Today my family laid Papá Chepe to rest. I couldn’t be there for the wake and funeral. I wasn’t there to sing alongside dad, Lori and Danny nor there to pray the Rosary. I didn’t get to see Adrian serve as a pallbearer and didn’t get to hug my mom as she crumbled in tears. I couldn’t hug my tías, tíos and primos and share funny stories over a bowl of menudo. But I was there to see him just six weeks ago and that makes me feel at peace.
Still, my parents knew I was sad I couldn’t attend. To help me feel included, my mom and dad asked me to write the eulogy as they know how much I love to write. I was tremendously honored and drew on Papá Chepe’s own words from our interview as well as one of my mom’s favorite stories.
Lori read the eulogy and added some words of her own. We couldn’t sing together this time, but this was close enough.
When I started writing this eulogy I focused on the facts of José Ureño’s life – or as I knew him, Papá Chepe. The first draft was filled with many dates and numbers. 1920 – the year he was born in Ciudad Juárez. Two – his age when his parents, Apolonio and Cecilia, moved back to their native El Cargadero. 1943 – the year he married Antonia Saldivar.
1944 – the year he first came to the United States to work as a bracero in Salinas. Eight – the number of children God gave him.
1956 – the year his older sister Margarita sponsored his immigration. Three – the number of homes he had in El Cargadero, Tijuana and East LA. 71 – the number of years he was married to Antonia before she passed away. 96 – his current age.
Those numbers and facts are important, of course. But they don’t tell enough of the story of José Ureño’s life and why we loved him so much. Nor do they illustrate how much he loved his wife Antonia and the beautiful large family they were blessed with.
They do not tell us about his smile that reflected a personality full of joy and happiness. They do not tell us how much he loved God and the strength of his faith. And they don’t tell us how much he gave to others.
These stories, I hope will tell you.
Six years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Papá Chepe and record a conversation about his life. He told me about how he came to marry Antonia. From a young age, he had always admired the Saldivar family for their kindness. Many years before, Apolonio worked for Leonardo Saldivar and Juan Saldivar, Antonia’s grandfather and father. One day, Sr. Saldivar asked Apolonio why he always wore the same huaraches. Apolonio responded, “Why, these are the only shoes I own. I can’t afford anything else.” Sr. Saldivar told his son Juan to buy some good shoes for Apolonio the next time he went to Zacatecas. The Saldivar men kept their word and Apolonio got new shoes. José learned this story at a young age and thus knew Antonia was from a good family.
But courting her was not easy. She didn’t have much time for boys with housework and caring for her brothers who saw her as their mother. Plus, she had great respect for father. In those days, girls didn’t come out to flirt with boys and José couldn’t just send her a text message. The only way to see your sweetheart was to wait for her at the bailes. Messages were passed through the girl’s trusted male relatives, like a cousin or brother. And even if you did go to visit her, it wasn’t guaranteed that you would get to see her. This happened to José once. He rode his horse two hours over the hills to el Rancho de Aguas just to see Antonia. But when he arrived, Antonia came to the window to say she couldn’t come out to because her father was home. And so, José rode all the way back to El Cargadero. He told me this is why he likes the song “La Feria de las Flores” which has a line “en mi caballo retinto, yo he venido de muy lejos.” It was quite the romantic gesture and even though she couldn’t see him that time, he won her heart. Antonia and José married on January 30, 1943.
Papá Chepe was a very giving and generous man. He and Mamá Toni helped so many with no expectations of getting anything in return. They both knew that they had been extremely blessed. It was this giving that he was most proud of late in life. One day he was in church here at St. John Vianney and heard Padre Roberto speak about the needs of Hogar Calasanz, an orphanage in Tijuana. They were running out of space for all the children. At the same time, José and Antonia hadn’t been able to sell their home in Tijuana. So he decided the best thing to do would be to donate the home to the orphanage. The only thing he wanted was for the home to be called San José.
My mom tells me a story that illustrates Papá Chepe’s great faith. Many years ago, El Cargadero was plagued with a severe drought. Many of José’s peers hired well-educated engineers to help them find a place to dig a well. Papá Chepe entrusted God for this. He built a well in the garage of his home of El Cargadero.
The well was an abundant source of water. It never dried. Other Cargaderenses would come to José and ask him which engineer had helped him find water. José’s answer, was always “El de arriba” (the one from above). His peers didn’t believe him and accused José of being selfish and not sharing his good fortune. But that just made José repeat himself. It was God who helped him. And because it was God who helped him, he would always share the water from the well with anyone who asked. As we’ve said, Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni were very fortunate but also giving.
A few weeks after Papa Chepe’s stroke in January 2014, I learned that San José was the patron saint of a Happy Death. It’s said that since San José was with Mary and Jesus when he died, he died happy. In that scary time when we didn’t know what was going to happen, this knowledge calmed me as I knew how devoted Papá Chepe was to San José. But that was not Papá Chepe’s time to go. The stroke brought our family closer together. It showed us that the selflessness and love he had always shown in caring for his own family came back tenfold.
In the days before and after Papa Chepe’s passing I was reminded once again of San José. Papá Chepe led a happy life filled with family and love. As he took his last breaths, he was surrounded by his family, those who loved him so, so much. And soon he’d be with Mamá Toni again. What couldn’t be happier than that?