Come on Give Me A Break: The Life Behind an Unbroken Man

The Texas Story Project.

There Juan Lopez Guerrero stood, struggling to work extensive hours trying to provide for his wife and four kids—Sylvia, Joe, Juan Jr., and Edward—with sixty-four dollars a month along with the never-ending bills and financial responsibilities of raising a family.

With a second grade education and the inability to read or write Juan had to go through laborious work that usually is refused by everyone along with surviving the basic racial abuse for being Mexican, to and from work, day in and day out. All the back-breaking work, constant manhandling, and providing for his family making sure that he kept a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, clothes on their back and ensuring their safety surely strained Juan’s own physical and mental health leaving him living as if he were a free slave. But, all of this sacrifice and treacherous pressure of doing literally anything to provide for his family that surely leaves a man broken physically and mentally did not break him. These menacing conditions defined his determination and vigorous efforts through extreme poverty so that he truly achieved the impossible in life. With what Juan has been through and experienced he has truly risen beyond the limits of human strength and survived the life of a free slave to emerge an unbroken man.

Juan Lopez Guerrero was born in Georgetown, Texas in 1934 and lived in a small three-room house with four brothers and five sisters. Juan’s parents, Jusevio and Virginia Guerrero were no strangers to laborious work to provide for the kids in extremely poor conditions as they were at the bottom of the working class. This is where he learned his work ethic. The whole family had to move to Matamoros Mexico due to falling short of sustaining a place in the U.S. While he was growing up, Juan sadly lost two siblings. He lost his brother, Esvaldo, from pneumonia at the tender age of eight years old due to poor health and lack of medical attention. The second sibling that he lost was his baby sister, Catarina, who was diagnosed with the same illness of pneumonia at eighteen months old. That was a hard hand his family was dealt. For work, Jusevio fixed houses in Matamoros for as much money as he could earn and, as for Virginia, she worked as a cook at restaurants to assist in bringing money into the home to better their living conditions. Juan recalls drinking rust water as a child because that was all they had. The harsh water took a toll on his and all of his family’s teeth, with matching rust stains on their teeth as a constant reminder of their sub-standard living conditions. As Juan’s parents worked tedious jobs Juan and his siblings went to school until desperate measures proved to be more important to keep food on the table. So, Juan dropped out at second grade to work in the cotton fields picking cotton to help provide for the family. At such a young age, Juan learned that hard work paid off by helping his family monetarily.

Waking up every day not knowing when his next meal was going to be and how much was at stake in order to get it caused a lot of mental anguish for Juan. He continued his daily endurance of issues because of his heritage, the field owners were all white men that gave nonstop racial abuse as Juan and other workers picked in the field putting in long and back-breaking hours for very little pay. As a child, Juan’s childhood was filled with nothing but working to survive day and night which caused loss of confidence in ever getting ahead. However, with all the mental strain and countless hours of tireless work it was tough to come back to reality when you realized that Juan was still just a kid. This could cause a kid to develop mental anguish, cause him to lose sight of any goals that he set for himself as well as crushing of one’s own spirit and development. A child's physical and mental distress could destroy their sanity, but Juan did get free time to play with his friends, Jose Flores and William Alazan. He and his friends blew off steam by playing baseball and getting lost in their play time that sometimes lead to fights or disagreements from the older kids. One day Juan specifically remembered walking with his brother and his father to a job since they could not afford transportation and were cowering for any type of food they can get their hands on. They stumbled upon a watermelon farm and went up to the house to purchase one. A white man opened the door in frustration as if their hunger issues were wasting the white man’s time and their very presence was bothersome to the farmer. Juan’s father kindly asked the farmer if he could purchase one watermelon to feed his kids and the farmer quickly reached for his rifle and refused the offer. The farmer wanted nothing to do with the Mexicans on his doorstep and cared less that there were starving children behind the begging man. The farmer then threatened to shoot them if they didn’t leave his property at once. So, they left empty handed but drastic situations cause for drastic measures. As they fled the farm, Juan and his brother went back and took a watermelon from the field. The white farmer saw what Juan and his older brother did and he was so angry that he busted out the door and started to fire repeatedly at them. The family ran as fast as they could, praying that they did not fall victim to one the farmers bullets. Finally, as they escaped the farmer, they still were not out of harm’s way because they had to deal with the repercussions from their father for almost being murdered by the farmer for a stolen watermelon. Although they were lectured on not to steal and to work for your food, they also received praise as they were in dire need of food.

As Juan grew up still working at the cotton fields, he realized that he still needed to work more to provide enough to pitch in for the month for his family. Juan got a job when he was sixteen years old washing dishes at a café but from that age everything began to change for him. As the years went by, the family was being torn apart due to the never-ending countless hours just to make it through the month and worrying where the next meal would come from. We all presently never worry about when we will eat but what will we eat. Nevertheless, Juan and his family worked and fought for the chance to stay healthy enough to work, but there was no chance for a full-course meal. When Juan was in Brownsville Texas, he had to search for work by any means necessary to have a chance to survive. As Juan moved back to Texas he was yet again racially bullied and abused by white men and their children just for being Mexican. As time went on, Juan and his family decided to leave for Lubbock, Texas as there was not much work in Brownsville. His father and he worked on installing the rooves of a couple of buildings in the Texas Tech University campus while they lived in Lubbock. Through these terrible hardships and spirit-breaking moments, Juan found love. He dated his lady for two years and that ended up being serious enough that he couldn’t imagine life without her. Happily, in 1954 Juan got married when he was twenty years old and moved out of the house to live on his own with his wife. As his wife stayed at home keeping up with chores around the house, Juan was left to go out and provide for his new family.

