It was two hours before Gloria Molina’s funeral, but the different patches in the quilt that was her life were already starting to form outside Resurrection Catholic Church in Boyle Heights.
Here came the politicians past and present: Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and former L.A. councilmember Gil Cedillo. Supervisor Kathryn Barger, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, Assemblymembers Wendy Carrillo and Miguel Santiago.
In the parking lot Saturday were her nine siblings and 50-plus nieces and nephews, most wearing her favorite color, purple.
In front of Resurrection’s steps was a group of Molinistas — the nickname that alumni of her decades-long career in Sacramento, City Hall and the Hall of Administration have given themselves.
“We talk about her legacy all the time, and how we carry it in all of our work,” said L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation director Norma Edith García-González. The half-dozen or so women with her nodded and smiled. García-González then lifted up a gorgeous purse made from a Virgin of Guadalupe print pattern that Molina sewed for her in 2005. “Supporting gente was something she knew intrinsically. So we always say, ‘What would Gloria think?’”
The church doors opened, and people streamed into the foyer. They grabbed a purple-lined program detailing many of Molina’s accomplishments. Assemblymember. Councilmember. Supervisor. Photo collages stood on easels. Sprinkled among the hundreds of candids that spanned her life from childhood to retirement were one-word slogans. Feminist. Abuelita. Friend. Leader. Gloria!
More strands of Molina’s life arrived, as her former staffers directed people to their seats and took phone calls from the tardy and the absent. In a row of pews toward the back sat members of The East Los Angeles Stitchers, the quilting group Molina co-founded over a decade ago. They’re busy completing the 300 projects she left behind when she died of cancer May 14 at age 74.
“Once I knew her, I never saw her as a politica,” said Maria Morales. “She was just one of us.”
Laura Ayala reminded Morales of how Molina would give the Stitchers so many projects that members would complain about the workload. The two laughed.
“And she would look at us, with that look she’d give people when she wasn’t happy,” Ayala continued. “And she’d say, ‘Did you follow the directions? If you do, it won’t be too much work!’”
There were people like Alma Rodriguez, a longtime parishioner with no direct connection to Molina but who nevertheless showed up to express “gratitude.”
“She supported us here and helped in any way she could,” Rodriguez said while fiddling with the chain on her glasses. “Her career was beautiful and lovely.”
Chicano royalty arrived: Edward James Olmos, Dolores Huerta. Artists like Richard Montoya of Culture Clash and playwright Dan Guerrero, who wore an ensemble of a purple tie, purple shirt, a coat with a purple lining and purple Taco Bell socks.
“Purple is my favorite color, too, so this was easy!” he said with a laugh. He told me about Molina’s explanation for how she became the first in so many things.
“You have to have a fire in your belly,” was her answer. Guerrero lingered on that line, and repeated it once more. “Gloria,” he concluded, “was Superwoman in purple.”
Molina’s family gathered in the foyer. Five of her siblings carried a glass box containing a purple urn with their sister’s ashes. Greeting them was Resurrection’s pastor, John Moretta. He had married Molina and baptized her daughter Valentina, as well as Valentina’s son Santiago.
Today, he would preside over Molina’s farewell.
The all-female mariachi Las Colibri filled the packed church with powerful renditions of Spanish-language devotional songs as Molina’s family walked to the altar. They left her cremains in front of multiple wreaths and a photo of her, with a smile as bright as the white lily she held and the streak of purple in her hair.
The Gospel for the service was the Beatitudes, the admonitions by Jesus to his disciples to stand with the oppressed, which Molina spent her career putting into action:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Moretta and Molina went back decades, to the time they and others stopped a prison from being built on the Eastside. He reminded everyone that her first name is “a form of praise” used in Catholic liturgy and befitting of a woman who long fought for her constituents. She “was a blessing,” Moretta said. “She was our Gloria.”
The pastor mentioned Molina’s insistence that he baptize Santiago. She was looking forward to meeting Ximena, Valentina’s unborn daughter, due in July.
“She will see her next grandchild,” the priest told everyone. “Not from Mount Washington” where she lived and passed away surrounded by family, “but from a higher mountain.”
He paused. “God bless.”
A series of eulogies followed Communion. First was Valentina. Through smiles and tears, she focused on the loving gestures that “my best friend” had done for her daughter from childhood until her last breath. Hand-sewn Halloween costumes through middle school. How to shop for bargains. Elaborate Easter baskets she made for Valentina until Santiago was born, at which point he began to receive them.
“She teased me that I turned out just like her,” she said. “Just a little bit more organized and neat. I just hope that I will continue to make her proud.”
Gloria’s sister, Bertha Molina Mejia, told family stories that had the audience alternately howling and pensive. Like the time their sister Irma bought candy with the money set aside to pay the family’s bills, and a preteen Molina went to the liquor store and haggled the money back, save for the cost of the two candies Irma had eaten. Or when Molina, now an adult, was able to buy her father a car.
“She made the most stubborn, strong man I knew shed tears,” Molina Mejia said. “When you see photos of every step of her political career, there was my mom and dad on stage, and we [siblings] were there cheering her on.”
Antonia Hernandez, who argued the redistricting lawsuit that allowed Molina to win her supervisorial race, spoke about “the challenges” the two faced as they forever changed Latino politics in California and beyond, while depending on each other “for anything.”
Molina’s husband, Ron Martinez, shared how he had suggested that her funeral be at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the grand venue downtown.
“Highly opinionated Gloria rejected my suggestion,” Martinez deadpanned.
La Marisoul and Pepe Carlos, the full-throated lead singer and guitarist for La Santa Cecilia, offered a showstopping rendition of “Gracias a la Vida,” a South American classic about a woman’s love and devotion. La Marisoul ended by repeating the title four times, like a mantra. Eyes watered as she whispered, spent, “Gracias, Gloria.”
Father Moretta told everyone to go in peace, and Las Colibri began to play “Amor Eterno,” the Juan Gabriel tearjerker about a mother gone too soon that’s now a standard at Mexican American funerals.
Molina’s family walked down the aisle with her cremains, and people began to reach for their tissues again.
But the crowd must have collectively remembered something Bertha had said earlier, quoting Gloria’s reaction to the news of her illness: “Don’t be worried or sad for me. I’ve lived an awesome life.”
Someone clapped, then someone else. Then everyone. One final ovation, for everybody’s Gloria.