By Rich Bockmann
As a youngster, Alejandro Nino made friends playing stickball outside his home on 49th Street in Woodside, and an indelible mark he left behind can be seen there today.
“This street that bares his name is a powerful statement to the friendship he created and nurtured. It speaks of the love he inspired in his friends, and love you inspired in him,” Rosa Velez told a crowd of loved ones who gathered Saturday to witness the corner of Queens Boulevard and 49th Street named “Alejandro Nino Place” in honor of her late son.
Nino, a beloved neighborhood figure and tireless altruist until his final days, succumbed to cancer in 2010 at the age of 36.
Nino moved with his mother to Queens from Jersey City in 1973, and as a young alter boy at St. Teresa’s School he began a lifetime of devoting himself to helping others. He would go on to join the Boy Scouts and the City Volunteer Corps, where he served as a therapy aide at Coler Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island.
In 2005, Nino, a father of two young boys named Dasani and Kalani, enlisted with the U.S. Army National Guard.
“He was a person of deep substance and feeling,” said his mother, who at times paused to collect herself, but throughout most of the sunny afternoon’s ceremony she beamed with pride for her son — a reflection, she said, of the feelings he inspired in others. “He had a very loving and caring spirit. He gravitated toward helping those in need.”
“Thank God our Alejandro knows full well how much he’s loved and missed and valued by all his friends,” she said. “Words can only go so far.”
As Velez tugged on a string and pulled the paper cover away from the sign bearing her son’s name, the young members of the Sunnyside Drum Corps paid tribute to one of their own.
“My precious son was a cymbalist,” Velez said. “As you can imagine, listening to our great neighborhood band today brings back many cherished memories of my son’s childhood.”
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said that while he had never met Nino himself, he was deeply affected by Velez’s love for her son.
“This whole day, this sign is about your love for your son,” he told her. “I could not not rename this street after him.”
Throughout the ceremony, Velez repeatedly referred to her son as “our Alejandro,” and the crowded corner stood as a testament to just how many people loved him.
Cecilia Nino, Alejandro’s aunt, traveled all the way from her home in Colombia to see her nephew’s name revealed. She read off a long list of names of those who were “at home waiting for news.”
While Nino was battling cancer at Elmhurst Hospital, he was attended to by Denise Carlos, who said that in her 23 years as a nurse she had never met anyone like him.
“Nino touched my heart,” she said, before reading a poem she had written in his honor entitled, “Blowing Kisses in the Wind.”
Nino’s mother said that when she passes by the corner and looks up to see her son’s name, she will be reminded to value the precious gift of life.
“Pure love is eternal,” she said. “He may be out of sight, but he’s always right here in my heart.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.