A surprise was in store for Laura Rodriguez.
Just about all of the 250 people outside the Chicano Community Health Center in Barrio Logan on Friday knew what was up, but they were taking pains not to let the 76-year-old community leader in on the secret.
As far as Rodriguez knew, this was just another fund-raiser, the same sort of event that has raised close to $45,000 in the past five months to help the clinic complete a pediatrics wing, due in November.
Indeed, everything seemed the same as usual. Rodriguez, a blue bandanna covering her hair, helped out with food distribution in the parking lot, overseeing the volunteers who dished up 600 tamales, beans and rice.
Finally, after the meals were served and the guests were seated, Laura Rodriguez got the news.
The pediatrics outpatient wing at the Chicano Community Health Center will be called the "Laura Rodriguez Pediatrics Wing."
In spite of a standing ovation, Rodriguez--a woman her friends call "everyone's grandmother"--said she preferred to keep a low profile. "I hate to speak in public," she told the crowd at one point.
But Rodriguez has been a main force behind the health center. She helped lead a successful community struggle in 1970 to take over the same turn-of-the-century building where she attended dances as a teen and turn it into a health clinic for the Barrio Logan community.
"I don't know what this government would do--the city, the county (without the center)," she said. "We take care of everybody."
Still, she said the center is attempting to raise money so that the clinic can further meet the community's health care needs.
"I don't want everybody to give a lot of money," she said. "I want to work for it. I don't want to be a beggar, I want to work."
And work it has been. It took Rodriguez, along with six women, a week of 10- to 12-hour days to prepare the more than 600 pork tamales served Friday. For the past five months, the volunteers have been cooking and selling the tamales once a month and have raised $45,000.
"We've made a lot of progress, but we want more," she said. "I don't have too much longer to go; I'm 76. But I want to see a (pediatric wing)."
Fran Butler-Cohen, director of the center, describes Rodriguez as a "true community person." She said Rodriguez "keeps an eye on the clinic."
Aside from opening, closing, and supervising a crew which cleans the clinic, Rodriguez acts as an adviser to the director and is a non-voting member of the board of directors, according to Butler-Cohen, all on a volunteer basis.
She said the center still needs another $50,000 to pay for the pediatrics wing, which will cost $500,000.
Butler-Cohen said the expanded pediatric wing would help the center increase the number of people it provides care for each month by 1,000, for a total of 5,000 people a month.
Rodriguez said she remembers walking through the area where the center is when she was a child. She said she doesn't remember a health care facility in the neighborhood.
"I want the kids in here (now) to have something better," she said.