Sometimes it takes a yoga mat to make a point.
As part of his first workshop with the Latino Network’s 2013-14 Unidos for Oregon Leadership Program, Jaime Rodriguez and 23 other Latino professionals brought their mats into a conference room following lunch at the University of Oregon in late October. They had a 20-minute snooze in between the morning and afternoon sessions, the latter of which wouldn’t end until 7 p.m. The nap, or better known as a siesta, was the perfect device to help Rodriguez and his cohorts re-connect to their Latino heritages and even work more efficiently.
“It took me 30 seconds and I was out,” said the Hillsboro resident. “But some people couldn’t do it. The dominant culture as they call it doesn’t allow us to take a nap. I said, ‘Hey guys, but it’s our culture. You go to Mexico, Spain or Latin America, we take siestas. It’s in your blood, man, reach deep.’ Me and a few others didn’t have a problem doing that. We felt refreshed afterward.
“But those that did not take that 20-minute nap and couldn’t bear to be away from their electronic devices, they had trouble come 4 p.m., yawning and wanting coffee,” he added, chuckling.
Unidos helps Latino leaders thrive
This winter, Rodriguez and the other two dozen professionals from around the state are taking part in workshops that build leadership skills that address “the gap in Latino leadership cohesion, collaboration, trust-building and strategic coordination.” The cohort meets once a month at locations around Oregon throughout the academic year, culminating with a graduation in May. The program develops leadership skills in politics, intercultural and intergenerational communication, understanding oppression, conflict resolution, collaboration and negotiation, community building, and more. Rodriguez said the skills are needed for any Latino, who strives to serve in leadership capacities to help them bridge understanding between cultures.
“Many of us, unfortunately, are the only Latinos in the room whether it’s at a school board meeting or some organization of leadership,” Rodriguez said. “There always seems like there is just one Latino in the group and people assume we have all the answers. You may be of Mexican or Cuban descent, but they expect you to know Argentinean or Brazilian cultures. That’s just not how it goes.”
The participants come from a wide range of career backgrounds such as education, finance, health care, housing, legal and law enforcement. Rodriguez serves part-time as a veterans resource coordinator at the Rock Creek Campus (17705 N.W. Springville Road) and career specialist in the workforce development department at Willow Creek Center (241 SW Edgeway Drive). His focus during his rise through PCC and other leadership roles has been on championing equal rights.
“Jaime as a leader in the community is in constant leadership development,” said Narce Rodriguez (no relation), dean of student development at the Rock Creek Campus. “He would not consider himself a leader if he did not ask the hardcore question about equality.”
Attendees work to battle under-representation
A common theme in workshops is discussing reasons why Latinos are under-represented in community leadership settings, or expressing shared experiences such as being passed over for promotions due to a lack of understanding of their cultures. Rodriguez said the first session in October centered on relationship building and personal story sharing. He said through this sharing at Unidos he discovered members of the group had several things in common.
“Most of the leaders that were there have a farm worker history in them whether it was their immediate parents or grandparents,” said Rodriguez, who came from a farm worker family that emphasized education. “All of us have college degrees and I’d say the vast majority of us were the first members of our family to graduate from college. The Latino Network did a good job of getting people together who had a common goal or ancestry where they were all trying to do better than what their parents did (in education).”
Rodriguez no stranger to leadership
Even before Unidos, Rodriguez was carving his own leadership path. In 2012, Rodriguez represented District 1 as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Earlier that year, he assisted Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici’s campaign by working as a communications liaison to Latino voters in Washington County. Last May, he was one of three candidates that ran for a seat on the Hillsboro School Board (he finished in a close second). Since becoming a union member in 2002, Rodriguez has worked his way up to leadership within the PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals, serving on two bargaining teams and as Vice President of Political Action, advocating on important issues and for local candidates. As a result, he won PCC’s 2013 Cesar Chavez Distinguished Service and AFT-Oregon’s John Connor Memorial Civic Participation awards.
“Jaime has long been a strong advocate for civil rights,” said Michael Morrow, former president of the PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals. “Jaime’s roles with PCCFFAP have always made use of his commitment to involve others.”
Rodriguez, the youngest of four boys, has a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Fresno State University and is a former community college student. Rodriguez, who served in the U.S. Army, started at PCC more than 14 years ago. He came up to Oregon from California to attend law school at Willamette University as he said, “I fell in love with what Oregon had to offer.” Today, through this leadership effort, Rodriguez wants to engage the younger generation into the similar discussions about cultures and integration.
“I’m a first-generation Mexican American and have lived here most of my life,” he said. “I’m American more than anything else and I’m still learning about my Mexican culture and its traditions. So how do we keep our own values that we learned growing up and integrate them into the dominant culture and pass that on to our children? As we are developing our own careers as leaders, how do we also incorporate the younger generation to becoming leaders? Whatever career or expertise you may be in, we are always engaging and incorporating the other cultures.”