By Roberto H. Gonzalez,
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition August 2016.
That was the case for Kris Kristofferson, as he was raised by a loving Hispanic woman with Mucho Corazon! Yes, it is “Kris” Kristofferson, the big international star, singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. He was born Kristoffer Kristofferson in Brownsville, Texas on June 22, 1936 and was just six months old when Juanita Cantu began caring for him.
Juanita was only 13 years old when she was hired by the Kristofferson family to be the nanny. She also later cared for his sister, Karen, and his brother, Kraig.
Juanita, who was still a child herself, took care of him as if he was her own. It didn’t take long for the two of them together with his siblings to develop a loving relationship that would last a lifetime. Kris has never forgotten the love and attention that Juanita gave him and his siblings as they were growing up. Not a day goes by without Kris remembering her. He calls her “Mom” because he loves her as if she were his real mother. Juanita was the only Mom he ever wanted. To this day, he follows her even as he turned 80 in June of this year.
Last July, when Kris performed with Willie Nelson in Austin, Texas during the 4th of July celebration he said, “I am so close to Mom, I want to see her.” The following day, he and his wife Lisa boarded a private luxury bus and traveled from Austin to McAllen to spend a day with his beloved Mom.
Juanita, now 92, had been living in Brownsville before moving to McAllen and is living at the Barcelona Biltmore Assisted Living home in McAllen.
On July 5th, the facility was filled with joy as Kris visited his Mom and spent the day having fun with her and the other residents.
They enjoyed a special luncheon arranged by Mario and Jeannette San Roman, owners of the Barcelona Biltmore Assisted Living home. Then they played bingo and gave away autographed CDs of Kris and then sang songs.
He makes it a point to call Juanita over the telephone and never misses on special days such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Juanita’s birthday. He sends her flowers for her to enjoy and to keep that mother and son relationship alive. Even at his age of 80, he makes a special effort to visit Juanita.
On past occasions, Kris has invited Juanita to visit his homes in California and Hawaii where she has enjoyed visiting and cooking meals like those they enjoyed together when he was growing up.
Kris Kristofferson’s parents Mary Ann Ashbrook and Lars Henry Kristofferson moved to Brownsville, after his father, a former Major General in the U.S. Air Force became a commercial airline pilot for Pan American Airways flying out of the Brownsville airport. During that period of time, Juanita also had the opportunity to travel with the family and experienced traveling abroad while taking care of Kris and his siblings Karen and Kraig.
During my interview of Juanita Cantu, I asked her if Kris was a hyperactive child, she said, “No and even though I had permission from Mrs. Kristofferson to spank the children if they misbehaved, I never did have to spank them. The children were very obedient and I enjoyed them very much”.
Juanita, what do you remember about Kris’ activities when he was a little boy? “I remember that when he was taking piano lessons, I frequently had to come to his room to get him up and help him get ready. It’s not that he was lazy, but he was not an early riser.”
According to the Beltran family, Kris’s first language was Spanish to which Juanita interjected, “Yes, I taught him Spanish, because it was easier for me at the time.” She also stated, “I also taught Lisa how to make flour tortillas for him as well as tamales”. One of Kris’ favorite dishes is Juanita’s homemade tacos.
As a reporter, I am amazed how a thirteen-year-old girl was able to impress upon the Kristofferson children the sense of such a deep loving relationship that has lasted a lifetime. This is why, when love comes from the heart, it lasts forever.
The mother and son relationship lives on in the hearts of both Kris Kristofferson and Juanita Cantu.
As a child, Juanita says, she was only able to attend Los Ebanos Elementary School in Brownsville before going to work for the Kristofferson’s. She lost her father at a very young age, and had to work to help her mother to keep a roof over their heads.
When she married, Juanita and her husband Eleuterio Cantu from Cuero, Texas and they had six children. One of their children became a medical doctor, another earned her Ph.D. in the field of education, and the rest of her children all earned degrees in business, pharmacy, and education.
Later that July afternoon, Kris played his guitar and asked Juanita what song she wanted to hear, and Juanita answered, “You are my sunshine”. Kris, chuckled and then began singing her request. He also sang a very tender song which made a number of the facility patients cry.
They reminisced about the times when Kris’ biological mother and father moved the family to California. He was a young 10-year-old boy and he missed Juanita so much. Even after Juanita got married to Eleuterio Cantu and had her own son, she was asked by the Kristofferson family if she could come to California. They needed for her to care for the children because they were refusing to stay with their biological grandmother while Kris’ parents traveled abroad.
Juanita stated that she discussed with her husband if she should travel to California with her son to join the Kristofferson’s. He agreed for her to go take care of the children for a period of time.
At the end of the interview Juanita stated, “I was happiest when they were here and it was a joy to have him spend the day with me.” “I was also happy to have had my friends here in this facility meet my boy.” Kris and Lisa stated, “We will return to visit you again sometime soon Mom”.
A few days later, Kris and Lisa sent Juanita two dozen roses as a thank you for the visit. All the residents enjoyed them as they bloomed for many days!
Yes, when Love comes from the heart, it lasts forever! The journey of these two lives is amazing!
Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & The 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient. TBB