Dr. Elena Pereyra
June 26, 1950 - August 25, 2017
Beloved mother, partner, daughter, soul sister, radical intellectual
Elena Pereyra was born 26 June 1950, at White Memorial hospital in Los Angeles (LA), only child of loving mother, Elisa Muro Crespo, and gregarious father, Rolando Pereyra. Following Rolando’s homesick return to Mexico, Elena and Elisa grew close.
As a child in Boyle Heights, Elena endured family and racial trauma, emerging with a fighting spirit, marching with radical priests in the Chicano movement and working security for feminists and Black Panthers as a young woman. She also gained compassion for those in pain, including suffering animals.
In her early twenties, Elena sang gospel until her band, El Saguaro, was signed by Aztec Records; one of five which included Tower or Power and War. And yet, as her spirit extended in radical directions, her love for ideas persisted. She found the pacifist writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Viktor Frankel, and Mahatma Ghandi, and began a life-long spiritual practice at a Soka Gakkai International Buddhist temple, where she met husband to-be, Alan Johnston, an aerospace engineer. She would later reflect that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, and the writings of President Ikeda, saved her life. In a difficult decision, the two left Los Angeles to find work and begin a family.
In her thirtieth year, Elena gave birth to a son, Noel and, fifteen months later, a daughter, Sophia. Her mother moved to Seattle to help. Despite a scarcity of resources, she was in love, reunited with her mother, and in one of the happiest periods of her life. In 1985, the family moved to Arlington, TX, where Alan tripled his salary. Elena reflected how the difficulty shifted from feeding her children to staying humble amid abundance. One year later, the family returned to Los Angeles, to awaiting relatives, and stayed four years until the aerospace jobs shifted back to Seattle.
From 1990-1992, the family moved between states, was honored at the White House for tutoring immigrants, and Elena earned the first college degree in family history (an AA in nutrition). By 1994, Alan was stable at Boeing, the kids entered high school, and Elena became one of the top undergraduates at the University of Washington (UW), graduating magna cum laude, named Latino student of the year, and honored by the UW President for her research on pachucas in LA. The radical side within her found new voice. As Elena worked towards a master’s in history (UW), she entered the most challenging period of her adulthood, facing marital divorce and the death of her mother. The grief and clarity of this loss impacted the rest of her life.
Five years later, in her early fifties, with both kids in college, Elena was diagnosed with breast cancer. As she fought cancer into remission, Noel and Sophia graduated (Sophia decorated like her mother), she settled down with a life partner, Theresa Ramirez, and finished a doctorate in educational leadership, becoming an expert on policy towards peripheral populations in U.S. schools.
A powerful lecturer, in 2006, students chose Elena as ‘Professor of the Year’ at Cascadia College. The radicalism of her youth now joined with tools of an intellectual. Elena gave presentations and workshops on policy and ethics and, in 2010, took the post of instructor and academic advisor for underrepresented and undocumented students at Western Washington University. For the next six years, Elena became known as ‘Dr. P,’ and fought to accelerate students amid institutional disenfranchisement.
In 2012, Elena was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Fueled by her terminal illness, she mentored with determination, funded scholarships, led an unprecedented campaign for these students to win prestigious national scholarships, and, until three days before she passed away, met with and messaged students with words of encouragement and appeal to continue fighting for those suffering without a voice.
From 2012-2017, Elena also focused on loved ones and, through extraordinary personal growth, liberated herself from childhood trauma, leading to one of the best periods of her life. In 2014, she flew to Europe to visit her son at Oxford, and to the United Nations, in Geneva. Months later, she hosted her daughter’s wedding. In 2016, Elena debuted in stand-up at Seattle Comedy Underground, returning multiple times while her health remained. Two days before passing, in her last full period of consciousness, two of her last sentences were jokes.
On 25 August 2017, living for five buoyant years after her diagnosis, Elena – beloved mother, partner, daughter, soul sister, radical intellectual, chanter of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, mentor, and lover of comedy – passed away peacefully, in her sleep, with Sophia and Noel on either side of her, in the home of her dearest friend of twenty-five years, Theresa. Way to go, Mom.
A tribute of Elena's life will be held Sept 23rd at the SGI Seattle Buddhist Center from 1-4:30pm. A service will be followed by a fiesta with food, drink, and celebration which will include stories, videos, and a museum of her life. SGI Center address is 3438 South 148th St., Tukwila 98168.
If you would like to make a donation of flowers, click below.