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Bilingual Community Treasures

Domestic Violence Immigration Specialist: Regards from the Back Streets of Rome

or 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.

Yolanda Rodriguez
Domestic Violence Immigration Specialist
Catholic Charities (707) 528-8712

very 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.

oday, 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!"

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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,

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