BY RICARDO CAVAZOS
MERCEDES — Looking back at 91 years of life, Jesus Longoria breaks out into a song — one of the many Mexican rancheras and corridos he knows by memory.
When asked by his daughter Lucinda the name of the song, Longoria chuckles and said, “I don’t know what it’s called!”
Then he immediately belts out another song — this one at full throttle and he goes deeply into the tune with passion and intensity for a good two minutes before stopping and saying, “that’s a good one, too! I don’t know the name of that one either.”
It’s this zest for life that is one of the trademarks of Jesus Longoria, a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States in the late 1920s when he was 15 years old with one goal in mind.
“A trabajar!” he said, and work he did.
Jesus’ life continues to be an inspiration for his seven children and many grandchildren. For Father’s Day 2018, they are grateful to still have their patriarch.
“I can’t say enough about my Dad,” Lucinda Longoria said. “He’s been a father to not only me but my kids, a great grandpa and role model.”
Celia Longoria, Jesus’ youngest daughter, said her father’s drive to work and make something of himself in his new country was so strong that he lied about his age, saying he was 18 when applying for jobs. His life of work was hard, physical, and unyielding. He worked for Missouri Pacific Railroad, putting down tracks, and in a terrible accident, lost his right eye at 24 when a flying spike struck him.
When asked about that setback and if got him down, he answer was immediate.
“I kept working, yes sir!” he said. “In those days, no one helped you. It was up to you to help yourself.”
Like many Rio Grande Valley Mexican-American families of earlier decades, Jesus and his wife Concepcion headed up a migrant family that traveled north every year to work in harvesting fields throughout the Midwest. He also worked for years digging out deep holes for the sort of water wells that dot the Valley and are used for irrigation.
His seven children saw their father never give up through all of the hard work and setbacks — the biggest one being the passing in 1994 of his childhood sweetheart and bride of over 40 years — and just keep going, moving and working.
Longoria’s children, who all grew up in Mercedes, have followed his path of hard work. Lucinda is a teacher, Celia is the director of public relations for the San Benito school district, another son is an electrician, and his youngest and namesake, Jesus Jr., just retired from a 30-year career in the Air Force, a chief master sergeant.
“My Dad is happy go lucky,” Celia Longoria said. “He decided a long time ago he was going to keep going, moving, living life to the fullest.”
“I’ve lived a good life and my life is complete,” Jesus said.
His eyes lit up. Another song was on the way.