|Photo I took of Juanita Garcia at her home in McAllen.|
According to her niece Anna Martha Garcia, the Tejano Roots Hall of Famer was a social and loving person throughout her lifetime.
"She was always ready to go to any type of events that families would have or gatherings," Anna said. "If only the world believed (in love) more like she did, it would be such a wonderful place."
I met Juanita once, two years ago. On my way to her house, I got lost within her neighborhood. I walked into a nearby beauty salon to ask for directions. I noticed a sweet old woman that was just about to leave and without even thinking I just blurted out, "Are you Juanita Garcia?". She just lit up and said "Yes". She was getting her hair done for my visit.
We left the Botello's Hair Studio together and she started telling me all about her career. She also cracked plenty of jokes.
"Very very warm, kind-hearted, always giving," Anna said. "She was very, very loving. I know that I will never come across another lady like that."
Born on February 14, 1930 in McAllen, Juanita didn't start singing until she was 18 years old.
"Today, girls start singing very young and their parents support them," Juanita told me in Spanish in 2012. "But [my parents] weren't like that, they were very strict, they wouldn't let me."
When she was 21, she got her first big break. After entering and winning a local talent show contest, she was signed to Discos Falcón.
Fellow McAllen singer Delia Gutierrez Pineda remembers those earlier years with Juanita.
"It was way back in the 50's," Pineda said. "She was a beautiful girl, a very lovely girl. She had a fantastic voice. I loved the way she had a strong voice, it was very nice. She had several records with Falcón that made her real famous."
A bolero composed by Rafael Ramirez Jr. titled "Llorarás" was her biggest hit. Other songs that she recorded include "Cucurrucucú", "Anoche Estuve Llorando", "Paloma Piquito de Oro", and "Los Pájaros".
Pineda says that Juanita was very busy recording and touring during the 1950's. When I talked to Juanita, she told me she toured with the following acts — Orquesta Falcón, Beto Villa, El Piporro, Ángel Infante, Los Alegres de Terán and Los Donneños.
Juanita moved to Houston in the 1960's. During her brief period there, she performed with local jazz legend Rene Sandoval.
"She moved to Houston, she worked with us over there for maybe a year," Sandoval said. "She had a great voice. I loved it. She was a true professional. She always dressed to the tilt. "
In the 1970's, Juanita experienced some medical issues with her throat that marked the end of her professional singing career. She moved on to the next stage of her life, which involved her taking over the family business — Garcia Grocery store on 1406 S. 16th Street in McAllen.
That's where Patrulla "Patty" Adelaida Ortega first met Juanita, ten years ago.
"I turned 18 (years old) here with her," Ortega said in Spanish about her first memories of Juanita. "When I or my husband had a birthday, she would start singing songs that she used to sing (in her youth)."
Five years ago, Juanita suffered a serious seizure that limited her mobility. Ortega moved into her home and became her caretaker. The bond between the two grew deeper as the years passed by.
"She loved my kids, she used to call my youngest el pajarito (birdie) cause he talks so much," laughs Ortega.
Ortega notes that Juanita was filled with joy this past Holiday season. Ortega didn't expect her to pass away so soon. By this point, she had became a very important person in Ortega's life.
"I never knew my (biological) mom, so I think life put (Juanita) in my path (for a reason)," Ortega said. "I view her as my mother, so to me, she is my mother."
While she still had a sharp memory at her advanced age, Juanita struggled in recent years with osteoporosis. Last year she fell and fractured her femur bone. She became bed-ridden, and started to get congestive heart failure. Anna informs me that is what took Juanita away from her loved ones.
"I was there on her death bed, she took her last breath at 6:53 in the morning," Anna said. "She was at peace while she was passing. Her music was playing. We knew she could hear. We had some wonderful people that never left me and they never left her bedside. The neighbors were really good people, all of them."
Anna tells me that what truly truly characterized Juanita's life was the amount of love and compassion she had for the people that surrounded her. That is what drew so many wonderful people by her side, throughout her long life. She will be deeply missed.
"(She was) a woman that strongly believed in love," Anna said. "One strong memory, and I will always keep this to heart would be that she'd say, 'Always remember that you must have love in life, because without love, there is nothing.'"