A memory from Krystal Rodriguez’s childhood still resonates with her. It even affected her career choice. She was only about 8-years-old, but she distinctly remembers people laughing at the way her father, a Mexican immigrant, spoke English. It struck a chord; she knew that the mockery was unjust and unwarranted.
“It really bothered me because my father is such a smart man and they were judging him by his accent,” said Rodriguez, a 2010 graduate of La Verne Law. “I think that seeing them (my parents) go through things like that really impacted me.”
Rodriguez is now an immigration attorney in Whittier, helping people like her father, Gustavo, and her mother, Gloria. Gustavo came to the U.S. to escape poverty and work toward a better life. Gloria, who braved long lines in Cuba just to buy milk, fled when she was a child.
“I wanted to go into law because my parents both immigrated here,” Rodriguez said. “My mother’s story especially impacted me, as she escaped Cuba as a child, leaving everything behind. I love the idea of people coming here for a better life, rebuilding themselves, and going after their dreams.”
Rodriguez, 27, grew up in Ontario and studied English and Spanish at UCLA. After graduation, she volunteered at public interest organizations, helping low-income people with guardianship, divorce and other petitions. She knew early on that she wanted to help people.
At La Verne, she worked with the Justice and Immigration Clinic under the mentorship of Professor Diane Uchimiya. That experience confirmed Rodriguez’s desire to pursue immigration law, and gave her invaluable practical skills. The clinic won asylum for a Central American man who was fleeing persecution from a gang, and Rodriguez worked on that case. While emotionally draining, helping the man was satisfying.
“There are so many things I have carried on that I have put into practice today,” she said. “I am so glad I did it. It gives me an advantage and the confidence I need to succeed.”
In her current career, Rodriguez is working to fight the misconception that immigrants are ignorant, dangerous, and a drain on society.
“They are good people. My clients really just want to live in this country and be able to form a life that is stable and secure,” she said.
Rodriguez said her parents instilled in Rodriguez and her two siblings the importance of education. They also reminded their children how fortunate they were to live in a country with so many opportunities. Gustavo and Gloria Rodriguez led by example.
The couple worked hard to provide for their children and opened their own business in San Bernardino, where they sell their own line of spices and seasonings to restaurants, butchers and markets all over the Inland Empire.
Rodriguez said she is trying to follow her father’s advice.
“He always told me that it’s important to dream, to not be satisfied or complacent with what you have,” she said.