Campus community recalls memories of the late Jonah Piston
THE SANTA CLARA
October 29, 2015
A law student known for his kind heart, welcoming personality and intense dedication to fighting for immigrant rights died unexpectedly this month at the age of 30.
Jonah Piston, a second year law student who worked in the the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center, died on Oct. 9, 2015. He was born on Sept. 11, 1985 and hailed from the Seattle area. Piston attended Mercer Island High School, and earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Occidental College.
“His warmth, compassion, dedication, intelligence, work ethic and his fierce sense of social justice are qualities that I will always remember,” said Ruth Silver Taube, a supervising attorney at the Workers’ Rights Clinic in the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center.
Piston would go out of his way to introduce himself to new students at the community law center, always offering to help them with their work and giving them rides back to campus, said Lynette Parker, a supervising attorney at the community law center who worked closely with Piston.
“Jonah projected kindness and warmth in a way that very few people do,” said law student Lizbeth Mateo. “He always had a smile on.”
“I remember one day we were in class having to do a mock exercise and not being able to keep a straight face,” said law student Christian Mora-Castrellon. “We just kept smiling, laughing and giggling for no obvious reason. That was something Jonah had, he made laughing really easy.”
Piston aspired to practice immigration law, and worked at the community law center’s Immigration Clinic during the summer and fall. He assisted low income families with their immigration cases and worked on several human trafficking cases.
In one such case, he battled red tape at a U.S. Embassy in Central America to allow one of the law center’s clients to reunite with her children, Parker said.
Piston was intensely passionate about his work, spending every business day in the law center.
“Jonah was one of the first persons to arrive at the office and one of the last persons to leave each day,” Parker said. “I think if we had let him he would have put a cot in his office space so he could have worked evenings and weekends.”
Jonah’s sense of humor helped make it easier for people to deal with the weight of the heavy cases they handled at the law center.
“Having him as a colleague at the Alexander Law Center made it fun to come to work because I knew I could count on him to entertain me when I needed it and distract me from the sometimes emotionally difficult cases with which we work,” Mora-Castrellon said.
Mora-Castrellon said that although she is shy and quiet, which makes it difficult for her to make friends with other people, she formed a bond with Piston that meant a great deal to her.
“Jonah helped me not feel alone anymore,” Mora-Castrellon said. “He helped me feel cared about and important. To honor his memory I hope to continue to be a good friend to people and challenge others to do the same.”
Piston’s memorial service was held in the Mission Church on Oct. 22. He is survived by his mother, father and brother.
Sophie Mattson at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4849.