what the blows and sufferings life throws at you” said Juanita. Although still believing that her husband was a bit abusive due to his ignorance and lack of education.
Despite all, Rosaly was a cheerful and loved person in the neighborhood. He loved to compose carols and songs, many of which he dedicated to his wife, something that helped keep their love alive. “Rosaly was a strong and very intelligent man, I remember him writing letters to the governor of Puerto Rico requesting any type of help for his family” said Antonio Lopez son of Rosaly and Juanita
In addition, they gathered fruit on farms in order to satisfy their family financially. Rosaly even had to work driving public buses later in his life.
Still Juanita tells us how hard it was at the beginning of their relationship because of the current situation at that time in Puerto Rico. “There was immense poverty and landowners abused their servants” said Juanita.
By the time Juanita and Rosaly had 4 of their 11 children’s, Juanita’s mother in law went to live with them at home with a psychiatric condition that was unknown in those times, so they assumed she was crazy. These type situations occurred a lot in those years because of the unawareness of the society and lack of medical knowledge in relation to psychiatric problems. “Depression wasn’t a clinically diagnosed disease as it is today, in those years we solved this kind of situation differently” said Juanita.
Soon after, one day Juanita woke up and went to the farm to give breakfast to her husband who was gathering fruits when she hears the cries of their children in the house. Upon returning the timber of the house crackled because of the intense flames of fire, years of struggle and dedication burning away. Later she found out it was her mother in law who locked in her room was the one who started the fire, and although Andrea, the eldest daughter, was able to rescue her siblings and took them out of the house safely, but there wasn’t enough time to save her paternal grandmother as well.
“She was crazy and at times spoke many inconsistencies, I tried to help but it was hard”. Juanita said, regarding the suicide of his mother.
In fact Antonia Lopez, daughter of Juanita, believes that the disease her grandmother had could be easily diagnose today as Alzheimer.
While speaking of these painful situations in her life, Juanita’s hands move with anxiety and lost sight toward the background behind me. Still she recomposes and continues with the conversation, as she does with her life when the obstacles were really difficult.
After the house burning the life of this family was very hard. They moved several times without a stable home. They lived in Jayuya and Ponce in a time where some farms were still owned by Spanish ranchers with servants, in both of these towns.
Nevertheless, Juanita’s strong and able image provided her circle of family with the example of strength and willingness. This helped their children to become capable people and professionals in the difficult life they lived. Juanita taught them about the real importance of self-believing.
“Everything is in you, you can do whatever you want, and never lose the faith” said Juanita to me giving me an advise. And this was the way she raised her family from the ruins, with her wisdom and way of seeing life.
For this reason, Jose, the son of Juanita, say miracles do exist because up to this day he can’t understand how every day at home each of the 11 children had a plate of food, when economically and acquisitive they did not have much power. For this reason and many more he sees his mother as an angel.
But Juanita has another explanation for these situations, for her God pulled her through the hardships because she helped the families around her community, even though their situation wasn’t good. “I like to share my goods; I did not like to see anyone without certain things I could offer”
In addition, Juanita is very Catholic and although it may be debatable for some her faith in God has led her to achieve many things that without it she wouldn’t have achieved. It is a true example of what should be a good Catholic and Christian. Juanita was very involved in her community churches helping street bums and families. She also gives class to religious students.
Juanita also raised a lot of children of other families and helped her sons and daughters a lot in the raise of their children. “There were a lot of people in these times that gave birth to children but did not take care of them and I can’t stand that so I raise those children” said Juanita.
For Juanita despite belonging to an era which we today find hard to understand; she was visionary, for her education is the most important thing and still holds a grudge towards her father due to the fact of not given her the opportunity to attend school. Juanita never went to school.
Besides everything she also served in her community as a doctor because of all of the natural medicine that she knows. This knowledge was given to her by her father she said.
Juanita suffered the death of one of his daughters, the eldest, due to cancer. This was one of the most difficult moments in her life. “It was devastating” she said, however not losing her composure being the column of her family. While she talks about this her eyes expressed deep suffering.
Around Juanita always dwell peace, tranquility and serenity. Juanita prays the rosary every night asking God for each one of the members of his family including a host of great-grandchildren and even great-great grandchildren.
Furthermore, Juanita is very skilled in the kitchen and in the care of animals. Their children told stories of how she operated sick animals in her farm using knives and sewing thread.
Without a doubt, Juanita has gone through many hard situations in life but never hesitates to do good and help everyone she can, a true believer of granting and being good, because “God provides to those people in a miraculous way” she said referring to the people who live to be good.
Thus, Juanita thinks the problem of the social situation these days is the lack of commitment on God and neighbor, because we are no longer taught to share and to be social beings. “Our town should have a 1,000 women like Juanita because of her social and humans skills” said Georgie González mayor of Jayuya in a family reunion that he participates.