My experience with Higher Education, growing up in Boyle Heights: Miriam Rodriguez
A unique mark of pride and learning, the Area Director of Council District 14 tells of her experience of growth in the neighborhood and how Community College is an opportunity for positive change.
Born and raised in the neighborhood, the Area Director of Council District 14’s Boyle Heights Office attended East Los Angeles College. This community college gave her access to USC. Her experience is an encouragement to Latino youth.
A vibrant community, full of color and culture, is the home of Miriam Rodriguez, Area Director for District 14. She knows that growing up in Boyle Heights has its unique characteristics. She recognizes that it leaves an indelible mark of pride and learning, which have supported her throughout her life.
“It was in our streets that I learned about hard work, which frequently starts at the dawn of day. It was in my interactions with the community that I learned that even when we don’t have a lot to give, there is always a way to lend a helping hand,” says Rodríguez.
Although the Director admits that not everything was smooth, especially in the ’90s, she knew how to find her way. “Gang disputes were rampant, and shootings and police knocking on your door in search of suspects were common and ordinary scenes. Nonetheless, in the face of adversity, I learned to foster positive relationships and to value the great things Boyle Heights has to offer”.
Starting the community college
Sometimes people aspire more but cannot find the right guide to fulfill their dreams. College, for example, seems unreachable. It seems a privilege for a few, a completely different world, multiple options, and few certainties.
“Attending community college was a great option for me. It allowed me to explore general education courses that helped me determine what I wanted to focus my studies on. Best of all, most community colleges offer great financial support, and in many cases, as was mine, tuition was free. As a matter of fact, besides having my tuition covered, I would also receive financial support to help me pay for school materials,” explains Rodríguez.
Rodríguez strongly recommends community colleges not only for financial aid: “Sometimes, some students might not feel emotionally ready to leave home, and that is okay. Personally, I grew and matured a lot while in community college, with the safety net of having my family nearby. I felt that by the time I transferred, I had matured enough and felt prepared to be more independent.”
The motivation to succeed
“I was not prepared for the cultural shock that occurred” –remembers Rodríguez– “I did not even realize it was happening at the time. Growing up in Boyle Heights, I had always attended public schools where the student base was predominantly Latino. It was at USC where I even discovered I had an accent, considering that I had always been surrounded by peers who spoke just like me”.
For the Director, the first months at USC were hard and full of fears: “There were days I would cry, and I did not understand why. If it were not for the phone calls and chats with my cousin back home, I am not sure how I would have kept my sanity. I spoke about the disconnect I experienced during those initial weeks when I transferred. I know there is often a fear of not fitting in, which can worsen those feelings of isolation”.
“Slowly, I made new friends. We bonded on this same initial shock that came from transferring to the University of Spoiled Children (I joke, USC is a great school, but for the first few weeks, it was a dark and unknown territory). I embraced knowing that where I came from was not a weakness, but rather my motivation to succeed,” she claims.
The power of community
If you are looking for support, your community can provide it. In Boyle Heights, there are organizations ready to help students, such as InnerCity Struggle, College Track (if you are a Roosevelt High School student), Girls Today Women Tomorrow, and ScholarMatch, among many others. “It is in these organizations where students can find the support to navigate the college application process and find scholarship opportunities,” says Rodríguez.
She adds: “It is essential for students to familiarize themselves with financial aid offices and other student resource centers. Sometimes it might feel like we “bother” too much, but I am a firm believer that these centers are always in the best disposition to assist students. I would have had a lot more trouble paying for school if it weren’t for the guidance I received from these counselors.”
You can also find more trusted local services in your community at www.boyleheighstresources.org or download the Boyle Heights Resources app.
- InnerCity Struggle https://www.innercitystruggle.org/
- College Track https://collegetrack.org/communities/boyle-heights-ca/
- Girls Today Women Tomorrow 1929 E 2nd St #1927, Los Angeles, CA 90033, phone +1 323-526-3039
- ScholarMatch https://scholarmatch.org/
- USC Latino Alumni Association https://alumni.usc.edu/laa/