TRIBUTE - The news about political icon Gloria Molina’s fight with terminal cancer was met with shock, disbelief, and sadness for many of us in L.A. and throughout the country. Gloria is a legend in Latino political circles; she broke barriers as the first Latina to ever be elected to the California State Legislature, Los Angeles City Council, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
I had the honor of working for Gloria as a field and legislative deputy while she served on the Board of Supervisors. It is well known that Gloria was tough as nails. But what often gets overlooked about her is her integrity. And as someone who had an up-close view of her, I can attest that she is the model of integrity.
From the start of Gloria’s career, she had a deep understanding of the injustices that many of our community members experience, among them racism, treatment as second-class citizens, and a continuous lack of investment in our neighborhoods. Gloria knew this because she experienced these indignities firsthand.
Throughout her career, Gloria was determined to ensure that the Latino community and other communities of color were no longer overlooked and shortchanged. She fought for equity and inclusion at every level, whether it be that neighborhoods in East Los Angeles received their fair share of resources for health care, parks and housing or advocating to ensure women and people of color could be represented in leadership positions across industries.
These were the guiding principles behind Gloria’s decision-making. She didn’t care if her choices were politically risky or might create powerful enemies. She never considered how these decisions would impact her fundraising efforts. It always boiled down to whether it was the right thing to do, if it was what the community needed, and if it would change people’s lives in the best possible ways.
Gloria hated and resisted awards dinners and events, and it was a minor miracle to get her to agree to accept some type of public recognition. Instead, she was singularly focused on solving problems and getting results. She expected immediate follow-up to any constituent who reached out to the office for help (and pity to the person who she discovered didn’t do so). She never wavered in taking a stand and fighting against injustice — no matter the odds and often knowing she stood a good chance of losing. Gloria demanded that same level of excellence and accountability from everyone – be it a political colleague, department head, advocacy group, or her staff.
As a young 22-year-old starting my career, Gloria showed me what it meant to be a true public servant. She pushed me every day to understand that “good” wasn’t enough. The community needed me to be great. She challenged me to not accept “no” as an answer from an often dysfunctional county system. She provided me opportunities to solve problems and enact solutions, to see if I could step up and handle the expectations and pressure. She forced me to think strategically, defend my recommendations, provide a sound rationale, and demonstrate how I was acting in the community’s best interest. She expected me to represent her in a way consistent with the values she held dear.
The bottom line is Gloria taught me what it takes to make change: skill, grit, commitment, and of course, integrity. Now nearly 30 years later, I still apply those lessons in my ongoing journey to make social change and social justice a reality. And for that, I say, thank you, Gloria.
(Paul Hernandez is the chief strategy officer at Fenton Communications.)