A dark stormy day came upon Lubbock for the family. Given the unsafe and poor health conditions and the tremendous amount of laborious work, Juan’s father, Jusevio, died in 1957. Juan was twenty-five years old and had already fathered three of his four children by then. With massive emotional heartbreak from the loss of his father and the hardship it created on the family, Juan and his wife moved to San Antonio, Texas to seek job opportunities and to start a new life in Westside San Antonio. As Juan settled in San Antonio, Virginia later remarried Javier Otero who was an army veteran and was working at the post office. He later passed, releasing them from the vigorous work and the thresholds of the world.

After some years Juan had four kids whose names were Edward, Juan Jr., Joe, and Sylvia Guerrero whom he supported as best as he could. Juan describes them as specifically different. Edward, the oldest, had a violent and bad temper. He was strong and loved to fight for whatever reason, but as time went on his life changed to much kindness and caring when he started a family. The next child, Juan Jr., was a loverboy who loved to impress the ladies and always dressed in current fashion. The next child, Joe, was said to be stubborn, yet loved to explore and Juan said with a chuckle that Joe got away with a lot that went on between his siblings. Joe was a hard worker as well. The youngest child and only girl, Sylvia, was explained by Juan with a twinkle in his eyes that she was the princess and was taken care of by her brothers, yet she held her own and was a hard worker. His children all took to his work ethic and knew what their father had been through and wanted a better life for themselves. They all learned a skill and are experts in their field of work. All of Juan’s kids took part in some sports like baseball, basketball, track, and football to get away from the terrain of their upbringing and how they lived. One memory that Juan recalls is once when the kids were still little and he was doing well for his family and they were driving their car. It became overheated so Juan found a white farmer and asked for some water to cool down the car and the farmer firmly said “No, and I don’t care if you have to push the car either,” as he walked off. Luckily, Juan came upon a kind family who saw what happened and were willing to provide water for Juan’s car.

As work continued, so did the racial abuse as white men would beat up Juan and rob him of anything he had, so he had to watch his back daily in order to ensure his own safety. One scary story was that Juan was tortured just because he was Mexican. He was subject to inhumane beating almost to death but the worst memory was when they tied a rope around his neck and tried hanging Juan from a tree. At that moment, Juan, clinging to life even when all he ever experienced was sacrifice and pain, found the will to fight through and at that moment the branch broke and he fell to the ground gasping for air to fill his lungs. As he headed home, he thought over his life long and hard and took the time to reflect on himself from a different point of view. There Juan Lopez Guerrero stood, struggling and working extensive hours trying to provide for family with sixty-four dollars a month along with the never-ending bills with a second grade education and an inability to articulate anything on paper. He thought about all the back-breaking field work, then the yard work in neighborhoods after he got off of work, all to earn a little more money and he felt like a free slave.

As years passed, the kids grew up and Juan finally retired in 1998 from working as a welding machine operator and life was finally going to go smooth and peacefully until July 2001 when Juan’s wife died from pancreatic cancer. He was devastated with losing the love of his life. The tragic loss was almost too much to bear. In her remembrance, he vowed to always visit her grave every week to relive the lovely memories they shared for almost 48 years of marriage. Juan however remarried a couple of years later, but yet receiving bad news again as his new wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She later passed from insufficient function of her body and Juan was widowed a second time. He felt the void that through all the hardship things couldn’t get any worse. He was wrong yet again, his second wife’s family filed a case and sued Juan for the inability to care for his wife and with the inability to read, write, and speak fluent English. Years of struggle unfolded. However, Juan’s kids, Sylvia and Joe, were alongside Juan through the whole trial and with many attacks from the other family. Juan felt accomplished for surviving this long life -- from physical and mental instability to political trials. Juan still worked at the time, doing yard work and other lightly laborious work along with collecting soda cans to be recycled until he turned 80 years of age. But just as life was looking good, Juan was devastated again as one of his legs was cut and Juan developed flesh-eating bacteria. Juan immediately was transported to the hospital and undertook many surgeries and medication along with months of physical therapy and through all the pain Juan went through many thoughts of giving up and ending it all. Juan was at the edge of being physical and mentally broken to the point of death, but as he was visited at the hospital from many family members and constant support from his kids, Juan fought the impossible fight and left with great health, keeping both legs.

Through all of Juan’s trials and tribulations he fought through the deathly sting of life and is visited by family members not only to converse but to appreciate the living monument that sustained the whole family to grow and thrive. And there Juan Lopez Guerrero stood, struggled to work extensive hours and provided for his wife and four kids Sylvia, Joe, Juan Jr., and Edward with sixty-four dollars a month along with the never-ending bills.

Christian Guerrero is a student at St. Mary’s University at San Antonio who is majoring and studying in Bioinformatics and Computer Science. Christian is from San Antonio Texas and the proud grandson of Juan Lopez Guerrero. Not only does he want to help people, but he wants to help by doing what he loves through science and help seek cures to diseases along with answering to our present questions/problems.

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