Alum of the Month: Marilú Rodríguez
Marilú graduated in 2002 from Bowen High School, located in the South Chicago community. She participated in Mikva’s Campaign and Mikva Summer Fellows programs, along with being part of the Mikva Club at her school. Marilú obtained her B.A. in Political Science from Northeastern Illinois University.
Tell us about your Mikva experience.
Mikva Challenge was the door that led me to a life of civic engagement and social change. At the beginning of my Mikva experience, I was a shy student whose English was very limited and I had no idea that I could make a difference. It was through Mikva and its programs that I learned to voice my opinion and break out of my shell. One of those programs was the Summer Government and Leadership Internship program (now known as Mikva Summer Fellows). I was placed at Congressman Luis Gutierrez’s office in Pilsen. Not only was I placed in an internship to gain skills and experience; I was placed in an office that dealt with issues directly affecting me. In this internship, I was able to meet caring people who wanted to make sure I continued my higher education and connected me to the right places and the right people. Not only did I continue on to college, but I also became a voice for my community and for young people who were facing the same barriers that I was facing. My life changed because I was part of Mikva. If I had not had that internship, the course of my life would have been very different and I would not have met amazing people who have helped shape the person that I am today. Mikva was that door that once it opens, there’s no turning back. You can take a break from civic engagement (I did), but it doesn’t change the fact that you never stop caring about the issues. In one way or another, you remain involved.
Describe any significant relationships with fellow Mikva students.
My English was very limited during my Mikva years because I had not been in the country very long and oftentimes, I felt very intimidated to speak with other people. However, during the Mikva meetings I never felt judged by other students when I spoke. Everyone was very welcoming. I became friends with several students, which made it easier for me to voice my opinion. One of the challenges I was facing during this time was my immigration status; my parents brought me to this country without proper documentation at the age of eleven. This was something that I did not want to openly talk about at first. However, I met another Mikva student facing the same challenge and I learned that I was not alone. My friendship with this student helped me become vocal about immigration issues because all of a sudden it wasn’t just about me, it was about us.
In what ways has your Mikva experience shaped who you are today?
Mikva changed my life. During my internship at Congressman Gutierrez’s office, I got connected to Alicia J. Rodriguez at The Resurrection Project (TRP). Ms. Rodriguez was leading the TRP Education Team, a youth group focused on addressing immigration issues affecting youth. At the time, the Education Team was trying to pass a bill called DREAM Act, which would place undocumented students on the path to citizenship. I got involved and started lobbying in favor of the DREAM Act and driver licenses for undocumented people. I also participated in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride of 2003. During my involvement with The Resurrection Project, I got to meet and work with leaders across Illinois, including Instituto del Progreso Latino’s CEO, Juan Salgado. When Mikva’s doors opened to me, many more followed.
I majored in Political Science because for a living, I want to do things that will benefit my community and will help bring social change. So whether I run for office in a distant future or continue working at nonprofits, it is because I have learned that if you want change in your community/school/government you have to work at making that change happen.
What are you doing now?
I work at Instituto del Progreso Latino as an Acting Grants Management and Compliance Coordinator.