Hard-working father of 3 just began third U.S. stay
His first two stays in the United States went just as Guadalupe Maldonado hoped.
He had work, classes to learn English, family to help out if he needed it, schools for his children.
And there was money. Wages high enough that a hard worker like Maldonado could put in a few years at a job and make enough to return to Mexico, invest the cash in his family's farm outside Celaya and live comfortably until the economy - and the farm - took another hit.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF MALDONADO FAMILY
Guadalupe Maldonado, left, was an amateur bicycle racer who won trophies and other prizes.
By the time Maldonado and his family made their third trip to the Palatine area in December 1992, it had become almost a routine - a routine he loved.
In those first two stays, he had made friends and grown accustomed to life here. He appreciated that for as hard as he worked in Mexico, he could earn wages here that made him wealthy in comparison. With that money, he could sometimes treat his wife and children to nice meals cooked at home, new clothes or games.
Then Maldonado took the job at Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Palatine.
"Lupe," as his friends and family called him, was to receive his first paycheck from Brown's - about $230 - on Friday, Jan. 8, 1993. He was going to use the money to repay his brother part of a loan used for plane tickets so the family could arrive in Palatine in time for Christmas.
Instead, Maldonado became one of seven people gunned down at Brown's that night, killed in what became the area's worst mass murder. The 47-year-old left behind a young wife and three sons, boys who 10 years later say the thought of that night still makes them shudder.
A cook at Brown's, Maldonado was cleaning up the kitchen when he and six co-workers were corralled just after 9 p.m. and shot - their bodies piled on and near one another, five in a freezer, two in a cooler at the restaurant, police say.
One shot hit Maldonado in the top of his head, another in his forehead. A third bullet went through his right hand, police say. He also had a knife cut on one of his forearms.
Maldonado's brother, Pedro, believes the arm and hand injuries show that Lupe tried to fight the assailants.
He was a good man, but a tough man - one you didn't want to cross, one who had seen violence in his days in Mexico and wasn't afraid to fight if necessary, Pedro said.
Finally having suspects behind bars makes Maldonado's family feel better, but not much. It doesn't answer the question of why. And it does nothing to comfort Maldonado's wife Beatriz and sons - the youngest, Salvador, who now lives with his mom in Mexico, and Juan and Javier, now young men in their 20s who moved back to Palatine a few years ago.
Pedro says it's ironic that the men took money when they fled.
His brother would have gladly handed over the cash in his pocket, if money is what they needed, Pedro said.
"Guadalupe was a good man," he added. "He would have helped … no matter what. That's the kind of person he was."
Maldonado was able to overcome the poverty of Mexico by coming to the United States armed with cooking skills he learned in his youth and honed out of necessity.
Growing up the third of nine children, he often helped out in the kitchen at home in Mexico, making meals for his younger siblings.
During his first trip to the States, at age 30, Maldonado lived with four of his brothers, all of them bachelors. If they ate a home-cooked meal, one of his brothers recalls, Lupe was the one who made it.
Cooking also was his ticket to jobs in the Northwest suburbs.
He arrived for the first time in 1975, just months after his brother-in-law Jose. They were the first in the family to come to the United States, and both men got jobs as dishwashers at the Ye Olde Town Inn restaurant in downtown Mount Prospect.
Within weeks, Maldonado was promoted to cook, owner Tod Curtis recalled. He quickly became a prized employee, someone who could be trusted to work hard even when Curtis wasn't watching.
"He was first class," Curtis said. "You couldn't find a better person."
So when Maldonado asked if his four brothers could work at the restaurant as well, Curtis didn't hesitate. The brothers worked and lived together in Mount Prospect, saving money to send back to Mexico by sharing an apartment on Busse Road. At night, Maldonado would go to English classes at Wheeling High School.
About four years later, Maldonado and his brother Pedro moved back to Celaya. They went, Pedro said, to find wives.
When Pedro met his future wife, Juana, it was like hitting the jackpot, he said. Juana had a younger sister, Beatriz, who was immediately drawn to Lupe, despite the fact he was twice her age. Shortly after Pedro and Juana were married, Lupe and Beatriz tied the knot. Lupe was 34, Beatriz 17.
Beatriz was attracted to Maldonado because he was outgoing and friendly, she recalls, not to mention handsome. A former amateur bicyclist who won trophies and prize money from local races, Maldonado was in good physical shape. He was mature, too, and provided the stability Beatriz wanted.
Beatriz was pregnant when they married in 1979, and a few months later, the couple's first son, Juan Pablo, was born. Javier, their second son, arrived just more than two years later.
The family lived on the farm outside Celaya. But by 1982, finances grew tight again, and Maldonado suggested they return to the Northwest suburbs. There, the family found an apartment near Pedro's family in Palatine, and Maldonado went back to work at the Olde Town.
Beatriz worked once in a while at the restaurant, too, helping out in the kitchen and washing dishes. In their free time, they gathered with friends and family.
Every Sunday, Pedro organized a soccer game in a field next to the former Palatine school that now houses the village's police station. Most of the men who played were friends from work or friends of Maldonado's brothers. Some were people Maldonado had helped find jobs; others were newcomers he welcomed into the local Hispanic community.
Most Sundays, Maldonado would take the boys with him to play soccer. It is one of their clearest memories of their father.
"He had many friends," Juan Pablo said recently. "They came from all over."
In 1987, Beatriz became pregnant again. She and Maldonado decided to return to Mexico to have their third son, Salvador, and to put in more time on the family's farm, which Maldonado and each of his siblings took turns working.
Beatriz was happy to be back in Mexico. She missed her family, and wanted to have their third baby in her hometown.
But it was only a matter of years before the farm started failing yet again. With the Mexican economy suffering, the Maldonados decided to return once again to Palatine.
Maldonado planned to go back to the Olde Town. He talked to Pedro, who was still living in Palatine, and arranged for the family to stay with his brother until he made enough money to get them their own place. They planned to take the bus, arriving sometime in January.
But Pedro had a better idea. Why not fly and arrive in time for the holidays? He loaned Maldonado money for the tickets - more than $1,000 - and then picked the family up at O'Hare International Airport two days before Christmas.
As it turned out, the job at the Olde Town wasn't available until spring. In the meantime, Maldonado went to work at Brown's Chicken. The owner, Lynn Ehlenfeldt, liked that Maldonado was older, that he spoke English and had experience cooking, Beatriz recalled.
Maldonado liked working at Brown's, Beatriz added. It was steady work, and he liked the people who worked alongside him - the same people who were by his side when they all died.
Maldonado was 47 when he was killed. His sons were 13, 10 and 5.
Beatriz, then 30, and Salvador moved back to Mexico. She had her husband buried in the family's plot near their land outside Celaya.
Beatriz said her husband was a hard worker who lived for his family, especially his three boys.
"He was very loving, always wanted to provide for us," she said, speaking recently from her home in Mexico. "He worked so hard to give us all we needed."
In a Palatine apartment covered with pictures of their father, sons Juan Pablo, 23, and Javier, 20, say they still think of him every day. They worry about their mother, too, and how she and their youngest brother are getting along. Beatriz never has remarried.
That, the boys say, is because they won't let her.
The memory of their father is still very much alive, they say, and no one can replace him.
"We don't want another father," Juan Pablo said, smiling but only half-joking. "The first one, that's it."