most of us here in Sonoma County, world travel is a banquet of
exhilarating new sights and sounds. But for most travelers the
world over, the journey across borders is a fearful march from
home, driven by hunger or war, and fraught with the grinding chore
of trying to keep hope alive.
Uprooting form home
holds particular dangers for women, not the least of which is
a heightened rate of rape and domestic violence. A study done
in the early nineties by the National Coalition for Immigrant
and Refugee Rights found that the rate of domestic violence among
immigrant women skyrockets following immigration. The reasons
aren't hard to see; separated from the protective, intimate social
ties of her hometown, and further isolated by the barriers of
her new land, latent abusiveness in a relationship that was previously
held in check by extended family, now asserts itself in full.
Fortunately, here in
Sonoma County we have Yolanda Rodriquez, this month's Bilingual
Treasure. Yolanda is a world traveler of the adventuresome kind
who in the late nights and back streets of Rome discovered the
hard lives and despair of most immigrant women, and made a commitment
to fight for their rights.
Domestic Violence Immigration Specialist
Catholic Charities (707) 528-8712
Sunday on their spacious chile farm in Jalisco, Mexico, Yolanda's
father would sit his eleven children in front of the weekly television
documentary. And following the documentary, he would engage them
all in energetic discussions of the program theme. "If you want
to understand people", he would tell the kids over and over again,
"You have to go out into the world and explore."
It's unlikely Yolanda's
father knew just how literally his third to the youngest would
take his words. Certainly he had no inkling that Sonoma County
would be the primary beneficiary.
At first Yolanda was
content to do her exploring within Mexico. Then she made a trip
to Costa Rica, then to the U.S., then Puerto Rico, and she didn't
want to stop. Yolanda was off to Europe. But it was all adventure
and fun, until as unexpectedly as love at first sight, Yolanda
fell passionately in love with the people, the art, and the culture
of Italy. She adopted life in Rome, and took up her studies there
in media and production.
"I never much knew
about, nor thought much about, women's rights or women's situation
in the world", says Yolanda. Then one night as part of a school
assignment, she went out into the back streets of Rome to interview
a Brazilian prostitute.
"Rome is very different
at night than in the day", she says. "I saw young women from all
over the world trapped in working the streets with no hope at
all of ever getting free. And I made friends with them. That's
when I began reading, and paying attention to women's rights and
women's lives." And that's when Yolanda began looking for work
where she could use her talents to help.
Yolanda works as a domestic violence immigration specialist at
Catholic Charities in Santa Rosa. "Working with domestic violence
victims makes me realize how intelligent and beautiful every single
woman is." says Yolanda. "And how much domestic violence devastates
her, and makes her think of herself as an object."
But just how long we'll
be fortunate enough to have Yolanda's intelligence and talents
serving our community is hard to say. "If I have a chance to work
in women's rights in another country," says Yolanda with excitement
in her eyes, "I'll do it!"