By SHIKIRI HIGHTOWER
Miguel Angel Perez De Leon, a senior at Mission High whom friends and family remembered as a young man with a special laugh and a love of music and barbecued chicken, died May 7 from complications of cerebral palsy. He was 17 years old.
“I never saw him any other way. He was just my brother,” said Miguel’s 12-year-old sister Stephanie Perez. “I never was embarrassed. I always saw him as my brother.”
Many at the funeral Sunday shared that sentiment and saw Perez De Leon as someone who managed to connect with students even though he couldn’t speak.
“His laugh, his presence will all be missed at Mission High,” said Rosemary Son, Perez De Leon’s caregiver at Mission High for the last three years.
“The students tried to take care of him, they would talk to him, and make sure he was comfortable. A lot of his classmates will miss him.”
She said students and faculty at Mission High understood how Perez De Leon was feeling from his facial expressions.
“We would always go to birthday parties together and stuff. He was a cool person. Even though he couldn’t talk, you could tell what he wanted ’cause he would make eye contact with you,” said Joey Pegueros, one of Miguel’s friends. “I hope he rests in peace.”
Pegueros, who also lives life in a wheelchair, said the two shared that connection. “His family took very good care of him, especially his mom and sister,” he said. “I felt close to him. I wish I could have saw him one last time.”
“He had a lot of friends. He had a special class and they would hang out together—it was like their own community,” said his sister Stephanie. “He enjoyed school, being around people, using computers.”
“He used to yell at me. He couldn’t talk but he called me “aye.” He used to call me that because he couldn’t pronounce my name,” she said. “It meant the world to me because I knew it was coming from him, so I really didn’t care what he called me, just that he had a name for me.”
Stephanie Perez De Leon said she learned a lot from her brother and his disability.
“It taught me to value other people, that people are different, and God sends people the way they are supposed to be,” she said. “He used to hug me. Sometimes he used to kiss me. He gave me a lot of love. He was a very loving person.”
Roelfio Adan Perez, Miguel’s father, who makes school lunches and lives in the Mission District, said he enjoyed taking his son on walks and eating in the Mission District.
One of Miguel’s favorite restaurants was Pete’s Barbeque on 20th and Mission.
“He loved the chicken and baked potatoes there,” he said. His son also loved to watch Tom and Jerry and listen to music.
“Guatemalan music—Marimba—he would love hearing that,” said his father. His son also loved the color green, the blue sky and being around his mom, according to Perez.
Iliana Jeannnethe De Leon, Miguel’s mother, said she enjoyed traveling with her son. She said they went camping in Yosemite, traveled to her homeland of Guatemala twice, and last Thanksgiving she took him to Disneyland.
“He was so scared,” she said of his time on the rides. “He was laughing, laughing and laughing. I will miss his laughing, love, his company. I saw him like a person, like any mom does. I didn’t care about his disability.”