Valeria Rodriguez, 17

Valeria Rodriguez is from Los Angeles, California, and describes herself as an introverted go-getter and an avid self-advocate. Rodriguez has spent the last three years volunteering for Chicas Verdes, a local organization, and Girls Build LA, an organization that empowers young women to affect social change and to mediate the food desert that encircles her community in South Central Los Angeles. Under the guidance of Chicas Verdes and grant funding, Rodriguez spearheaded an initiative to empower her community to make healthier eating choices. To offer a healthier alternative to the student store and food vending machines, Rodriguez led the making and selling of organic smoothies at her school. Rodriguez utilized these sales interactions with fellow students and faculty as an opportunity to educate and answer questions about food deserts and how to make healthier choices. In her final year with Chicas Verdes, she hopes that they will plant fruit trees in the community to provide more healthy options for local students and families.

As an admirer of Amy Tan and Sandra Cisneros, Rodriguez is a passionate advocate for the preservation of cultures. She uses writing to preserve her roots and weave her culture into her stories. In her memoir writing, Rodriguez brings the childhood memories and hardships of her grandparents to life, crafting accounts of her grandmother’s childhood in Michoacan selling gelatin with her great-grandmother because her community lacked a school. Rodriguez says her conversations with her ill grandmother awakened a fervor to capture the experiences, family traditions, and religious rituals of the generations of laborers before her.

Rodriguez will attend Stanford University in the fall of 2018 and plans to major in English or Business with a minor in Journalism.


Food Deserts in South Central Los Angeles

by Valeria Rodriguez


South Central is one of the most populous and diverse districts in Los Angeles. It is a regular source of crime and violence with a disregarded core of resistance and hope. It is an ongoing victim of gentrification but one of the most overlooked disparities that plagues my people is the food desert that confines us. My family is fed according to tradition and tradition is the sullied product of lies that have surrounded us for so long they have become truths.

Tradition says Burger King for breakfast and lunch, snacks from our neighbor, the liquor store, and the occasional walk across the street for Jack in the Box, if we’re feeling indulgent. After several years of assuming this routine, I began to wonder if what I regularly saw was a problem at all. My cousin, at the age of 18, contracted diabetes and I soon could not bear to watch the children in my household dine on fries and nuggets day after day without restraint.

Unsure of the facts myself, I searched for an alternative and stumbled upon Chicas Verdes. I rapidly found that my community resided in a food desert and with the guidance of Chicas Verdes, immediately sprang into action. I joined their Girls Build LA initiative with the objective to empower my community to make healthier eating choices by providing the access and resources to do so. With the grant were awarded, we began to make and sell affordable organic smoothies at our school to steer students away from the student store and vending machines. It was a success. Students and staff alike line up to purchase our smoothies and we engaged them further with informative workshops and presentations explaining the epidemic. We’ve seen some gradual improvement and hope to continue to expand our influence by planting fruit trees in our community. This is my third and final year in Chicas Verdes. I still dream of the day I won’t have to worry about the wellbeing of my family being jeopardized by the food we can afford.