When Sabino and Maria Esther Vargas met, it was love at first sight.
That love has survived the test of time.
The couple, both of whom are from Mexico, celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary with a Mass at St. Patrick parish in Racine on April 18. About 80 people, mostly family members, attended the celebration.
At age 88, Sabino and Maria Esther are still in love.
When asked what the secret is to a long, happy marriage, Sabino answered immediately.
“Love,” Sabino said in his native Spanish and speaking through a translator. “We never let arguments last very long.”
When Maria Esther was 11 years old, she moved with her family to the town of Valparaiso in Zacatecas, Mexico. That is where she first laid eyes on young Sabino, who also was 11 years old at the time.
When the two were about 12 years old, they started courting.
Sabino lived with his mother at the time, since his father had died. Sabino’s mother, as well as both of Maria Esther’s parents, could see that their children had a deep love for each other.
Sabino and Maria Esther wanted to get married, but their priest felt they were too young. However, the parents of the young couple talked with each other and agreed to try to support the newlyweds.
So, at age 13, Maria Esther and Sabino married.
They were married in their church, called Our Lady of Guadalupe. Another 10 couples from the village were married at that same time.
“It was strange because they were both so young,” said Gabriela Cabrera, director of religious education at St. Patrick Parish, as she translated for the family. “The priest even called them children, because they were the little ones to get married that day. It wasn’t common for that to be done.”
Family and faith have been the most important things to the Vargas couple throughout their 75-year marriage, Sabino said.
“Our family was very important, because we are a faithful family who believes in God,” Sabino said. “It was veryimportant to raise our children as Catholics because it was the faith we received from both parents, and it was important to continue always like that and be an example of faith for our family.”
The most joyous times throughout the marriage were each time a child was born, he said.
The couple have 13 children, nine of whom are still living.
To support the large family, Sabino worked as a fieldworker. As the children grew older, they joined him in the fields to contribute to the family.
Sabino was the stricter of the two parents as the children were growing up, according to their son, Ruben Vargas. However, the children all respected Sabino because he was the father and he was always compassionate, Ruben said in Spanish.
Maria Esther was a happy mother and always played with the children, their daughter, Carmen Vargas, said.
“Of course, we respected her as well, but we saw her more as a friend,” Carmen said.
Both parents were hard workers and very religious people who cared for their family, Carmen said.
The family now spans five generations. The couple have 43 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
“I am very proud that my parents are together,” Carmen Vargas said.
Through the years, Sabino and Maria Esther have experienced hardships and joys, and their faith has helped them get through it all, they said.
The most difficult challenges the couple have endured were the loss of four of their children, Sabino said. Their first child died when he was 1 year old. He would have been 72 years old now.
They lost three more children after they reached adulthood.
“Usually when you have a child, you think they will see their parents die, but it was the opposite. It was very hard,” Sabino said.
The family moved to the United States about 30 years ago. Although neither Sabino nor Maria Esther speak English, they have lived in Racine since then. All but two of their children, who reside in Illinois, live in Racine as well.
Family members visit them frequently, and it makes them happy to see their family together, Sabino said.
Maria Esther’s health has become frail, so Carmen lives with her parents and helps care for them.
“I feel like I am their mother because now they depend on me,” said Carmen. “I am giving back a little bit of all that my parents gave to me.”
Sabino and Maria Esther have set an example for their children, Ruben said.
“It is an example to follow, to take care of my family, to always be there in every circumstance, in good times or bad times,” Ruben said. “I am very grateful to God that our parents are alive.”
Ruben, who is married, said he hopes his marriage will last as long as his parents’ has.
“With God’s help, everything is possible, because God is love, and it is the love that we try to give to our family, first to each other as a couple, but also as a family,” Sabino said.