Angelina Pedroso, for whom Northeastern Illinois University named its multicultural center after her 44-year career as a respected Spanish language and Hispanic literature educator, died on Oct. 7 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. She was 90 years old.
She is survived by her son, Aldo Pedroso, and three grandchildren, Morgan, Sofia and Isabela. She also leaves behind Flora Llacuna, who retired from Northeastern in August of 2020 and whom Dra. Pedroso affectionately considered her one and only daughter. A private burial was held for Dra. Pedroso on Oct. 8. She was preceded in death by her late husband, Dr. Aldo Pedroso, and youngest son, Daniel Pedroso. Northeastern will find a way to honor her legacy in the near future.
“The Northeastern community extends its deepest sympathies to Dr. Pedroso’s family and friends,” Northeastern President Gloria J. Gibson said. “I arrived at Northeastern long after Dr. Pedroso’s retirement, but I was lucky enough to meet her last year. She was warm, friendly and served as an example for how each of us can make a difference at Northeastern. I am confident that Dr. Pedroso’s influence will endure through the important work of the Pedroso Center and the students she mentored.”
Dra. Pedroso was born on March 29, 1930, in Havana, Cuba. “Doctora,” as she was affectionately called, was a trailblazer. She devoted her life to helping others. After graduating from the University of Havana in Cuba with her Doctor of Law Degree, LL.D. in Civil and Criminal Law, she emigrated to the United States and attended Chicago State University and Loyola University Chicago. In 1965, she came to Northeastern as a Professor of Foreign Languages and Literature (Spanish) until she retired in 2009. In 2011 the University created and dedicated the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs (APCDIA or, simply, the Pedroso Center) after the person who most represented the values and mission for which it stands.
“No matter your responsibilities—it does not matter if you are a freshman or a professor—name your part of Northeastern and you can bring pride to this University,” Dra. Pedroso said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the APCDIA. “It does not matter how we are. When we come to Northeastern, from here you are going to be prepared to have victory in life.”
She continued to reflect on how important it was to be prepared, as much as one can, for all of life’s joys and challenges.
“I learned the importance of preparing ourselves and I tried to pass that to every student I have met in my life,” Dra. Pedroso said. “I learned that you can survive if you prepare yourself.”
Since its founding, the APCDIA has been a centralized space for Northeastern students—especially Hispanic, African/African American, Asian, LGBTQ+ and female students—to prepare themselves to achieve their academic, personal and professional goals. It is also a resource for faculty and staff to grow their knowledge and understanding of the student populations the University is dedicated to serving. The APCDIA is home to many campus resources and programs, including the Social Justice Ally Initiative, which centers its efforts on creating spaces of equity and inclusion, and Safe Zone Training, which is geared toward creating a greater understanding of the LGBTQ+ communities. The Pedroso Center also houses a lactation room for nursing mothers, and a gender-neutral bathroom is located just outside its doors. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff of the Pedroso Center has worked tirelessly to ensure students, faculty and staff of Northeastern have continued the work of Dra. Pedroso virtually, arranging training sessions and continuing to create safe spaces for the Northeastern community.
"My biggest hope is that her legacy continues by having others continue to advocate for students, to nurture them and, through the center, to feel like the students have a home away from home," Llacuna said. "Her life was dedicated to advocating for the students. Everything she did was for them. I hope the center and the university continue to always work in her spirit of mentorship and selflessness. That is how we can all honor her."
Llacuna, who served Northeastern for 42 years, regarded Dra. Pedroso as her mother, teacher and mentor. Llacuna came to the United States from Spain in 1974. Her aunt was a friend of Dra. Pedroso’s at Loyola and Dra. Pedroso helped Llacuna get admitted to Northeastern. Once they met, Llacuna would visit Dra. Pedroso’s office regularly to help her with her files and other things she needed to do. Through that experience, and throughout the years that followed, Llacuna saw the powerful impact Dra. Pedroso had on the lives of others.
“I love her dearly,” Llacuna said. “The love and respect for her are parallel. She held office hours at seven in the morning. In rain, snow, cold, it didn’t matter—the students were in her office. Her office became the heart of Northeastern’s admissions because she was always recruiting, always advocating for the students, always mentoring students and other faculty and staff. She was always there, behind the scenes, to listen. I was a witness of that. She was always helping, always giving.”
Llacuna also recalled Dra. Pedroso’s truly famous smile, noting that she was featured on Univision's “Cristina” talk show in a segment called “Sonríe desde el Corazón,” a smile from the heart. Students nominated Dra. Pedroso to be part of the contest and she won.
“Doctora was famous for her eternal smile,” Llacuna said. “She touched so many lives.”
Dra. Pedroso’s former students include some of the University’s most notable alumni, including Chicago Board of Education President Miguel del Valle (B.A. ’74 Secondary Education-Spanish; M.A. ’77 Counseling), former U.S. Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (B.A. ’76 English) and State Sen. Iris Martinez (B.A. ’09 University Without Walls), who was instrumental in the creation of the Pedroso Center.
“As an NEIU alumna, I was honored to have known Dra. Angelina Pedroso,” Martinez said. “She was such a pioneer and role model. That’s why I was so pleased when we named and dedicated NEIU’s cultural center in her honor. Her memory and legacy will forever be a part of the NEIU family.”
Dra. Pedroso will be remembered for her keen analytical and legal skills, her witty humor and charming personality, which led her to become an influential figure. Her mentorship and advocacy for all members of the Northeastern community, causes and those who needed her help will live on through her legacy of leadership. Most certainly, she will be remembered as the inspiration of the APCDIA, which was one of her greatest joys.
“Even as she suffered with Alzheimer’s, I would tell her about Northeastern and remind her of her work,” Llacuna said. “When I did, I could see her joy. I would show her the T-shirts that bore her name, ‘The Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs,’ and tell her of what was happening at the center. For her, it was so big, so important. She couldn’t believe it happened, all the many things she did.”
Dra. Pedroso served on a variety of committees and professional and civic organizations including as commissioner of the Illinois Commission of Human Relations; member of the Board of Directors of the Pan-American Council; trustee of Chicago Educational Television-WTTW; member of the Board of Directors of the of the National Conference of Christians and Jews; consultant to the Desegregation Training Institute conducted in cooperation with the Chicago Public Schools; vice president of the Cuban Bar Association of Illinois; chairperson of the Board of Governors Policy Monitoring Committee –Northeastern Illinois University; chairperson of the Council of Faculties of the Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities of the State of Illinois; Northeastern Illinois University Liaison to the United States Department of Education’s National Network of Hispanic Postsecondary Students; associate member of MJXI Chapter of Sigma Delta Pi – National Honor Society in Spanish; and member of the United Way.
Among the grants, awards and honors accorded Dra. Pedroso are the Angelina Pedroso Scholarship Fund, Outstanding Educator of America Award and Community Leader of America Award. She has been honored by Continental Enterprise in Chicago for contributions to the development of the Spanish-American community, the Second Annual Statewide Human Relations Conference of Illinois, the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, and the Mexican-American Business and Professional Women’s Club.
Llacuna reflected on the immense gratitude Dra. Pedroso had throughout her life, always thanking people for their help and contributions, even in her final days thanking the nurses and doctors for their help.
“Thank you for being here,” Dra. Pedroso said in her closing remarks at the ribbon cutting for the APCDIA. “I love you. Don’t forget me.”