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DOWNEY – What makes the death of 90-year-old Juanita Llamas Barretto extra painful is that she was so much like the mother and grandmother we all know and love.
Born in Jalisco, Mexico on June 24, 1923, she was fiercely traditional, a believer and advocate for hard work, religion and family values.
As a young woman she married Jose Llamas, an agricultural worker who also made money hand-making shoes and horse saddles. Together they had 12 children.
“Dad never had to hire workers,” laughed David Llamas, one of the couple’s seven surviving children. “He put his boys to work – the girls too.”
The family migrated from Jalisco to Michoacan and eventually to Ensenada. If Jose was the family patriarch, Juanita was the queen. She stepped into the role as head of the household when Jose died in 1978.
As the family grew older, their desire for a better quality of life only strengthened. They relocated from Ensenada to Maywood and, a few years later, upgraded to South Gate. They finally “made it” 15 years ago, purchasing a home in Downey.
Juanita’s death on March 27 leaves a giant void in the family.
“The human race is selfish. We don’t want to see them go,” said David, who owns the Mambo Grill restaurant in downtown Downey. “But in her mind, she was ready to go.”
Services for Juanita were held last week at All Souls Cemetery in Long Beach. Among the mourners were officers with the Downey and South Gate police departments, who regularly interacted with Juanita at Mambo Grill.
“The local community has been incredible,” said David. “Downey PD has been great, and also South Gate PD. Businesses, churches, the chamber. They have all made sure we had everything we’ve needed. It really fills my heart to receive all this support.”
David closed his restaurant early last Thursday to attend his mother’s vigil. When he returned to work the following night – after the funeral – he was surprised to see a crowd of 50 people milling outside his restaurant.
The group had just returned from their own funeral service and were waiting for the restaurant to open.
“I think my mom guided them here,” David said. “I hadn’t had any sales in 1 1/2 days and she said, “Here, you need this.”
“My mom really was the queen of the family,” David continued. “I’m hoping me and my brothers and sisters can become a lot more united now than before. That’s what my mom would have wanted. That’s what every mother wants.”
Juanita is survived by a large family, including a brother and sister, seven children; and more than 150 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
Published: April 10, 2014 – Volume 12 – Issue 52