Friends remember UC Berkeley graduate and mother Milanca Lopez

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Milanca Alicia Lopez, 22, a 2012 UC Berkeley graduate, died in a car accident Friday morning in Berkeley.

According to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, the fatal crash was reported to Berkeley Police Department at 1:13 a.m. Officers responded to the scene at California Street, just north of Allston Way, where they found the Cadillac she was traveling in had struck a tree.

Lopez was pronounced dead at the scene, while the driver — UC Berkeley graduate student Jose Lumbreras, 24 — and Lopez’s young son, Xavier, were both taken to local hospital trauma units with serious injuries, according to police. Student Parent Programs and Services director Alice Jordan said Xavier remains in critical condition at Children’s Hospital in Oakland as of Tuesday afternoon.

Lopez attended Hawthorne Math and Science Academy in Southern California and moved with her infant son to Berkeley in 2007 to attend UC Berkeley as a freshman, according to Jordan. She participated this month in the campus’ spring commencement ceremony and was planning to finish classes this summer.

Jordan said Lopez will receive her degree posthumously in Social Welfare. She said Lopez was ready to embark on a master’s program for teaching at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies in the fall.

According to Jordan, Lopez was a very active member within the Berkeley student-parent community.

“In her time at Cal, Milanca touched the lives of many students and staff and she was at the heart of a caring student parent community,” Jordan said in an email.

Lopez was a past president of the Student Parent Association for Recruitment and Retention and actively organized her community to protest tuition increases and child care budget cuts. In 2009, Lopez was quoted speaking out against UC system budget cuts to the Golden Gate Xpress, the San Francisco State University student newspaper.

“Milanca was honest and open about both the struggles and the victories that are inevitable as a parenting student at Cal and she was very loved by our community,” wrote Ginelle Perez, a counselor at the campus’s Transfer, Re-entry and Student Parent Center, in a post on the association’s Facebook page.

“She had a heart of gold and always continued to give back,” said Geraldine Gomez, a fellow student and friend of Lopez, in an email. “She worked with Gift of Life volunteering and raising money for sick children in Peru.”

According to Jordan, Lopez also used her confidence in math to tutor her fellow student parents in informal Graduate Record Exam prep sessions and assist their children with their homework.

“She was one of the best, most loving and dedicated mothers I have ever known,” said Gomez. “Her son was her world and her his.”

Lopez had a large and loving family, many of which traveled to Berkeley to celebrate her accomplishments during last week’s commencement ceremony. In a Facebook post, Perez said Lopez’s love for her family was “fierce … especially (for) her son.”

A candlelight vigil was held on May 20 at the site of the accident on behalf of Lopez’s family, where mourners left photos, messages and flowers around the base of the damaged tree. A formal funeral service will be held, though no date has been set as of yet.

Family members have also set up a donation fund to assist the family with any possible financial burdens.

At the core of the emotions shared by all those who loved Lopez is a poignant feeling of regret that she was not able to realize her dream to reach others through her work as an educator.

“She loved working and giving back to a variety of marginalized and underprivileged students,” said Audra Casanova, UC Berkeley alumna and Lopez’s friend, in an email. “It is a sad loss not only for the UC Berkeley student parent community but for the many children that will never be able to benefit from the hugely passionate heart and great mind that Milanca was guided by.”