Brenda Rodriguez with awardees.WSU graduate Brenda Rodriguez (’18 Spanish), the eastern Washington network coordinator for the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN),  received the 2019 Visionary of the Year award from  Columbia Legal Services. Rodriguez, along with her WAISN colleague Monserrat Padilla, was honored on Oct. 16 at the Imagine Justice fundraiser.

The legal service honors leaders each year for their impact and commitment to racial equality, and for having inspiring and transformative visions.

A lot of the work Rodriguez does with WAISN has been on the ground visiting communities in Central and Eastern Washington, she said. She has learned about what happens in those communities regarding immigration issues. She has been working with Columbia Legal Services particularly when it comes to issues regarding courthouse arrests.

“ICE is conducting arrests all across the state and they are targeting courthouses, so when people are going or leaving the courthouse, they are arrested regardless of why they are there,” she said.

Rodriguez said her personal background is what motivated her to do the work she does now.

“I’m somebody who migrated to this country at the age of 9, who comes from immigrant parents and family,” she said. “I was often at times ashamed of my own immigration status.”

Under the current federal administration, she knew communities like the one she grew up in would be attacked and targeted.

“For me I started doing this work out of survival. I wanted to not only protect myself, but I wanted to protect my family and the people that I know who have been in this country for decades,” she said. “It’s nice to see that some of the work we do here on the ground is being recognized.”

Brenda Rodriguez and colleague Monserrat Padilla speaking to an audience.
Rodriguez, right, gives a presentation with Padilla.

Rodriguez said it is an honor to receive the award with Padilla. During Rodriguez’s final year at WSU she wrote a paper on Padilla and the work that she had done for the community, so Rodriguez is grateful to now be receiving an award with such a prevalent person.

Padilla, the westside coordinator for WAISN, said it was very humbling to be recognized as two young immigrants doing work that helps the community. She is also humbled that more people are showing support and sharing the visions that she and Rodriguez have. Padilla said that when you come from a family that has lived with challenges and displacement you get to see a different world that many other people do not get to see. She grew up with a similar background to that of Rodriguez and worked toward a career in helping immigrants.

“My mother worked in a sweatshop for 20 years, being pushed into horrible labor conditions and made very little money just to provide for her three children,” Padilla said.

Rodriguez said she wants to continue doing immigration work for a few more years. She said the work she does now allows her to play several roles. She does hope to find one area that she can focus on and invest more time in, she said. She also wants to pursue higher education in the future.

“Right now, going back to school is something that I would like to do, but I can’t do knowing that on a day-to-day basis people are being arrested trying to exit the courthouse and families are being torn apart,” she said.

Top photo: Brenda Rodriguez, third from left, at the Imagine Justice awards ceremony. (Photo source: https://columbialegal.org/)

By Shanel Haynes for The Daily Evergreen