Marriage is a delicate dance. It requires two people to find compromise when comprise seems to be impossible. It teaches people to love each other’s faults. All in all, marriage is a hard work that truly needs both parties to work together. Maybe that is why so many fail, but also, a lot of couples make it. And those who make it are the ones we celebrate. Yes, 10 years or 20 years of marriage is a milestone, but 70 years together is a lifetime that can only unite the real soul mates.
Juan y Dolores Barajas are the real life soul mates, and the couple is celebrating 70 years of love this year. Let us go back in time, before this beautiful celebration of love, before six children, before the successful restaurants Lolita’s Café and Old Mexico that couple ran during their life. Before all that there was just young girl named Dolores who met and fell in a love with young man Juan. Every love story has a beginning; this is the love story of Dolores and Juan Barajas.
Juan Fidencio Barajas Cervantes was born in Donna, Texas, but raised in Mexico. In the late 1940s of last century when World War II was finally over people were full of hope for a better tomorrow and Juan was not an exception. While working in a newspaper in Mexico City he met a young woman. The couple fell in love and got married in 1947. They slowly settled in the daily routine of marriage. Years were passing and family was growing. After a while, the couple realized that a “better tomorrow” can be easier achieved up north. By 1958 the decision was made and Juan left to the United States shortly after. After arriving in the United States, he worked different jobs while living with some relatives in Moline, while Dolores and the kids were in Mexico waiting for him to send for them.
For two long years the couple was living in different countries, divided by miles and miles of land. People now talk how hard it is to have a long distance relationship, but imagine being far away from the love of your life and the only way you might communicate is through regular letter mailing or what is now known as “snail mail.” For two years Juan and Dolores lived separately, longing to see each other, loving and waiting for the day they could be reunited again.
Being a strong willed woman, Dolores made a decision not to continue waiting, but go to Juan herself. She gathered her documents and went to the US embassy in Mexico. She was done waiting for tomorrow. She was going to make tomorrow happen. The official assisting asked her what town she wanted to go to, her answer was Moline, IL to which he replied that he was also from Moline, IL. Once the embassy approved visas for her and her children, they packed and headed north to reunite with husband and father. Dolores did not let Juan know they were coming.
“We came all the way from Mexico City by train to the border and then we came by Greyhound [bus] all the way from El Paso to Moline. My mom alone with five of us kids,” Linda, Juan and Dolores oldest daughter, shares her memories.
Now imagine being alone in an unfamiliar country, where everyone around you speak a language you don’t understand and there are five children with you, who get tired and frustrated as much or sometimes even more than adults. For many this is a nightmarish situation, but Dolores is not the one to whine.
While traveling by bus, Linda recalls that they missed their connection in Springfield, IL and Dolores had to find the way to spend the night. When she was preparing her kids to spend the night at the bus station a worker at the station told her she could not stay there. Seeing the communication barrier the station worker called a local convent where a Spanish speaking nun spoke to her and arranged for them to stay at a hotel paid by the local church and that a police officer will pick them up to take to the hotel.
Linda the oldest daughter recalls that the police officer introduce himself in Spanish as the Police Chief and said that his mother was also from Mexico.
“He was tall and handsome. He looked like the movie star John Gavin” Linda recalls.
The next morning the police chief took them for breakfast before sending them off on the bus.
“He gave each one of us kids a dollar” Linda added.
After a few hours on the bus Dolores and the children were in the Quad Cities. Now imagine after all the adventures on the road you finally arrive at your intended destination, but no one is there to greet you. You don’t know the address or how to get to the residence. Dolores Barajas knew that Juan worked at the Le Claire Hotel and luckily at that time the Moline Greyhound station was across the street from the Le Claire Hotel.
At that time Juan Barajas worked as a bellman at the old Hotel Le Claire. For Juan it was a regular day like any other. He was working, while thinking again and again for ways to bring his family over. Never in a million years could he have imagined that that particular day he will finally see Dolores and the kids, after two years of living apart. As Juan Barajas remembers that on that day one of his coworkers was asking him if he was married. He thought that it was a question so strange and out of the blue that he replied her that he was and asked her why was she asking. And to his surprise he was told his wife and kids came to hotel asking for him. He could not believe his ears, after all Dolores supposed to be in Mexico. Was it a joke? So he went to check at the back door. And what do you know; there she was with five kids in tow. Mario the oldest of the boys ran up to Juan shouting “Papá”. Two long years of living in separate countries ended in the surprise of his life for Juan Barajas.
They say love surpasses frontiers, in the love story of Dolores and Juan love literally crossed the border. After the reunion in1961, that could be a movie script or romance novel, the couple started to build their lives in Quad Cities. They opened their first business Lolita’s Café in 1965 in Moline. That same year they had their first US born child Dolores or Dee Dee for short and Juan landed a job at John Deere Harvester. In the 70s and 80s they had Don Juan’s Taco House and Cantina in downtown Moline. While Dolores ran the restaurant, Juan worked at John Deere.
“They’ve always been so united in what they’ve achieved. You hang around with them, you work,” Linda describes her parents.
The Barajas were working hard and living surrounded by loving family. Years were passing. Juan and Dolores were enjoying their retirement, traveling to Mexico and back. They were satisfied with life and the success their children had achieved. Unfortunately, nobody is free from the adversities of life. There is nothing worse in life than for parents to see their children die before them. Dolores and Juan Barajas had to endure this pain. The couple lost their son Mario and daughter Marcela only a few years apart. Dolores was devastated. Part of her heart was torn out, and she was looking for ways to calm the pain of their loss. The kitchen made her pain more bearable and the couple came out of retirement opening Lolita’s Taco House in Silvis.
“Cooking is in my heart,” Dolores explained. Cooking was the balsam that healed her soul.
Now retirement was out of the question. They went on and in 2003 Juan and Dolores opened Old Mexico, while Lolita’s Taco House was run by their youngest daughter. Her cooking was a healing force for Dolores, for her customers it was enjoyment of delicious foods. They might not work in a restaurant anymore, they finally retired for good last December, but they continue loving each other every day a little bit more than yesterday.
Dolores and Juan Barajas started their journey together 70 years ago in 1947. They lived life loving each other and making it work. In spite of the misfortunes they had to go through their love did not fizzle out, instead it grew stronger. Marriage is a delicate dance, Juan and Dolores Barajas know very well how to dance this romantic bolero. Theirs is the story of enduring love that crosses borders and endures pain, grows stronger and more beautiful. 70 years of marriage not just any anniversary, but it is THE anniversary. Congratulations to Juan and Dolores Barajas for a lifetime of love.
Video and photos by Joshua Ford of Ford Photography