Across the Country Working for Home

By: Stephen Graydon

Few graduates are fortunate enough to make it to our nation’s capital in their lifetime, even fewer get to have a snow-day before they start work for a United States congresswoman. Aaron Rodriguez is that outlier, paving his way to Washington, D.C. with relentless enthusiasm and professional determination.

Rodriguez grew up in Ontario, Calif., and came to California State University, Chico by fortune if not by choice. Higher education always came as a top priority from his parents.

Aaron Rodriguez: headshot
Aaron Rodriguez in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.
As Rodriguez puts it, “I didn’t really consider there to be any options other than going to a university right after high school.” He loved the college feel of Chico, and it turned out to be the best decision he could have made.

However, Chico wasn’t a perfect fit at first. Growing up in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, Rodriguez wasn’t accustomed to being in the minority where he lived, so it took a little while to adjust initially.

Not one to be idle, Rodriguez acted on a tip and visited the Cross Cultural Leadership Center (CCLC) when it was just getting started.

“I went in, and right away saw a bunch of people of color, people that I could relate to a little easier,” says Rodriguez.

Before long he had befriended his predecessor as commissioner of multicultural affairs, and begun down a road that would lead him to our nation’s capital. After he was elected commissioner of multicultural affairs, Rodriguez worked to fund multicultural events on campus. The position was a great fit; like his major in Multicultural and Gender Studies, he got to work with as many diverse groups as there are on campus.

“One week I’d be working with the Filipino American Student Association,” says Rodriguez, “the next week I’d be working with one of the Latina sororities.”

But more than the diversity of groups, Rodriguez liked to see the initiative of the student organizations.

“All of the events we were sponsoring were completely student led, they weren’t something that a staff member brought up,” says Rodriguez.

Even more inspiring was seeing the ethic that would shine through when students cared about their event; they would be on campus early in the morning to set up for celebrations not scheduled until the evening. Always one to appreciate cultural variety, Rodriguez was often a regular at the same events he helped commission.

Getting his first taste of legislation, Rodriguez was also on the committee to create the first Diversity Action Plan. The plan serves as a guide and metric for the steps CSUC will take over a five year period toward creating a more diverse and inclusive educational experience.

“It was cool because [the administrators] were able to yield to myself and another student to get an idea that was realistic,” says Rodriguez. “Because, at the end of the day, the Diversity Action Plan was made to directly impact students.”

Rodriguez has continued to improve his political skills in the years since. He is now working as an intern for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) where he is actually helping serve the communities of his home district, California’s 35th under Representative Gloria Negrete McLeod.

While in D.C., Rodriguez is already talking to constituents, networking around the hill, and he has even drafted his first letter to the State Department. Four days a week he works in his representative’s office, and on Fridays he participates in professional and civic workshops organized through CHCI. Indefatigable, Rodriguez has begun nudging his supervisor for “more substantive work,” and says, “The two biggest things I want to get involved in are women’s health issues and education.”

Working hard in the present, Rodriguez is also planning for his future. Not sure if graduate school is in his immediate future, Rodriguez wants to build on his current position. “Ideally, I would love to expand on my experience and create more opportunities to work in D.C.”