Providence-native Victoria Rodriguez is the true definition of a community advocate. She doesn’t just talk the talk. Her work in Rhode Island includes efforts in immigration rights, the battle against poverty, food justice, and the foster system. However, many of you have not yet heard her name. This is because Victoria is not one to brag. – By Jess Evora
I met Victoria at the Speak It Into Existence Open Mic in Pawtucket, RI. The host, Akeem Lloyd allowed everyone in the audience the opportunity to share a little bit about themselves. When Victoria stood up, she quickly listed off all the amazing work she is doing in the community. She said it in such a humble manner. I couldn’t believe it. Why had I not heard of her?
After just one conversation with her, I quickly realized that Victoria is extremely focused on producing quality work, work that speaks for itself within the Rhode Island community.
I feel so fortunate that she was willing to share her story with us.
“I learned early on not to let people tell me where to fit into their story,” said Victoria. She had no choice but to learn early. Life came at her pretty fast.
Victoria is a proud first-generation Azorian and Guatemalan woman. She was first raised in the Shipyard area of Providence, but then moved to the South side of Providence (Broad St.). She would go on to move homes a total of 4 times before the age of 10, eventually landing in Coventry, RI. She changed schools more often than she changed her address.
“My mom is a public educator. I was first in a school that didn’t have a lot of diversity, so my Mom moved me to make sure I was surrounded by diversity.” Victoria said. “This meant that I went from being the ‘token Latina’ in one school, to a school that was actually very diverse, one in which I was viewed as ‘White-passing’.”
“I really never fit in anywhere,” Victoria said. “And I continue to be the odd ball out in my life. I’m still navigating that.”
“But as I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that you really have to depend on your chosen family,” Victoria said. “Once I realized that, I felt freedom. I liberated myself by developed realistic expectations of the people around me.”
NAVIGATING HER CULTURAL IDENTITY
Victoria’s mother is Portuguese. Her father is Guatemalan. Victoria is proud of both aspects of her identity. Her mother raised her, and wanted to make sure that Victoria grew up knowing her Guatemalan heritage.
“My mom did a good job of cooking Guatemalan food, and playing Guatemalan music,” Victoria said. “She even took me to Guatemala.”
Victoria was certainly not alone as a member of the large LatinX community in Rhode Island. However, those of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent served as the majority at her school. Therefore, Victoria was used to being the minority among her peers. Nonetheless, she always understood the privilege that comes with her identity.
Navigating Her Understanding of The World
Victoria was still a bit lost internally when she enrolled as a first-year student at Albertus Magnus College in Hartford, CT. “Things changed a lot for the better once I got there,” She said.
“The professors there were brilliant, caring people,” Victoria said. “We had less than 2,000 people on entire campus, and it was predominantly people of color.”
“I decided to study Sociology and I am so glad I did,” Victoria said. “If I didn’t find sociology, I would not have survived. It helped explain so much of what is going on in society. Sociology was therapy for me.”
“Sociology literally helped me understand what I’ve been through and what others have been through. That’s when I really learned about this country.”
Beginning Her Work Within the Community
Victoria graduated from Albertus Magus in 2013, and returned to Rhode Island to help her family.
“My first job out of college was within outreach at Tides Family Services,” Victoria said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to save the world. No one is going to feel alone’.”
“Youth are some of the biggest victims of abuse in this country, and Rhode Island has the 2nd highest rate of state foster care in the system. I wanted these children to know, ‘Hey I got you’,” Victoria said. “I decided I was going to make a space for them to find their voice.”
“So, I came in with guns blazing,” Victoria said. “The purpose of my job was to keep families together. Our job was 24/7, 7-days a week. We covered all of Providence and surrounding areas. This was intense frontline work with case loads of 70 people.”
Victoria did this frontline work for 2-years. It was intense case management. She wasn’t able to make the impact for which she had hoped.
Victoria eventually moved on from Family Tides. She would hop from job to job for the next few years, never finding the one that really fit. At this point, she felt that the flawed system was so much bigger than her.
“I was lost after that,” Victoria said. “I was a broken spirit. I had no faith at that time for Rhode Island or social services. I realized I needed to understand this world if I wanted to say that I can advocate for youth in RI.”
Even as she struggled to set roots in a meaningful job, Victoria continued to look out for others. She began caring for one of the students from an academic program for which she worked.
The student was unaccompanied when she came to the U.S. However, Victoria would ultimately sponsored her asylum case, and to this day, still cares for the young teenager. “She’s so smart and she’s so special,” Victoria said. “I’m so lucky to have her in my life.”
A Turn for the Better
This past year, things have really turned around for Victoria. In fact, as Alicia Keys might say, this girl is on fire. Victoria is now involved in multiple community organizations that are making real impacts in RI.
Since September 2018, Victoria has been the Outreach Coordinator for the dynamic nonprofit organization Institute for Entrepreneurship & Leadership (IEL), which has been making big waves in Rhode Island working to end poverty through entrepreneurship and diversifying the tech force.
“What they do is beautiful.” Victoria said. “And the students are definitely impacted.”
“I’m working with people of color who believe in centering family and equity. I’ve never worked in such a healthy environment in my life,” Victoria said.
“I’m continuing to grow with IEL with spreading their mission because I believe so much in what they do,” Victoria said. “I think that this resource is going to be very powerful for RI. The founder, Keno Mullings, is amazing, and he will keep the door open until the community doesn’t need him anymore. He wants to solve the problem. I believe he is going to change the nature of nonprofit in our state.”
Victoria is involved in 2 additional nonprofits. The first is Facilitate Change (do they have website?), an organization that provides a space for community dialogue regarding identity, diversity & inclusion. “This organization creates a space for those who don’t have one to express themselves,” Victoria said.
The second is STEAM Box, a high school community resource in Providence founded by Roberto Gonzalez. STEAM Box offers youth experiential learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), and the organization actually just returned from a trip to Japan with their students.
“I love working with STEAM Box,” Victoria said. “I’m helping Roberto to make an English lab where kids could come and have different points of entry for them to practice language. Also, being dyslexic, I had so much trouble learning. So working to help develop the curriculum of the past several months has been so fulfilling.”
So What’s Next for Victoria?
“I plan to keep growing as person with these orgs,” Victoria said. “And, yes, working with adults is beautiful, but youth have my heart,” Victoria said. “I want to continue to advocate for EL [English-Language] learners. It scares me how inaccessible education is for migrants and people who have different education needs. I want to spread awareness.”
Victoria also has grand personal goals. “I’m going to be a full-time foster parent and live on a farm that’s a sustainable community,” Victoria said. “Food justice is also very important to me.”
With such an awareness for the many needs of our community, it is no surprise that Victoria Rodriguez stays extremely busy with her feet dug deep into multiple projects within the RI community.
As she continues to dive deeper and learn more about the community, Victoria aims to continue her personal growth, so she can help others learn to the same.
“I just want to heal RI,” Victoria said. “Like our team at IEL says often, we want RI to be a case-study for progress.”
Indeed, we may get there one day. But what we can say for now, is that Rhode Island is very lucky to have committed individuals like Victoria, who continue to work hard to get us closer to a more just and inclusive Rhode Island.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you Victoria for all that you do.
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