She was a Hispanic pioneer of Aurora who became a trailblazing entrepreneur, community advocate and a voice for Latinos from her near eastside home where she lived for more than six decades.
The late Herminia Rodriguez Gasca was memorialized this weekend during a street dedication ceremony that was both special to her family and historic for Aurora as it marks the first time a Latina has been honored with such a distinction.
“Herminia was a true pioneer of our community,” said Ward 2 Alderwoman Juany Garza who welcomed the family to the ceremony. “She gave so much to everyone and I am so happy to give something back to her for all of the community to see.”
In honor of what would have been her 90th birthday on Monday, September 28, Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin proclaimed the day as ‘Herminia Rodriguez Gasca Memorial Day’ during the gather at the intersection of Superior and Root Streets where the 300 block of Superior was also dedicated in her.
“As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in Aurora, we shine a spotlight on leaders in the City of Lights,” said Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin who first met the leader when he was a young child. “Certainly Mrs. Rodriguez Gasca was one of those leaders who gave more than she received and went the extra mile to help those in need. Her life’s work has impacted generations of Aurorans and it is our honor to dedicate the street where she lived and changed lives in her honor.”
Moving to Aurora in her late teens with her husband, Rodriguez Gasca joined the handful of Latino families living in Aurora in abandoned boxcars at the train station. For nearly five years, the young family worked daily to save money to buy a home. In 1954 that dream became a reality when the couple and their six children purchased their home at 318 Superior Street.
As the family continued to grow, they took in tenants to offer relief to families in need and to supplement their income over the next fifteen years. In 1969, Rodriguez Gasca divorced and became a single mother of 10 children. This pivotal point in her life encouraged her to become independent, learn to drive and find employment. She also found her passion for helping others in Aurora.
Beginning in the early 1970s, she began interpreting for the growing number of families moving to Aurora from Mexico and established her first business in that industry, which expanded quickly. She traveled, sometimes daily, to immigration offices in Chicago to interpret for families and then for lawyers, doctors and judges in courtrooms. In Aurora, she literally became the voice for those who couldn’t speak English. While providing assistance to families, Rodriguez Gasca learned how to file income tax documents and launched her second family business in the community.
By the mid-1980s, she had become an inspiring businesswoman, community advocate and the first point of contact for many Latinos in need of assistance. From helping to provide access to groceries and clothes to completing official paperwork for immigration, health care, legal and finances, Herminia Rodriguez Gasca became known as the ‘Abuela of Superior Street’ and the helper to the community. She continued serving the community, including providing financial donations to such community organizations as the Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry and Wayside Mission, until her health began to fail in the last decade.
At 86 years old, 62 years after moving into her house on Superior Street and for more than a half-century of working in and for the community, Herminia Rodriguez Gasca passed in 2016 leaving a lasting legacy.
“She has inspired me my whole life and continues to do so every day,” said her daughter Victoria Rivera. “I became a social worker because I watched her help so many people. She was a strong advocate for anyone in need of help.”
Family members proudly wore t-shirts with a photo of their matriarch and the message, “We are proud of your Latina legacy.”
“My grandmother was a very special woman,” said Virginia Aguirre. “I am so glad we could honor her in this special way, especially during Hispanic Heritage Month and on the weekend of her 90th birthday.”