“I make sure that the people who have been historically marginalized do not get forgotten, and that they’re empowered to raise their voice,” Frank Rodriguez tells me over lunch. He’s the policy and communications associate for CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for A Sustainable Economy), the nonprofit that’s building grassroots power to invoke social, economic, and environmental justice through policy research, leadership development, organizing, and advocacy.
Frank has led quite an inspiring journey. The son of immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico, he was born at Cottage Hospital, grew up on the Eastside, and attended Franklin and Cleveland elementary schools. Then he was sponsored by La Cumbre Country Club members to attend Bishop Garcia Diego High School, where he started a chapter of MEChA, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán. That movement started early in Santa Barbara, back in 1969, Frank explains, and it’s all about empowering Chicanxs. “We’re not from here and not from there,” Frank says. “Seeing the difference of wealth woke me up. I wanted to be a positive voice to the immigrant community.”
Frank went to UCLA, where he was inspired by Victor Narro, the project director of the UCLA Labor Center and a longtime advocate for immigrant rights and fair labor. After graduating, Frank worked as a labor, electoral, and community organizer throughout Southern California. “I felt more comfortable organizing in Los Angeles,” he tells me.
After that, he pursued a graduate degree in Latin American studies from the University of Texas at Austin. “I wanted to study and live in the other state that had a big Mexican population,” explains Frank, whose thesis was on the evolution of the map of Texas. “I found a lot of passion studying the Southwest.”
After 10 years away, Frank came back to the community that raised him and feels emboldened working for CAUSE. “I like how the dominoes have fallen — to be able to do what I love to do here in Santa Barbara,” he shares. “To show love is about housing rights, living wage, and environmental justice.”
Frank Rodriguez answers the Proust Questionnaire.
Whom do you most admire?
“Mi ama y apa.” My mom and pops worked super-hard and succeeded as a domestic worker and bartender. I’m humbled to be able to do the work I do because of their sacrifices.
What do you like most about your job?
I get to do what I love back home where I grew up. Organizing among family and those who I can confuse with as a tía or primo back in Mexico or across the U.S. makes me whole.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My 2004 Soccer Defensive MVP of the Tri-Valley League at Bishop Garcia Diego High School, my 2009 Humanitarian of the Year award from UCLA, and my master’s in Latin American studies from UT Austin in 2014. The list is a great reflection of my passions in each phase of my life.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Skating or biking around town and listening to R&B or NPR.
What is your greatest fear?
At the moment, the Dodgers losing the World Series, or Lonzo Ball becoming a failure with the Lakers. More seriously, losing family members and not being able to continue sharing good times with them.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Traveling! I am always willing to splurge to have a good time visiting family in Mexico or across the U.S. Those are some of the best times that I get to relax and reflect.
What is your current state of mind?
As an emcee, I go by MammalsBabble, and currently, “I express myself mentally, because physical reality dictates my understanding, so I be planning, academically and socially, so that my state of mind is always focused on my community.”
What is the quality you most like in people?
This is corny, but as a jokester, I have to say a mature jokester.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
This is not corny, so as a jokester, I have to say an immature jokester. Especially those still leaning on racist, homophobic, or misogynistic rhetoric, a process I am still learning how to grow through as well.
What do you most value in friends?
I value the ability to reconnect on the same thread at any point of life, especially on a late-night Instagram thread or random get-together. And I appreciate the jokes, lots of jokes.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I have to say being a big silly human. I work on issues I consider very important and serious, and thus approach my work that way. But I like to lighten the mood and be who I am at all times.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What up homie? ¿Que pasa raza? Hola humans!
Which talent would you most like to have?
Sinking a perfect three each time I play basketball in real life or on NBA 2K.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Not playing too much NBA 2K, but not not playing. Taking time to rest and reflect is always important, and I can always focus more on that. One of my best investments is being able to go shoot some shots at the YMCA.
Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara will always be home base, the Southwest and Mexico my idea of my nation state, and the rest of the world a playground to visit and learn from with respect.
What is your most treasured possession?
Used to be a 1971 Ford Sport Custom with a 351 Windsor engine, three on the tree. It was my perfect truck to drive around town during high school. But now it has to be a signed jersey by the 1997 Chivas Rayadas de Guadalajara Mexican championship soccer team.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My homies from high school: Frank Velazquez, Mike Duran, and Carlos Clark. Because there was another Frank in the crew, I got the nickname Chema in high school, a name that stuck and helps me remember which friends I have known for a while around town.
What is your motto?
Cumbia is life.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Since I moved back home, I have approached history through the work of Carey McWilliams (Southern California, 1946) and Mike Davis (City of Quartz, 1990). They provide what I consider the best historical context to analyze the history of the region I grew up in.
On what occasion do you lie?
When I am late. Hard to admit if it is actually because I was too lazy to wake up early.