As any mom or dad can tell you, becoming a member of the parent club totally changes your life.
And once in a while, if the stars align, becoming a parent can generate an idea and a series of products that change the lives of millions. At least, that’s what happened to Patty Rodriguez.
The daughter of immigrants from the western Mexican state of Jalisco, Rodriguez is an author, activist, entrepreneur, radio producer, on-air radio personality, and motivational speaker. Basically, she wears enough hats to need a bigger closet.
Rodriguez’s story really begins to take shape in high school, when ditching class to obtain concert tickets from a local station seemed reasonable enough—and offering to pitch in if producers needed a hand, or a set of vocal chords, one day got her past the front gate. Today, the East Los Angeles native is both senior producer and on-air talent for one of the most popular morning radio shows in the country: On Air with Ryan Seacrest.
There, Rodriguez serves as the show’s cultural ambassador to the number one minority in the country: Hispanics.
“My role is to be a bridge between this incredible morning show and my community,” she explains. “It became so seamless for me to do that, to use a platform that I was given to bring these incredible stories to the airwaves.”
But that’s not even half the story.
Rodriguez would probably say that her most important job is being a “boy mom” to her two sons: Alexander, ten, and Oliver, five.
“I get pregnant, and this is where the fun starts,” she says. “That’s where the New Patty is born.”
Along with lifelong friend Ariana Stein, that “New Patty” is the cofounder of Lil’ Libros.
Founded in 2014, the bilingual children’s book publishing company has more than thirty titles for ages zero through eight and has sold nearly two million books worldwide. They can be found at Target, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble—as well as online via the Amazon behemoth.
Lil’ Libros recently raised more than $3 million dollars through a crowdfunding campaign that saw eight thousand-plus investors getting in on the deal for as little as $100.
The campaign was a boon for both the company and Rodriguez and Stein, who met in junior high school and maintain a solid partnership.
“I respect her,” Rodriguez says of her business partner, who is also godmother to Alexander. “I value her opinion and her leadership, and I feel she does the same with me. There’s love and respect. We have a common goal. That’s why it has worked and why it will continue to work.”
That common goal is more of a mission: to give Hispanic children around the country, and around the world, the chance to see themselves in the pages of children’s books.
“When I became pregnant with Alexander, it became very important to me to raise my child being proud of his identity,” Rodriguez says. “For me, growing up, sometimes it felt that I was carrying shame. I was embarrassed of the way I looked, I was embarrassed of my hair, of my accent.
“It took a lot of years for me to love me,” she continues. “And I didn’t want that to happen to my children. I wanted them to realize early in life that what makes you who you are is also what makes you special.”
It was when the radio star really began to consider Alexander’s childhood and his identity that the stars began to align.
“The first form of media that we expose our children to is books,” she says. “When you become a parent, you immediately start thinking about what you’re surrounding your child with, what you’re exposing them to. You want to bring books into your child’s life. However, there weren’t really any books that celebrated my identity as a Latina American, that celebrated the duality of being a hyphenated-American.”
Rodriguez and Stein each put up $20,000 to launch Lil’ Libros, and the rest is history.
“We believed in this so much that it was effortless,” Rodriguez recalls. “It just had to happen.”
But why have the books struck such a chord with consumers, particularly Hispanics? She has an answer ready.
“This was something that was needed many generations ago,” she says. “My mission is to ensure that we represent, across the board, our Latinidad, our identity. I really feel this is what has resonated with our community. They see that this project comes from the heart. That’s priceless.”
Finally, did she ever expect to be here, doing this, pursuing this path—back when she was cutting class on her way to becoming a radio personality?
“I don’t think I had the vocabulary growing up to express exactly what I wanted to do,” she says. “I just knew that I wanted to tell stories.”
And indeed she has.
Blessed be the storytellers. May they never forget that often the best story, and the one most worth telling, is the one that they themselves are living.
Ruben Navarrette—a contributing writer at Hispanic Executive—is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, columnist for the Daily Beast, author of A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano, and host of the podcast Ruben in the Center.