Home Musician Saint Paul’s matriarch and musician celebrates her 100th birthday

Saint Paul’s matriarch and musician celebrates her 100th birthday

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Hundreds of people who gathered on Sunday to celebrate Juanita Moran’s 100th birthday in St. Paul didn’t just recognize a matriarch and a musician. They also honored the beauty of the city’s vibrant Mexican-American culture which Moran helped preserve and promote.

“She’s one of the pioneers. She’s a pillar … in the sense that she, through her parents, brought many customs from Mexico,” said Marie Zellner, Moran’s daughter.

Her birthday on Sunday was even more special, her friends and family said, as she survived a dangerous COVID-19 crisis in late 2020 at the age of 99. We didn’t expect her to get there.

“For me it was a miracle,” Zellner said. “His faith, our faith, has come through.”

Moran and his family were among the first Mexican Americans to populate St. Paul’s West Side and helped found Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church over 90 years ago.

She has also worked to share the region’s Latino culture through music and dance, playing the piano and accordion, and creating the region’s first traditional Mexican dance group.

“Even at 100, all she does is wish she could do more,” said Debbie Luna, community member and parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “She’s praying for everyone on the West Side.”

Moran spent much of his multi-hour party greeting the line of waiting visitors to wish him luck. Guests ate Moran’s favorite dishes: baked chicken, mashed potatoes, refried beans, and sopa fideo, a Mexican pasta dish.

She gave a short speech thanking “the man above” for the celebration and for his long life.

“Once you hit 100, there’s not much you can do,” said Moran, wearing a red blazer and a red and white flower bodice. “The little work I can do, I do.”

Moran’s seven children attended the feast, as did his four living siblings.

Until five years ago, Moran was still active in church, helping with fundraisers and playing music, Zellner said. Now she spends her time singing, praying, baking tortillas and telling stories.

A founding member of the Notre-Dame de Guadalupe women’s group, the Guadalupanas, she is now one of the two oldest members, along with a 102-year-old woman.

At the party, a musical trio called Los Amigos sang the Moran serenade, playing “Las Mañanitas”, the traditional Spanish birthday song, and “Cielito Lindo”. Her children and siblings took turns dancing with her.

Zellner shared a short biography of Moran, interwoven with stories of the growth of the West Side Latin American community.

Moran is the eldest daughter of Francisco and Cresencia Rangel, Mexican immigrants who arrived in Saint-Paul in the 1920s. Moran was not yet 5 years old at the time.

The Rangels settled in an area of ​​St. Paul known as the West Side Flats, now an industrial park near the downtown St. Paul airport and the freeway. 52 years old, and soon began helping other immigrants in St. Paul. Zellner said there was always a family or two who stayed at home.

Francisco worked with the Mexican Consulate in Chicago, helping immigrants resolve various issues requiring international assistance.

The growing Mexican-American community quickly needed a Catholic church where they could worship, and they went to the Archdiocese for help.

The community, with the Rangels playing a leading role, found a site for their church – a former bar – and bought half the building. They worked together to make the space the first Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Zellner said. Eventually the church moved to a new location on the west side – south of downtown St. Paul, along Cesar Chavez Street.

The Rangel family home has always been filled with music, and in his twenties, Moran founded a Mexican folk dance group.

His daughter, Rebecca Moran Cusick, continued this tradition, successfully launching Los Alegres Bailadores some 45 years ago.

Dancers performed at Moran’s party, a whirlwind of pink, coral, blue and green dresses. Many of the dancers were Moran’s great-granddaughters.

Among the few hundred guests, Maria Sarzoza said she attended the party because turning 100 is rare. As a longtime member of Our Lady of Guadalupe, she has known Moran and his family since the 1970s.

“It’s very beautiful to have the Mexican culture that she really believes in,” Sarzoza said of Moran.

Another guest, Geraldine Lopez, said her grandparents helped found Our Lady of Guadalupe with Moran’s parents. The Mexican-American community was very close-knit and Moran’s family was a part of it.

“Friends – you can almost erase that and call them family,” she said. “Everyone was helping each other.”

Lopez called Moran upbeat, positive, loving and generous. “She’s like everyone’s grandmother, everyone is abuelita,” she said.

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781