Patty Rodriguez: On Air & On Fire
From LA To the World
By Anabel Marquez | Photos: Rachel Carrillo
It’s cold and windy in Downtown LA on a Friday afternoon but that’s not stopping Patty Rodriguez from visiting an outdoor taco shop tucked between old industrial buildings and modern coffee shops.
Rodriguez takes a look at the menu and reminds the group: “Hoy no se come carne (Spanish for we don’t eat meat today),” in reference to the Catholic tradition of giving up meat on Fridays during Lenten season.
Her fish taco order arrives and Rodriguez carefully unwraps the aluminum foil and adds lemon and salsa to make her food taste even better.
It seems like a common practice but in retrospect, Rodriguez has been doing that type of thing all her life— she identifies something her culture appreciates, opens it up for thought then adds her name to make it even better.
That premise can be applied to her job as an on-air personality on KIIS FM, where she can be heard On-Air with Ryan Seacrest offering a unique perspective on trending topics. She first stepped foot at the station as a senior year high school student having ditched class with her friends in hopes of winning tickets for an NSYNC concert. Rodriguez not only won the concert tickets that day, she never left the station.
“I was like, ‘this is my calling’. I started asking questions and right after high school I was an intern,” she remembers.
Her calls to MAC Cosmetics requesting that the company develop a makeup line in honor of Tejano Music Star Selena Quintanilla proved fruitless during the first few attempts. Then someone at the company finally listened to Rodriguez. In 2016, she joined the Quintanilla Family in Corpus Christi to celebrate the Selena MAC collaboration, which sold out almost immediately.
“I really feel like everything I grew up dreaming about, is coming,” she says.
And when she became a mom and started looking for children’s books that illustrated the art, colors and language of her Mexican culture, she couldn’t find any. She contacted literary agents, publishing houses and independent book presses, sent a few manuscripts and was told time after time that there wasn’t a market that would buy her book idea. As a result, she and a childhood friend created their own publishing company which now distributes their signature Lil' Libros to major department stores and book shops nationwide.
“I want to tell my son, ‘you can go after your dreams because I was able to go after my dreams and achieve them,’” says Rodriguez.
On Crossing the Border & Crossing Borders for Latinx People
Rodriguez' parents immigrated to the United States in search of work opportunities and settled in Lynwood. Several years later, Rodriguez and her younger brother were born in Los Angeles. The goal was to save enough money, return to Mexico and live happily in their native country.
Keeping true to their objective, they moved back to Mexico when Rodriguez was a toddler. The problem, as many families have come to discover, was that moving back to Mexico where incomes and opportunities are scarce, makes reintegration difficult, especially when raising small children.
Rodriguez’ parents realized Los Angeles was a better home for their children but their U.S. legal status wasn’t yet permanent.
She remembers holding her mom’s hand at the Tijuana-San Diego border. Her dad and younger brother were there too. Although her mom doesn’t like offering details about this moment in the family’s history, Rodriguez is sharing what she remembers.
“I remember we were inside a white van and it was pouring rain and the van’s wheel got stuck in the mud. There were about twenty people in there and they started screaming that La Migra was coming (referring to immigration officials). My dad got out of the van to help push it out of the mud and I ran after him…”
In a moment where her mother was faced with either leaving her young, U.S. born kids in the hands of a stranger or taking them along for a potentially dangerous border-crossing journey, Rodriguez’ mom chose the latter.
“My parents came to this country because they wanted a better life,” says Rodriguez. “How am I not going to work toward that? It would be a disservice to their legacy if I did nothing! I realized this when I became a mom.”
From #BossLady to #BossMom
Growing up in Lynwood, Rodriguez had dreams of being a part of the entertainment industry.
“I was obsessed with entertainment and radio. I listened to the radio every morning when my mom took us to school…I wondered what it was like to be inside the studio,” she recalls.
She didn’t want to be a singer, even though her mother’s mariachi background had greatly influenced her. She simply wanted to be a part of the industry and she had a knack for earning money.
As early as elementary school, Rodriguez would sell candy bars to kids at school. Once she started working at KIIS FM, she also started writing for a magazine and managing a rock band. She had retail department store jobs and eventually, she launched a jewelry line, Mala by Patty Rodriguez, featuring jewelry pieces with popular and empowering words and phrases in Spanish.
Her career at the radio station was booming and when Ryan Seacrest arrived in 2005, the two immediately hit it off. The only recurring feeling that unsettled Rodriguez was the thought that her radio gig was too good to be true. She identified it as Impostor Syndrome which is when a high-achieving individual is marked by feelings of being undeserving of their success.
“I always thought about my accent…How did I con the world into thinking that I belong here?” she recalls thinking to herself. “It took me a very long time to believe that I actually belonged there…but in hindsight, I had to remind myself: ‘This wasn’t easy. You worked hard!’”
From Loss to Success
When Patty had her first son Alexander, she started asking herself who do I want to be as a mother?
Her pregnancy had been rough but after being diagnosed with post-partum depression due to undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), she felt a new sense of clarity.
“When I was diagnosed, I saw the light,” says Rodriguez. “Alexander opened my eyes to that little girl I used to be. When we celebrate his birthday, I feel like we’re also celebrating mine because he reignited the little girl that would dream growing up. He brought that back.”
With a newfound purpose, a thriving radio career and jewelry business, Rodriguez was happy. But she kept struggling with the notion that there weren’t any bilingual books for babies and publishers had rejected her manuscript.
Then her house caught fire and burned down. Everything Rodriguez owned was reduced to ashes.
“The only thing that was left were the clothes on our backs. I got really, really depressed,” says Rodriguez “The only way I can describe it is like mourning a loss.”
When she stepped into the burnt house to clean through the charred remains, Rodriguez came across remnants of a small hand-made book she had created out of cardboard paper and stickers. It had embellishments and pictures depicting a baby book about Loteria (Mexico’s colorful and illustrative version of Bingo).
Finding parts of her handmade book prototype amidst the ashes was a defining moment for Rodriguez
“This was God giving me a sign,” she says with tears rolling down her eyes. “I went back to the apartment where we were staying and started researching how to self-publish books.”
She thought to herself: “If I’m going to be my son’s hero, this is going to be the way… by creating something that stays even after I’m gone.”
To date, Lil' Libros has a collection of nearly a dozen board books that introduce babies to numbers, shapes and colors with Latin American themes such as Lucha Libre, The Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, Celia Cruz and a tribute to Selena expected to be released this month, among others. There are also Lil' Libros prints, pins, a board game and puzzles coming soon.
Rodriguez has a second son now, Oliver, who currently serves as her Lil' Libros product sampler. When she’s not busy working, she serves as a motivational speaker and activist and she’s considered a Latina influencer, often receiving invitations to events and engagements.
Through it all, she remains loyal to her Mexican heritage, her first language and her cultural traditions.
As she prepares to take the first bite of her fish taco at the Downtown LA outdoor taco shop, she remembers she can’t eat tortillas during Lenten season.
“I gave those up too.”
In her own words
“For me the bigger driving force was proving myself wrong. I am my own worst critic. I’ve never been afraid to embarrass myself or get ridiculed or get the door slammed in my face…it’s never kept me from trying again to open that door. I can take the punches because I’m strong despite my insecurities.”
Connect with Patty Rodriguez!
Mommy In Los Angeles® Magazine had the pleasure of spending an afternoon interviewing, laughing and even sharing tears with Patty Rodriguez. Her honesty, passion and commitment to empower women and continue introducing the beauty of her Mexican heritage through her books is one we admire and support. We wish Patty Rodriguez many more successes. #LAMomsRock | Every Mom Has a Story.