2023 was the year we said goodbye to too many matriarchs

LOS ANGELES, CA – May 27: Sister Olga Molina Palacios with her 6-year-old son Moises Armando Palacios pays her respects at the funeral of former Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Gloria Molina at Resurrection Catholic Church, Los Angeles, CA . (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

2023 was the year we said goodbye to too many matriarchs

LA Politics, Home News, California Politics

Gustavo Arellano

Dec. 28, 2023

Mara Fernndez Miranda is the epitome of a matriarch. Seven of her eleven surviving children live on the same street as her in Anaheim. Nearly all of her dozens of grandchildren are college educated, and many are now starting to buy their own homes. Her house is an eternal party, with enough giant fruit trees and random visitors to populate a Gabriel Garca Mrquez novel.

This special 87-year-old woman is my Ta Mara, the eldest sister of my late mother, Mara de la Luz Arellano Miranda. Tough but tender, with a wry sense of humor and the best food I have ever tasted, my aunt was a second mother to me


When my grandparents had to travel to Mexico City from their mountain village of Zacatecas, she took care of her younger sister; When Mami died of ovarian cancer, my Ta Mara and her daughters cared for her. She has been an example of womanhood to my sisters and a beloved aunt to my brother and me.

please leave the “mine” in all the “my Ta Mara”s, that’s what the family calls her in Spanish

Our childhood home is just down the street, so the Fernndez clan has been part of our lives since childhood. That’s why there is always at least one of us present at the Christmas Eve party in our Ta Maras. Who would want to miss it? It begins with a rosary for a nativity scene, accompanied by Mexican Catholic hymns, and ends with


(bags of peanuts and candies), tamales, hot cinnamon tea and tequila. These gatherings are a chance for good food and company, but I’m usually the one making an excuse not to go.

Not this year. I was there in my living room in Ta Maras, mumbling through the Hail Mary and the Litany of Loreto in Spanish, making sure I appreciated every minute of it.

My Ta Mara is still so healthy that she declined my offer to drive back from her daughters’ house a few days before Christmas Eve, even though the walk was easily more than a mile.

But I’m going to take more care of the matriarchs in my life in the coming year. 2023 reminded me that they don’t live forever, no matter how much we fool ourselves into thinking they will. In Southern California and beyond, we’ve lost too many trailblazing women who changed us for the better, and we haven’t always had the chance to say goodbye properly.

The most prominent deaths were U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnor, both in their 90s. Due to the longevity of their careers, too many people will mainly remember them in their twilight years, which is a shame. Younger women can’t even imagine the sexism that came with trying to become a professional in the 1960s and 1970s, and that’s a good thing. Women like Feinstein and O’Connor bore the bruises of farmers on their way to the top so that future generations wouldn’t suffer so much.

I was just a toddler when OConnor became the first woman on the Supreme Court, and a teenager when Feinstein became California’s first female U.S. Senator. But I remember the respect my female teachers and professors had for the two, even though I didn’t always agree with them politically. Unfortunately, toward the end of Feinstein’s life, a growing chorus of Democrats wished for her resignation as she grew older.

and health

overtook her.

Still, longevity is what made Feinstein and OConnor legends. In a society that tries to relegate older women to Biddy status once they turn 50, they persevered. More importantly, they survived the men who long mocked their abilities and who will be remembered as fools, while Feinstein and O’Connor rightly go down as icons.

The same status awaits Gloria Molina, the Chicana lawmaker who has forged political paths in a career that has taken her from Sacramento to City Hall and the Board of Supervisors. After term limits forced her out of the latter position in 2014, she embarked on a public agenda that would exhaust a clubgoer. That’s why her death this summer at the age of 71, just months after announcing she was dying of terminal cancer, shocked so many.

I interviewed Molina at her home in Mount Washington a few months before her death. Even when struck by a terminal illness, her matriarch spirit radiated. She sat in a chair, dressed in her finest, spouting unfiltered opinions about friends and enemies, especially the “boys” who ran the Eastside machine she defied and defeated time and time again. She had clear advice for the rest of us. She wanted everyone to follow her example as a public servant who was never corrupt and always helped the less fortunate, but she also offered special encouragement to Latinas, who she felt had a heavier burden to bear than men.

They need to build their self-confidence. Don’t let the boys control your confidence, number one, Molina told me. And second, do what you want to do. It will be a challenge and you won’t always win. I am an example of that. But at least a challenge [the patriarchy]because that will hopefully encourage other Chicanas down the line.

Look at the mistakes, she concluded. Look at the mistakes that are made and be better and more effective at them.

A woman who followed the Molina road was San Fernando




board member and former member


Assembly member Cindy Montaez, who died in the fall of cancer. At 49, she may seem a little young to be considered a matriarch, especially since she left no biological children. But she was the philosophical mother of dozens of well-wishers in LA political and environmental justice circles. Hundreds of thousands of people across the Southland benefit from her tree-planting mission as CEO of the nonprofit TreePeople.

Her premature death was especially heartbreaking. Unlike Molina, Feinstein and O’Connor, Montaez barely reached the peak of her career. But knowing that your death is imminent comes with a certain wisdom, which Montaez displayed when we spoke at her home in August. She urged people to continue the fight against climate change, environmental racism and other issues that defined her career. She also wanted people to understand that things don’t always happen the way we hope, and that that’s okay.

“I wish I did more,” she admitted at one point during our hour-long conversation. But God has a plan. And sometimes we don’t understand it, but it happens. But in heaven you have to understand what the plan is.

When I talk about incredible women who have left us in 2023, I have to mention my paternal grandmother, Angelita Arellano Perez. She died at the age of 100 from complications due to a stroke, the very day LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes held a public celebration of Molina’s life. Grandma may not have made as many headlines as those other women, aside from my columns about her, but that didn’t make her any less of a


to the people who loved her. We Arellanos were fortunate to have Grandma teach life lessons until the end, and my cousins ​​were smart enough to videotape and record her so Grandmas can comfort us for years to come.

2024 will bring more premature deaths, and more matriarchs taken from us. Luckily I still have a few in my life. I still have my Ta Mara. In December, she didn’t help make tamales or lead the rosary as in years past, but that was okay. Her voice was loud and clear during the prayer, and then she walked from table to table to make sure we were all well fed.

When I tried to sneak away, as I always do, without saying a proper goodbye, my Ta Mara caught me and smiled.

Ven ms en seguida

, she said. Come by more often.

We owe it all to our matriarchs.


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