In 1973, Queta Rodriguez traveled from her home in Mexico City for a yearlong visit with her uncle in New York City. She tagged along with her uncle's buddy to a French class, which was as much a social gathering as language course.
There, Queta met Ron Bauer, who would cause her to extend her stay in the U.S. for an additional 40 — and counting — years.
Ron was a newly minted Harvard Law School graduate from the borough of Queens, shy behind a beard and mustache. He noticed Queta. ("Silly but enchanting," he thought.) Queta noticed him. ("Handsome and intellectual," she surmised.)
When the last class ended, Ron gave Queta his phone number.
"When I called him, his mom said, 'Oh, you're that Mexican girl he's been talking about!' " recalled Queta, now 65.
Over the next few months, Ron and Queta learned they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. Yes, they came from different worlds. But together they could create lives and a family that could blend their cultures.
"Queta's English was so-so, and my Spanish was so-so," Ron, 66, said. "And we were both learning French."
So off they went to Paris "with some savings, student visas and a lot of enthusiasm," Queta said.
Before they left, they staged a small wedding in an "off-off-Broadway theater." Ron's uncle recruited an accordionist.
"We hired a Mexican restaurant to cater the food but asked them to bring bread, not tortillas, so we could have 'Jewish food' — a real disaster!" Queta said.
In Paris, Ron completed the course work for a doctorate in common market law, while Queta worked as a trilingual secretary for a Mexican oil company. When they had time off, they traveled across Europe with sleeping bags so they could camp instead of having to pay for hotels.
After seeing Europe and honing their language skills, it was time to return to the States to settle down. They weighed Ron's job offers in New York and Chicago, then chose the flyover city in 1983 because "Chicago had better playgrounds," Queta said. By then they were the parents of 2-year-old Joanna. A second daughter, Jessica, arrived in 1984.
For the next two decades Ron and Queta passed the parental baton back and forth as they collected college degrees and launched their careers. Queta earned a bachelor's degree in liberal arts from DePaul University and a master's degree in communications from Northwestern University, then founded Cultural Communications LLC, a communications consulting company. Ron worked as a corporate attorney and earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.
Somewhere along the line, they said, they became true Chicagoans.
"It's been 30 years, and we still love it," Queta said.
The Hyde Park residents are regulars at the neighborhood's ethnic restaurants and subscribers to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Music of the Baroque.
That French class the Bauers took together was a harbinger of their lives: Both are lifelong learners with never-ending to-do lists. He wants to take additional classes in economics and dust off his middle school trumpet. She plans to learn to play the piano and speak Italian.
Community service is a family affair. Queta serves on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Community Media Workshop and Sones de Mexico Ensemble, a folk music group that promotes appreciation of Mexican music and culture. The family "supports her support," she said, by participating in their fundraisers. Ron is the treasurer at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation synagogue.
Daughter Joanna, now 33, said her parents' personalities differ but sharing disparate backgrounds has given them "more in common than with other Anglo-Americans."
By intention, the Bauers passed to their girls the culture combination that their marriage created.
"They raised us Jewish, and we had bat mitzvahs," said Jessica, 29. "But we have Mexican traditions, too, like the Dec. 24 tamales-with-mole dinner we make every year."
The Bauers taught their daughters English and Spanish, and they picked up French "because we used it when we didn't want them to understand what we were saying," Queta said.
Although both sets of in-laws were wary of Ron and Queta's marriage at first, their shared heritage pleased all in the long run.
"My father wanted me to marry someone Jewish," Ron said. "His parents died in Auschwitz (the World War II concentration camp), and he wanted me to carry on the Jewish religion. But when I told him we would raise our kids Jewish, he was fine with our marriage."
Queta's parents were impressed that Ron flew to Mexico to ask for Queta's hand in marriage before he proposed to her.
"My father was OK with it after he knew Ron's intentions were honorable," Queta said.
Now, the girls have left the nest, and Ron and Queta have scaled back their work to make more time to relax ("I've learned I like naps," Ron admitted), volunteer their skills and continue to nurture their relationship.
"Growing up, my sister and I knew we couldn't ask something of one parent and not the other," Jessica said. "They still work together. They're still a team."
"Give each other space," Queta Rodriguez Bauer advises young couples who hope to enjoy marriages that last as long as hers. "You will have different interests, but you will find things to share. Ron follows the White Sox and Bulls, while I don't really care about sports. We share interests in traveling, music, food. I try new recipes, and Ron eats them."