It started with a Facebook posting that read in part: “Dearest friends and beloved community. I’ve lived a long, fulfilling and beautiful life. For the last three years I have battled terminal cancer.  While I’ve been getting treatment, at this point, it is very aggressive. You should know that I’m not sad. I enter this transition in life feeling so fortunate … I’m really grateful for everyone in my life and proud of my family, career, mi gente, and the work we did on behalf of our community.  Thank you all for your love and support. 💜 Gloria Molina

That was the message that former Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina sent out that caused great consternation and a flood of tributes to a Latina with a number of significant “firsts” under her belt. Gloria Molina was the first Latina elected to the California State Assembly and served there from 1983-1987, and then became the first Latina elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1987, followed by being the first Latina elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1991. She served on the powerful and influential county board for 23 years, retiring in 2014 due to term limits, capping 32 years in public service in the state’s largest city and the second-most populous in the country.

“The news of the Honorable Gloria Molina ‘s health prognosis has deeply saddened the Latino community, the people of Los Angeles and California, and the entire NALEO Family,” said Arturo Vargas, chief executive officer of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), on whose board Gloria Molina once served.

“Her work is also particularly meaningful to our organization because of her longstanding professional relationship with our organization’s founder, (the late former) Congressman Edward R. Roybal. The circumstances around Roybal’s 1958 Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors election loss were evidence in a lawsuit that proved a history of voting rights discrimination against Latinos by the County of Los Angeles. The lawsuit resulted in the creation of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors First District, a seat Molina went on to win and ably represented,” said Vargas, adding, “She spent her entire career blazing the trail for future leaders, particularly Latinas and other women interested in government service. Her legacy will continue in the policy changes she secured, lives she touched, and communities she served. We wish her and her family a time of peace and reflection on the incredible life and career of one of the most important elected officials in our nation’s history.”

County Supervisor and former member of Congress Hilda Solís succeeded Gloria Molina, calling her a role model and trailblazer.

“Seeing her break these glass ceilings inspired me. I remember dreaming of one-day serving our community just as she did, with passion. Gloria demonstrated great determination and persistence in representing our most vulnerable. I’m grateful to know Gloria and stand on her shoulders. May her legacy live on for generations to come.”

Solís, U.S. Labor Secretary in the Obama administration, spearheaded a recent effort to rename Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles in Molina’s honor. Molina had helped open it 11 years ago as chair of the Grand Avenue Authority, which turned what was once called a concrete eyesore into a 12-acre community green space. 

“I have long dreamed of seeing a great park in this location, and, today, my dream is a reality,” Molina said at the time. “Grand Park was designed around a grand theme – the amazing diversity of our county’s many ethnic communities, where 244 languages are spoken. Our goal was to make sure that each of these communities feels like this is their park.”

Solís’ renaming initiative passed unanimously.

“It is truly an honor to lead this effort in renaming one of her most treasured legacies, Grand Park – The Park for Everyone, after her. As a vibrant outdoor gathering place, Grand Park represents, engages, and celebrates Los Angeles County’s cultural vitality. She fought so hard to redevelop a once concrete jungle outside the Hall of Administration into an open green space, which has been a beacon of hope for many artists and families since its opening a decade ago.”

Los Angeles native and former Solís aide Sonia Meléndez Reyes says Molina inspired her to work in the public service sector.

“As a first-generation Latina growing up in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte, Gloria Molina showed me that Latinas can lead. I felt immense pride in high school whenever I walked by her field office because, having her as our Supervisor, we had a trusted leader who advocated for our working-class community. As a fearless leader taking on the establishment, she paved the way for me and many others to dedicate their careers to public service, and this legacy will live on for generations to come.”

Fearless is also how activist, producer, and entrepreneur Moctesuma Esparza describes her, telling CALÓ NEWS they first met as students at UCLA some five decades ago. 

“She was involved in everything. She showed a willingness to step up and to take opportunities that had not been explored or accepted as common paths of behavior and showed a real adventurous spirit and a fearless attitude to go into areas where she was inexperienced, unknown, and basically acting as a pioneer. That was one of her qualities that was very clear from the early age that I got to know her 50 years ago to the very present,” Esparza said, adding, “Her stand on her illness, of making it public, of addressing it, and not running away from it, not being in fear, is in character to her entire life. Out front, out in the open, and fearless. That’s something that I’ve always admired about her and that she was willing to take on anybody if she felt that there was an injustice, an unfairness;  she was willing to stand up and organize. She’s definitely in a league with Dolores Huerta. I think of her as inspiring people to follow their own path. She is a fearless powerhouse. She is a chingona.” 

Raised in Puerto Rico, Patricia Guadalupe is a bilingual multimedia journalist based in Washington, D.C., covering the capital for both English and Spanish-language media outlets. She is also an adjunct...