Heidy Rodriguez: Re-Tracing Her Parents' Journeys

Heidy Rodriguez. Photo courtesy Heidy Rodriguez

Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@losjeremy) asks, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?

This week we hear from community advocate Heidy Rodriguez:

"More usual than not, a teenager graduates high school and he/she is off to college to explore independence and a new world -- be it away from home, across the country or across town. Such was the case for my parents but in a different context. Upon becoming teachers in Guatemala during the civil war-stricken 1980s, my parents Byron and Lilian migrated to the United States.

Story continues below

"My mother, a young twenty-three-year-old woman full of spirit and eagerness to explore a larger world far from her small town of Taxisco, decided to venture out.

"Taxisco is a small town in the South Pacific region of Guatemala, famously recognized as the birthplace of the Reformist President Dr. Juan Jose Arevelo (1945-1951), the creator of the spiritual socialism movement aimed to liberate the minds of the oppressed.

Lilian, the mother of Heidy Rodriguez, in a 1985 photo. Photo courtesy Heidy Rodriguez

"Although home to a progressive President, Taxisco continues to be a humble town with one main street, familiar faces and surnames and afternoon siesta in a hammock under the shady trees. Taxisco is known as well for its proximity to the beautiful beaches of Monterrico, cattle, and most importantly, delicious cream and dry cheese.

"Escuintla, my father's hometown, is an industrialized city with about 70,000 inhabitants with access to commodities and proximity to the largest Port and a grandiose view of the active Pacaya Volcano. The traditional town folk song also proclaims it as the land of the swallows and palm trees. My parents met during high school in Escuintla at Liceo Escuintleco (Lyceum of Escuitnla).

"I have asked my mother over a dozen times to recount her odyssey to America as I, somehow, want to relive it. Violence did have a significant role in her move but it was not the sole purpose. More than that, my mother just wanted to explore the world outside of her town.

"She traveled long hours in a coach bus across Mexico and into Douglas, Arizona and then flew to Los Angeles. She recounts the big City of Angels gleaming from her airplane window. Then, she woke up the next day in a crammed apartment at Florence and Central in South Los Angeles. Her Aunt was more than happy to host her for as long as mother wanted to stay.

"Reality quickly struck. My mother had to look for a job as any other independent adult. Work came in the form of a live-in housekeeper. She stuck during trials and tribulations at different jobs; she faced many labor violations that went unaccounted for.

Siesta: A hammock on the patio of Heidy Rodriguez's grandmother's house. Photo courtesy Heidy Rodriguez
Siesta: A hammock on the patio of Heidy Rodriguez's grandmother's house. Photo courtesy Heidy Rodriguez

"One story that breaks my heart is that of my mother being thrown out in the middle of the night in Beverly Hills. She recounts that upon being unsatisfied with her pay, she gave notice she would be working with a neighboring family. Her boss took it well.

"But after a night out with her husband, the employer called the police to escort the housekeeper and falsely accused her of being disruptive. I can't imagine being in that position of humiliation. But I am empowered by all of those unfortunate experiences. Somewhere, somehow, that very family may even come across this account. And I just hope they have peace in their hearts that the young Guatemalan immigrant they hired is still in this country and in the process of becoming an American citizen just like them.

"Back, now, to the story.... Three years after my mother's arrival, her high school sweetheart called unexpectedly to surprise her. Byron also arrived to this country as a twenty-two-year-old; he stayed in Mexico for one month and even crossed the Sea of Cortez.

"He finally arrived to the U.S via Tijuana and lived to tell the story. Two semesters shy of finishing his Bachelors degree and with $100 sewn under his belt, he decided to go on his own adventure to the U.S. to the unknown. From restaurant jobs to textile and construction work, he survived.

"I came along joining the clan in 1987. Not knowing in advance if I was male or female, my mom was surprised as the nurse notified her she had given birth to a baby girl. She named me Heidy -- the first name that came to mind, which was also a name that was recommended by her best friend, a nanny who took care of a young girl with that same name.

"I recently found out that my mother did not have any prenatal care! Her boss only allowed her to leave work on Sundays.

"Twenty-four years later, I am a peaceful warrior at civil rights organization and supporting causes that will never allow any woman, regardless of legal status, to undergo similar situations.

"It is funny the way life works in a cyclical manner. We always go back to where we started in one form or another. So at twenty-three, I reversed the journey my parents took at the same age.

Byron (right), the father of Heidy Rodriguez, in a 1986 photo. Photo courtesy Heidy Rodriguez
Byron (right), the father of Heidy Rodriguez, in a 1986 photo. Photo courtesy Heidy Rodriguez

"I was empowered and felt closest to my parents than ever before. I crossed the same Sea of Cortez my father took from the state of Sinaloa, Mexico and crossed the same two borders.

"I now work two buildings away my father's first textile factory job and daily pass by the corner of Olympic and Figueroa, my father's first home and now a sky rise in the heart of downtown. The story of my parents is just like any other immigrant story. Had it not been for their wanderlust, I would not be here.

"I have the best of both worlds. My beautiful Guatemalan heritage mixed with my American upbringing, gives me a better understanding of the world and my role in it."

-- Heidy Rodriguez
(as emailed to Jeremy Rosenberg)​


Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com. Follow Rosenberg on Twitter @losjeremy

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading