Petra Alvarado | Credit: Courtesy

Petra Alvarado: 1922-2022

Petra Alvarado was born to parents with deep spiritual beliefs. The foundation of this spirituality was ingrained into Petra by her mother, Vicenta Alvarado, and father, Feliciano Alvarado. As children, both of her parents had lived through the Mexican Revolution and World War I. Her parents bonded together through these personal experiences, turning them into valuable lessons that they would teach their children.

Being the first of 10 siblings, Petra learned from the examples set by her parents. She was taught to have faith, respect others, work hard, and love her family. She accepted the lessons her elders provided and made them a part of her lifelong commitment to uphold them and to ensure they would be passed on to future generations. Any time you had a discussion with Petra, she would always reinforce her point with “My mom always used to tell us …”

Petra was born in Salinas, California, on July 28, 1922, inside of a boxcar. Her dad worked for Pacific Railroad, which supplied a boxcar for families to live in while workers moved up and down California repairing train tracks. But home base for the Alvarados was Santa Barbara County, where Petra spent the first 12 years of her life living with her paternal grandparents, Andres and Isabel Alvarado, in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was during these early years of living with her grandparents that she enjoyed a rural upbringing. Years later, she was given a tour of the Chumash casino and was able to recognize the town folks in old pictures that decorated the walls inside the casino. She remembers being a part of that community, with some family members marrying into the Chumash tribe.

Through this early experience, Petra was exposed to many cultural traditions handed down through the generations. She later confessed that it was a significant event in her life having to leave her grandparents and reuniting with her parents in Guadalupe after 12 years. One can only imagine how the transition impacted Petra as a young girl.

Petra never married and remained with her parents until they passed away. Her dad at age 88 and her mom at age 94. Both her parents died peacefully at home under Petra’s care. This was the ultimate act of unselfishness and the highest form of love and respect that a child can give to their parents. Throughout her life, Petra also accepted the responsibility of helping to raise her siblings and the many nieces and nephews that surrounded the Alvarado family. In fact, today she is survived by 28 nieces and nephews, 44 great-nieces and nephews, 62 great-great nieces and nephews, and 22 great-great-great nieces and nephews. Her extended family spans seven generations in the Santa Barbara area, dating back to the late 1800s.

Later in her life, Petra found the time to catch up on her formal education. She earned a general education certificate and an associate of arts degree from Allan Hancock College. She was able to join the workforce as an instructional assistant with the Guadalupe Union School District. Petra often reflected on this period of life of fulfilling her goal to formally work with children in a school setting. She would often talk about the discipline process and how it was unfair toward certain students. She would remark that everything starts at home and that putting the blame on troubled students was not always the best way to correct poor behavior. This point of view speaks to how Petra would often question things with compassion and consciousness.

Petra would have been 100 years old this year. It’s remarkable to think that she lived to see rocket ships, modern medicine, and the advent of the internet. At the same time, she tried to make sense of many complexities that were brought upon humanity during her lifetime. Through it all, she lived a life of innocence, holding onto her compass of spirituality and the basic life skills that her parents taught her. She would never question the things impacting her own life or complain about needing this or that. Her stoic attitude was built on a life of daily household rituals and always caring for those around her.

The irony in Petra’s life is that her favorite song was “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder. Maybe it was the intro of a baby’s cry, a sound that she knew all too well. The song is also filled with a steady keyboard cadence that mimics her life of keeping busy and always on time. You can even say that the song’s vocal frequency mirrors Petra’s energy and the vibrancy she would bashfully share with others from time to time. But it’s the song’s title that defines Petra Alvarado. Those three words capture the unselfish life she lived and that will live with us forever.


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