Juanita Reyes Mendoza
May 27, 1925 – August 26, 2019
Juanita was born in Melvin, Texas to Epifania Franco and Simon Reyes affectionately known as “Mamapana” and “Papamon.” At age six, she moved with her parents to Mexico, their home country, and was raised in the area of Torreón, Coahuila. She always took great pride in saying how much her parents instilled in her a strong value for education. To get to elementary school growing up on a ranch in Reforma, she would ride for a mile through a cornfield on a horse with no saddle accompanied by a small dog tied to the back for protection. She even went to live with extended family to attend high school in Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico and would come home by train to visit her parents and siblings on the weekends.
She has been a resident of San Jose, California for 70 years. Returning to the U.S., she and her family moved to the Salsipuedes neighborhood of East San Jose. She said it was named “get out if you can” due to the poverty and the unpaved roads that would turn to mud when it rained. In her early 20’s, she met and married Emilio Aguiniga Mendoza. They met at a dance in Downtown San Jose. Emilio and her father went with Cesar Chavez to San Francisco to petition for paved streets and lights for the neighborhood. She would laugh that she “got out” of the neighborhood wearing a white dress when she married Emilio. They were married at Five Wounds Catholic Church in a wedding that was so stunning that it was written about in detail in the newspaper with a beautiful photograph highlighting the bride in her wedding dress. During their 20 year marriage, they had six children together all of whom went to Catholic schools. They owned an elegant Mexican restaurant named El Sol on Willow Street in Willow Glen. She was a devoted housewife and an unconditionally loving mother. Juanita was in her 40’s when they divorced.
She then went back to school determined to continue her education to pursue a professional career path in order to provide for herself and her children. She completed her American high school diploma in 8 months and participated in the 70’s in the Women’s Re-entry Education Program at West Valley Community College. Studying until 4 a.m. while on her own raising her four children who were still at home, she graduated with her A.A. degree and earned a scholarship to Santa Clara University, a Jesuit Catholic University. There she received her B.A. in Psychology and her M.A. in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling.
Juanita worked for 30 years as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for Gardner Health Services at Centro de Bienestar, a community mental health clinic serving predominantly Latino families. She loved her career and happily worked until she was 80 years old. For her years of dedication and service to the Latino community, she was honored with the “Portrait of Success” award. Following in her footsteps, all of her children went to college. A lifelong learner at age 90, she decided that she wanted to learn to play the guitar and attended lessons at the School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza.
She was a dedicated Catholic and a 60 year parishioner of St. Leo the Great Church. She especially loved the pan dulce, cafecito y platica after the Spanish mass. Her deep faith, overall healthy lifestyle, strong connection with nature, love of the arts and dedication to and by her family and friends helped her overcome many health challenges over the years and come back strong. She survived hip replacements, a brain aneurysm, strokes, kidney disease and cancer. But she never let these things define her. She was more concerned with living her best life than focusing on these challenges. She was knowledgeable in traditional medicines, loved teas and balanced those practices with Western medicine.
Juanita was a wonderful storyteller and had an amazing photographic long term memory. She had a great love for animals and her favorite pet growing up was a mischievous domesticated raccoon named Monito. More recently for pets she had two loving dogs, Dino and Lucky, and her two songbirds Patito and Bonito.
Juanita is survived by her six devoted children Emilio Mendoza, Jr., Christian Mendoza, Michael Mendoza, Elizabeth Mendoza-Weitzman (Jack Weitzman, son-in-law), John Mendoza and Mary Mendoza. She was a devoted grandmother and cherished her grandchildren Gabriel Weitzman (Tiffany Weitzman, granddaughter-in-law), Anna Weitzman, Mattie Walker-Mendoza and Salvador Walker-Mendoza as well as one great-grandchild Sophia Grace Weitzman. She was the eldest of eight children and the last of her siblings to survive, which included Linda Ramirez, David Reyes, Alicia Rojas, Raul Reyes, Alma Alvarez, Angie Guerrero and Irma Riley.
Her beauty, intelligence, strength, laughter and faith will be missed by all who knew her and most especially she will be missed for the twinkle in her eyes.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Stroke Recovery Center and Gardner Health Services. The links to make a donation are listed below.
- Visitation Sunday, September 8, 2019
- Rosary Sunday, September 8, 2019
- Mass of Christian Burial Monday, September 9, 2019
- Committal Monday, September 9, 2019