Rodolfo Piñon Rodolfo Piñon Rodolfo was born in El Paso Texas in 1955 and lived there for most of his childhood. His family moved to Blythe California in 1969. He started working in advocacy early in his life and continues to do it to this day. He does not separate the narrative of his advocacy and activism from that of his life; to him they are one and the same. “I have been a community organizer all my life. My first project was in the 9th grade.” At the time his high school in Blythe was segregated between the students who spoke English and those who didn’t (recent immigrants), there was no bilingual education. Rodolfo saw a need and an opportunity. He talked to the school principal and organized English tutoring sessions between the students at lunchtime. He remembers seeing friendships and romantic relationships develop. He was helping to build community. Rodolfo is naturally predisposed to be of service to the community and he has never questioned it, only forged fully ahead. He has often been in positions of leadership, something he learned from his father. “My dad was a man of leadership. Wherever he ended up he was always the foreman, or the director of something.” He remembers an early instance of labor organizing when his father asked for a raise in pay and cold drinking water for the farm worker crew he was a part of, requests to which the farmer agreed. During Rodolfo’s youth Mexican-American students were very active and engaged on academic campuses throughout the southwest, this helped solidify his dedication to advocacy. In high school and college he served as the president of the local MECHA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) chapters. He attended Cal State San Bernardino and studied Psychology and Spanish Linguistics. During the summer of his last year of college he worked at Casa De San Bernardino, an organization that provided services and counseling for people dealing with drug addiction. Many of them were military veterans, prostitutes and incarcerated people. He found that he loved the work and within three years he was the executive director of the agency, he was twenty-three years old. He spent the next thirty years working with individuals and families that were dealing with drug addiction. He worked for various organizations in Riverside County and covered an enormous region in California’s southeast. At times he would facilitate services for families south of the border in Mexico because it was cheaper, more effective and sometimes the only place available to them. This caused issues with the agencies he worked for but for him human beings have always been more important than borders. Throughout this time Rodolfo remained active in advocating for worker and community rights. He was involved early on in the United Farm Worker movement and worked with many of the early organizers. He has seen people and organizations come and go and of the movement he says, “My perspective is that el trabajo nunca se termino. We lost the movimiento, we lost a lot of time, [we lost] the momentum to drugs and alcohol…there is a lot of work left unfinished in the political, economic realm, in the private and public sector...the Civil Rights movement helped a lot but there is still a lot of work to do. We have not acquired equity in a lot of things…Mucha gente esta dormida. A lot of younger people think they are self made without realizing that the opportunity to make themselves was something that people died for.” One of the pressing needs that he sees is that of institutions that teach leadership. “We need new leadership but no one is stepping up to speak out…no one is teaching organizing skills and developing leadership”. Since November of 2011 Rodolfo has been working at Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation, a non-profit organization that is addressing the needs of underrepresented rural communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley. The recent recession was especially hard on rural areas in the U.S. and he sees the situation as a human crisis. The needs and issues in these communities are many: lack of infrastructure, lack of potable water, substandard housing, inequality in education and healthcare to name a few. At Pueblo Unido, Rodolfo works as an organizer, an educator, an administrator, and a liaison between the community and government agencies of Riverside County. Pueblo Unido’s work bridges cultural and language barriers while educating both sides as to each other’s needs. They are also addressing decades old problems with innovative approaches. In the belief that people who work in the fields should live in dignity and have a good quality of life, they are researching new materials for temporary migrant housing. They are also thinking about alternative models of employer/employee relationships, models in which farmers take responsibility for the individuals who bring their crop to market. At the same time they remain fully engaged in the slow, pragmatic, painstaking process of effecting change. “We have learned that in order to create change you have to merge the needs of the communities with the understanding of the agencies, working within policy and working within the law”. To this work Rodolfo brings to bear his knowledge, experience and energy, which are an enormous asset. He can see the field and all the positions in it clearly, this makes him an indispensable resource to the Valley. When dealing with social and racial inequality the scope of the problems and the pace of change can be frustrating but he is patient and determined because he has seen that even small changes give people a sense of worth and raises their self-esteem so that work on other issues can begin. He also, generously and graciously, passes on his knowledge to the many, many people he has mentored over the years, most of them now work in advocacy, continuing the work he began. Rodolfo was recently diagnosed with cancer but he is in good spirits and he has a lot of hope. The community is rallying around him, returning the support that he has provided to others his entire life.