PHARR — “I never saw her panic, but at night I would hear her cry.”
Recalling the resilience her mother, Juana Torrez, exhibited after the death of her father in 1980, Veronica Torrez on Wednesday spoke of the woman who raised a family of seven children on her own as a pillar of strength.
“I’m sure it was hard. I would hear her praying. I’m sure she was scared,” Veronica said of her mother, who has been selected as one of The Monitor’s Women We Love, an annual recognition during Women’s History Month.
Juana, now 71, had been a housewife at the time of her husband’s death. She had never learned to drive and never held an official job. She had only been in the United States for just over a decade, and now she was in a situation that saw her become an unemployed widow having to raise the family.
Through it all, she never lost her faith and pushed through adversity to provide a loving and caring household for her children: Albert, Herminio Jr., Veronica, Telesforo, Juan, Esmeralda and Nick.
Many years later, Veronica and Nick recalled their mother’s strength, and the impact it played on their own successes later in life.
“I never really knew we were poor because to me, someone that was poor just didn’t have food,” Nick said. “We had food, even though it was rice and beans. It was good. It was fine. Money was tight, but we were kids. We didn’t really know about money. It wasn’t until I was an adult later on that I started realizing that she did so much. Working minimum wage jobs, trying to come up ahead. She had help, she had help from the government, as much as she needed.”
Born and raised in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, Juana came to the United States in 1967 and soon after married Herminio Torrez.
“When dad was alive, she didn’t really work,” Nick recalled. When Herminio died, Juana was forced to find a way to provide for her family.
“When my dad passed away, she didn’t know how to drive. She had never in her life worked. She had never been alone with seven kids,” Veronica said. “All of a sudden my dad passes away. The oldest (child) is 11 (years old), and the youngest is 1. All of a sudden, it’s like here she is a housewife and a homemaker, forced to learn to do everything practically overnight: work, drive, provide, support, care for 100% in every aspect.”
“It was difficult, very difficult, but here we are,” Juana recalled as she gently wiped tears from her eyes. “My family supported me a lot.”
Juana soon found herself working various field jobs, harvesting sugarcane, cantelope, watermelon and onion. Later she would land a job working at Exquisita Tortillas in Edinburg, where she worked for 16 years.
“She would get the tortillas from the machines,” Nick explained. “The machine would make the tortillas, and it was her job to pick them up and package them. She had to hurry before they fell on the ground.”
Nick remembered coming home from school and finding food already prepared even though his mother was at work.
“Everytime we came home from school, there was food on the stove ready to heat up,” Nick said. “I never knew how it got there. Later on I spoke to her. I said, ‘Mom, how did you do that?’ She said, ‘During my lunch hour, I would rush home and I would cook, and then I would rush back to work, just to make sure that there was food for you guys to eat.’
“Those kinds of struggles … we saw her go through it. We would get home and there was food on the stove.”
Juana’s love and determination pushed all seven of her children to graduate from high school and attend college. They now have successful careers in counseling, medicine and education among others, a feat that is directly attributed to Juana.
“I feel like all of us have always been very strong-hearted,” Veronica said. “I feel like we got that from her. She feeds us her strength. I could probably find a million reasons to complain, but I always try not to because I think she doesn’t complain. If you’re going through something bad, there’s always someone going through something worse. My life will never compare to how she struggled.”
With all her children being adults now with careers, Juana focuses her energy on helping those around her, particularly her neighbors.
“She’ll take her neighbors to their doctor’s appointments, or anytime we have a barbecue, she’ll make sure the neighbors get a plate. They count on her. They depend on her. She does that out of her heart,” Nick said. “That’s always been her. One of her biggest sayings in Spanish, antes lo decia, ‘Haz el bien, y no te fijes en quién.’ Do right, and don’t see to who you do it to. Just do the right thing.
“…We grew up with that. She instilled that kind of stuff in us. I see my mom as our rock. She laid the foundation for us. We didn’t have to struggle like she did because she worked so hard.”
“I have a lot of faith in God,” Juana said in Spanish. “As far back as I can remember, it’s always been to ask God and give God thanks.”