Our world has lost one of its kindest citizens.
Jess Barajas, a lifelong resident of the City of San Fernando, passed away this week.
Funeral services are pending: however, there is no doubt that there will be a huge number of people in attendance who will share a common thread of great friendship and affection for him.
When you talk to people about Jess, they often described him as a “best” friend — because that’s how he treated people.
“Jess was more than a gorgeous man with a dazzling smile, he exemplified what it meant to be a good and decent man, “ said Michele Loya Chhabra, who was trained by him at the L A County Department of Children and Family Services. and worked with him for 20 years. Through his caring style of teaching and guiding numerous social workers and auxiliary staff, he positively touched the lives of thousands of children and their families in difficult circumstances. “He was humble, strong, kind — loyal sometimes to a fault.”
Loya Chhabra, his best friend, was with him when Barajas received the shocking news two years ago that he didn’t have pancreatitis as he was originally told during every other doctor’s visit, but instead had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
“As he went through treatment, he never complained, although this kind of cancer is very painful and has been called the ‘gorilla of cancers’,” Chhabra said.
Between her work shifts, she returned the great friendship Jess had always extended to her and became his caregiver, which she would find was an “honor” because it allowed her to witness firsthand the depth of his generosity.
“A woman came to his house looking for cans, so Jess started crushing them down for her and bagging them so that they would be easy for her to carry. During one of her stops, she told Jess that she made shawls and asked him if he wanted to buy one – so he bought two and gave one to me and the other to his daughter,” Chhabra said.
During her next visit, he bought a few more then the following week, he told her that if she made them, he would sell them and he bought four dozen. It was his way to give her purpose and dignity. He never planned on selling them — they were thick like a blanket and he told me to give them away. They were in the back seat of my car and as we drove, anyone who seemed to need one, we would hand them out.”
Chhabra also notes how Jess claimed not to like animals and would tease her about how ugly he thought her pug dogs were, but he took care of eight feral cats who showed up all in a well behaved line on his porch in the morning like clockwork and he would feed them. The cats returned at 5 p.m. for their evening meal.
Also central to who he was for those who worked with him, was his work ethic. He never took a holiday or a day off, and he cared deeply for the children that he was charged to protect.
Many of his friendships go back many years to his days as a student at California State University, Northridge, where he walked the halls of Chicano Studies in the 1970s. In addition to his academic work, Jess was part of a group of visual and performance artists who offered their talent as an expression of Chicano culture and student activism in their fight against discrimination. He enjoyed sitting at a table with his fellow artists including Lorenzo “Toppy” Flores penning artwork, and working on skits for Teatro Aztlan.
Nancy de los Santos recalls the college parties and the protests she attended with him and described him as “walking with his heart first.” Ramon Muniz recalls how he helped him get through a difficult freshman year.
He would take that awareness and commitment to help others by choosing a career in social work.
He worked for the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services for 37 years, first as a family social worker, later as a lead child abuse investigator, then supervising children social worker.
During his last 14 years with the county was spent at the child abuse hotline where he was a supervisor working with a large group of people around the clock that he considered “family.”
“Jess worked tirelessly, never taking a day off and working frequent double shifts. At all holidays he always made the workplace feel like ‘home,’ cooking full meals for over 50 social workers, making a continuous pot of coffee and provided snacks for three shifts,” said Loya Chhabra.
Nancy, like many of his college friends, continued their friendship many years later.
“One of my favorite memories of Jess is viewing the Perseids meteor showers. He drove me and his then, two young children up [the dark roads] to Mt. Wilson so that we could have the best view of the stars at midnight. Jess brought a treasure chest of snacks. He wasn’t a ‘bag of chips’ kind of guy! He brought sandwiches, cookies, cheese and crackers and hot chocolate in a thermos. We all kept warm as we watched the shooting stars —which will now always remind me of him.”
Samuel Zapata noted that Jess was one of his first clients when he started his business. “He gave me work even, when he didn’t need to Jess looked out for me all the time, my first job was to demo the front bricks of his house. Then I fixed his stucco and windows. From then on he would call me for little projects, we became good friends.”
Zapata called him his “lucky charm.”
“When things got slow, I would visit Jess and he would give me little odd jobs. Right after my visit with Jess, I would land bigger projects.”
Jess is also noted for his great pride and love for his family, his father and his mother, his children, Adam who went to law school and his daughter Anais in fashion design.
During the final phase of his life, Jess pondered what was next, whether it was the journey to Mictlan or to the Christian heavens. He said he wanted to be wherever he could look after his adult children, parents and his friends, hoping he would be in the right spot where he could watch over them.
Jess Barajas is survived by his parents Jesus and Esperanza Barrajas, his siblings Art, Alex, Ray, Sergio and Sandra. His son Adam and his daughter Anais Barrajas and his friends that are too numerous to count.