Cirenio Rodriguez, originally from Michoacán, Mexico, immigrated to the United States at the age of fourteen. Rodriguez’s parents had hoped their move to California would give rise to educational opportunities that were not available in Michoacán. During the academic year, Rodriquez and his family lived in Los Angeles alongside his nine younger sisters. The change came during the summers when the Rodriguez family relocated to Lodi, California. Every summer season the family lived in Harney Lane Labor Camp and worked in the fields.
Rodriguez recalls picking tomatoes, grapes, and cucumbers in 110-degree heat. He stated, “the first time I realized I wanted to pursue higher education was when I went to the DMV around the age of fifteen. It was the first time I had experienced air conditioning and there was a young man with a bow tie sitting behind the desk. That was the moment I realized I wanted a good job, inside and away from the heat.” Despite the difficult circumstances, Rodriguez dedicated himself to academic success and had a career away from the sun.
In 1966, Rodriguez pursued his undergraduate degree. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) with a Bachelors of Art Degree in Hispanic Civilization. He later went on to earn his Masters degree in Spanish and his Ph.D. (Doctorate of Philosophy) in Policy and Organizational Analysis. After completing astounding academic accomplishments Rodriguez became a university professor, guiding students not only with a formal education, but encouraging them to be active citizens within their community.
“Never give up and stay focused on your education. If you have a goal stick with it and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise,” Rodriguez often advises students. “Also, stay involved. At least for me, being a student activist helped me later in life. It provided me with an opportunity to practice and experience different skills that proved valuable.”
Noting the importance and value in voting he added that “people need to become citizens. If they are citizens they need to register to vote, and if they are registered to vote, they NEED to turn out and vote. The only way I know we can make an impact is by organizing, mobilizing, and using our votes.”
Cirenio Rodriguez has been, and continues to be, a champion for social justice and higher education. A humble farmworker from Michoacán, he has achieved great academic feats and notable career accomplishments, while simultaneously encouraging others to pursue their goals. Rodriguez embodies the notion that hard work pays off.