Famed latina delievered keynote during diversity week

Joanne Hinojosa, EOP&S/CARE supervisor, sits with Leticia Rodriguez and answered questions from students. When asked if Rodriguez would consider writing a book, she said she would have to write the book herself. (Vanessa Maldonado/Clarion)

By Vanessa Maldonado | Staff Writer

An esteemed Latina, whose high school story was told in the movie “Stand and Deliver,” was the Diversity Week keynote speaker Tuesday Sept. 23.

Leticia Rodriguez, an electrical engineer for Honeywell Corp., shared her educational journey with Citrus College students in the Campus Center.

Joanne Hinojosa, EOP&S/CARE supervisor, sat with Rodriguez and delivered questions before students yesterday morning. Sofas set the mellow environment along with a Q&A after Rodriguez told her story. Students became engaged in Rodriguez’s journey, sharing admiration and tears on her dedication in pursuit of higher education.

Rodriguez touched on roadblocks she had to overcome during her class with Jaime Escalante, her Garfield High School math teacher.

Escalante was played by actor Edward James Olmos in “Stand and Deliver,” filmed in 1988 in East Los Angeles.

It was Escalante who helped persuade her father to put a desk in the back of his restaurant for Rodriguez to do her calculus homework.

Ultimately, she convinced her father that education would help make her dream of becoming an engineer come true.

As the top student in Escalante’s class, her greatest obstacle was her father’s resistance towards her education.

She joked that her father wanted his whole family to work in his restaurant, El Farolito in East Los Angeles, because it was free labor for him.

“He provided such a competitive environment for us,” Rodriguez said, commenting on Escalante’s ability to motivate students. “It was good, because we wanted to outdo each other.”

When she and her classmates took the Advancement Placement calculus exam, they did so well that they were suspected of cheating and they were required to retake it under heavy supervision.

Ultimately, she and her classmates made national news when they earned higher grades on the second exam than on the first.

Today, Rodriguez aims to help students pursue in higher education and access resources that she herself did not have.

Working in a male-dominated field, she finds it difficult to get her professional opinion heard.

“I give back and help kids stay in school — keep moving forward, no matter what, because you will always have obstacles,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and her husband Ray Escobar have three children: two daughters and a son. Her daughter Francisca Escobar, 24, is a Citrus College student majoring in music education.

Escobar said she loves her job, teaching kids to learn and play music. She also said she thinks it is weird that her mother’s high school story was told in a movie.

Rodriguez strives to instill the same dedication and passion in her children as Escalante did in her. Francisca says her mom pushed her to the max, always urging her and her siblings to do their best.

Francisca said she heard her mom say over and over again: “If you think you can do it, you can do it. If you don’t think you can, you can’t do it.”

Hinojosa, mother of Tyler Hernandez, former president of the ASCC executive board, spoke to Rodriguez at a prior event called Café Con Leche in May. The event catered to students and their parents regarding resources available to them. There, Rodriguez presented her story.

“Leticia’s educational journey was far from easy, yet she went on to become an engineer,” Hinojosa said. Rodriguez grew up in an era when Hispanics were looked down upon.

It was a time of civil unrest, including the Chicano walk-outs, during which East L.A students walked out of their schools and into the streets to protest poor quality education and a prejudiced environment.

Regardless of their backgrounds, students relate to searching for balance between pressures of work, school and family. Escalante had faith his students could overcome boundaries as long as they worked hard and fought hard.

So besides calculus what did Rodriguez learn from Jaime Escalante’s class?

“Failure is not an option,” Rodriguez said.

Her message to Citrus students:
“Seek your passion in life and do everything you can to work towards that goal.”