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Armando M. Rodriguez (1921-) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Armando M. Rodriguez (1921-)

Historical Note:

Armando Miguel Rodriguez was born in Gomez, Durango, Mexico on September 30, 1921. He was the youngest child in his family. His parents, Andres and Petra Rodriguez, moved their family to San Diego, California in 1927. There, Rodriguez attended Lincoln Elementary where he took special classes to learn English. Later, he attended Memorial Junior High and San Diego High School. He was active in sports and played junior varsity football and was on the wrestling team in high school.

Rodriguez was the first person in his family to graduate from high school. After graduation, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1942. He was trained as a cryptographer to decode classified materials. During this time, he also became a U.S. Citizen. In 1944 Rodriguez was discharged. A year later, he attended San Diego State College and made the varsity football team as a freshman. During college, the Dean of Athletics offered him a job as coach for the new wrestling team. Under Rodriguez’s direction, San Diego State won the State Wrestling Championship in 1947. He also organized an athletic club known as the Beardsley Bears. Rodriguez graduated from San Diego State in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education.

On July 18, 1948, Rodriguez married Beatriz Serrano. They had two children, Christina and Rodrigo Rodriguez. He worked at Memorial Junior High School as a teacher assistant before receiving his secondary teaching credential.  He also received his Master’s degree in Education from San Diego State College.  His main focus as a teacher was to encourage the neighborhood youth to stay in school. In 1957, he became the first Mexican American to be hired as Vice-Principal at Gompers Junior High School. In 1965, he was appointed as Principal of Wright Brothers High School.

During the 1960’s Rodriguez became heavily involved in politics and led the Hispanics for Kennedy Campaign. This was just the beginning of Rodriguez’s political career. In 1962, he became the first Mexican American to run and win the California Assembly seat for the 77th State District from San Diego. In 1967, he was appointed Chief of the Bureau of Intergroup Relations for the California State Department of Education. In 1970, he was appointed Director of the U.S. Office of Mexican-American Affairs by President Johnson.

Rodriguez returned to California in 1973 when he became the first Mexican-American President of East Los Angeles College. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Rodriguez Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). His responsibilities were to administer Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed major forms of discrimination, including unequal voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, workplaces, and facilities that served the general public. In his new position he enforced the Equal Pay Act as well as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. After his retirement from the EEOC, Rodriguez opened a consulting firm named Rodriguez Associates Ltd., which worked with the Hearst Corporation, Bakersfield City District Schools, New York City Schools, and San Francisco City Schools. With the help of Randolph Hearst, they developed a computer aided educational program for children from economically disadvantaged homes, which allowed these students to use computers in the classroom. In addition to many awards, Rodriguez has also been the recipient of two honorary doctorates in bilingual education.

In 2008, Rodriguez published From the Barrio to Washington, a memoir of his personal struggles and professional career. Rodriguez and his wife now live in San Diego.

Listen to Rodriguez's oral history here:

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