Gloria Molina, the first Latina elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1991, seen at a California Task Force 2 recognition ceremony at the Los Angeles County Fire Department headquarters in February 2010. Molina, now 74, has announced that he is battling terminal cancer. (File photo by Leo Jarzomb/SCNG)
Beyond her resume, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s role in the history of Latinos in Southern California became more apparent last week when the 74-year-old politician announced that is fighting terminal cancer.
“I go into this transition in life feeling very lucky,” Molina wrote on Facebook. “Throughout my life I have had the support of many people.”
Angelenos praised all of Molina’s firsts: the first Latina elected to the California state legislature and, in 1987, as a Los Angeles city councilmember. She is also the first Latina elected to the county Board of Supervisors in 1991.
For 23 years, he served the First District, which includes Pico-Union, East Los Angeles and much of the San Gabriel Valley.
In 2014, Molina retired from the Board of Supervisors due to term limits, ending a 32-year career in public service for the City of Los Angeles.
Supervisor Hilda Solís, who succeeded Molina, called her a “role model.”
“Los Angeles is so great because of her persistence and determination to fight for our most vulnerable communities,” Solis said.
Solis said she will propose to rename Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles, which she helped open as president of the Grand Avenue Authority.
Clay Stalls is curator of the California and Hispanic Collections for The Huntington in San Marino, where Molina donated more than 200 boxes of his papers in 2014.
“Overall, Gloria Molina was a tireless advocate for public services for the underrepresented,” Stalls said. “When she ran for supervisor, she made it clear that she came from the district and that she understood the issues and the strengths of her largely Hispanic district.”
Molina’s parents, Leonardo and Concepción Molina, immigrated to suburban Los Angeles County from Mexico. Molina grew up in Pico Rivera and attended El Rancho High School, East Los Angeles College, and Cal State LA
In a 1990 oral history interview, Molina discussed his personal and political life, from growing up in Montebello and Pico Rivera, attending El Rancho High School, Rio Hondo College, and Cal State Los Angeles, to joining the Chicano movement in the 1970
Molina said he hoped the interview would help people understand what makes politicians tick and how they make decisions.
As county supervisor, she was highly supportive of public health, employment, education, parks and recreation, and the arts.
She supported organizations like the Central American Refugee Center and was involved with the East Los Angeles Mothers. In 1994 she fought against Proposition 187, which limited undocumented immigrants from public and health services.
Stalls said he funded arts programs in his district, supported economic revitalization groups and health clinics, and bolstered construction of bike paths in East Los Angeles.
“He especially took note of the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County that might receive little attention in regards to county services.”
Stalls said Molina served on the National Democratic Party Committee as vice chair, on the board of the Mexican American Legal and Educational Defense Fund (MALDEF), and also has her own youth education program.
Abelardo De la Peña, spokesman for LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles, said that a tribute to its ailing founder is in the works.
Molina helped start the community center to celebrate Latinx culture through art. She was on hand to open her new venture, the LA Plaza Cocina culinary museum in 2022.
“What impresses me the most about her is her strength,” De la Peña said. “When she began her career as an activist and political leader, she fought for her community. She was able to rally people around whatever cause she is fighting for. In the political arena, even when the odds were against her, she didn’t back down.”
De la Peña worked with Molina at MALDEF, where she met the “frank” politician who “could also be warm and friendly,” spreading hugs and talking about Mexican food with joy, she said.
“(Younger) Latinas may not be aware of Molina’s legacy, but they have benefited from her pioneering. She paved the way.”
Zev Yaroslavsky served with Molina on the Board of Supervisors from 1994 to 2014. On Facebook, Yaroslavsky praised his colleague for facing cancer the same way he faced every challenge in his life: without commitment or intimacy.
“As a colleague, you were a loyal ally and a worthy adversary, (although) I liked you better when we were on the same side,” he wrote. “Long ago you earned my highest respect as an honest and indefatigable public servant. You have left a monumental legacy.”
Diehard fans who worked with Molina called themselves “molinistas” and flooded social media with tributes to the 74-year-old.
Guadalupe De La Torre, an analyst for Los Angeles County, said that being a part of Molina’s team for 17 years is “one of his greatest accomplishments.”
“You are an inspiration that will live forever,” he said.
De la Peña said that facing his terminal illness with grace is “a classic from Molina.”
“She broke the news to us and you see it’s on her own terms,” he said. “That’s her trademark.”