Eustaquia Alejandro, known by most during her later life as "Nana," wasn't the head of a nonprofit or some organization created to help others. She didn't find a cure for cancer or build houses for the homeless.
She fed people.
Alejandro, even if you didn't know her, was the kind of person everyone has had in their life; the kind of person who made the world a little warmer, a little softer.
That is what Alejandro did for the people she knew.
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In gestures that are often overlooked -- a smile, a plate of food, a kind word -- her friends and family said she made a difference in people's lives. Most often that difference came in the form of a hot plate of Filipino food she so often cooked. Such small measures of kindness have a way of piling up -- and being missed when they are gone.
So the tragic and violent death of Alejandro this spring left those who knew her with an absence that cannot be filled. Alejandro, who was born on the Philippine island of Samar in 1923, was struck by a train and died on May 8.
"If you can't find her, look in the kitchen," is how her son Jan Alejandro described his mother. Cooking for others, he added, kept his mom young. "My mom did things for other people all her life and continued to do so even in her 80s," he wrote in an e-mail to the Sun-Star. "So many times I would invite her to visit my family in Los Angeles, but she world tell me that she was cooking for some event in her community or church."
Donna Wright, the administrative assistant at Day Out, a kind of day center for the elderly in Merced, met Alejandro at the program. She said Alejandro loved to feed people. Wright said Alejandro was always putting together luaus where she served up Philippine chow mien and adobo.
Debbie Prince, Alejandro's granddaughter, said that by cooking for others, her grandmother filled a motherly role for folks.
At her grandmother's funeral, everyone spoke about how the woman was like a second mother, she said. "At her service that's all everyone talked about," recalled Prince. At Sierra Meadows, were she lived, Alejandro would not only cook huge meals for people, but she would also bring food to sick friends, said Prince.
In Prince's case Alejandro was also like a second mother. She said her grandmother looked after her children when Prince needed a helping hand. But in more than concrete ways Alejandro gave Prince a foundation, she said. She was one of those people, said Prince, who makes life better.
While Alejandro will be remembered for more than just the food she fed people, there is no shame in remembering her for her cooking.
As the playwright George Bernard Shaw said, "There is no love sincerer than the love of food."
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.