Patty Rodriguez wears many different hats. You may know her as the lady behind Mala by Patty Rodriguez or as one of the creators of Lil’Libros. She’s also the senior producer for “On-Air with Ryan Seacrest” and the woman responsible for petitioning MAC to create the Selena line of cosmetics. Pretty damn incredible, huh? Rodriguez’s nonstop work ethic is inspiring. This Mexicana from Los Angeles, California has all the makings of becoming a household name. Her accolades and accomplishments – which she acknowledges with honest disbelief – are many. But her story is not a magical fairytale where everything went right. Rather it is one of persistence and the desire to leave an indelible mark on a country that doesn’t exactly love us and maybe never will.
It seems like every step of the way her life experiences have intertwined with opportunity, starting with the day she skipped class with her friends to go to Burbank for a KIIS.FM (L.A.’s pop music station) giveaway. There she won N*Sync tickets and landed an internship that eventually turned into a full-time position. When Ryan Seacrest joined the station in 2004 she told the executive producer at the time that she’d do whatever it took to be on his team. “He took a chance on me,” Rodriguez recalled. “And I kept wondering, are they going to realize that I don’t belong here?”
Impostor syndrome is a unifying experience women of color share in underrepresented spaces – which if we’re real, is every space. From a young age Rodriguez knew that people like her weren’t supposed to end up in places like KIIS.FM. Like so many of us, Rodriguez is a child of Mexican immigrants with a complicated crossing story. Both her and her brother were born in the US but moved back to Mexico, making their return to the states more complicated. “My parents moved back to Mexico after my brother was born, and they were planning on building a house, but something happened. My mom would never tell me what, but we had to come back. That’s my earliest memory, coming back. Because my brother and I were citizens my mom didn’t know what to do with us. I was 2 and a half. I remember being in a van with a lot of people and a lot of kids, and the van breaks down in the middle of the desert and it’s raining and I’m shaking. It was a little white van. I have it imprinted in my brain.”
Rodriguez and her family were lucky to come back when they did. Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act gave her parents and nearly three million other immigrants amnesty and a chance at a better life. These are the beginnings that inspired her to push forward. “All the things that have happened in my life, I pretended them into existence. I’m so proud of who I am and my blood and what made me.” Dreaming big is something that has opened the door for things she never could have imagined herself doing.
Rodriguez is a self-described Lynwood girl, and it was the love for her city that started Mala by Patty Rodriguez. “It was a total accident! I wanted a necklace that said ‘Lynwood’ in Old English letters but I couldn’t find one online so I made one myself.” Her necklace caught the eye of a co-worker. “I made one for him that said ‘818’ – where he was from. He was wearing it when Miley Cyrus was on our show she asked him where she could get one. He gave it to her and the next thing I knew she was wearing it on the cover of Rolling Stone.” Now, Miley Cyrus repping the 818 – where she is clearly not from – especially in the light of her cultural appropriative amnesia is a different conversation entirely, but it pushed Rodriguez into the spotlight in a way she never could have imagined. When she got a call from Rihanna’s people asking where they could buy her jewelry she knew she’d better go with it. Mala by Patty Rodriguez was born! “That project taught me a lot about starting your own business, and that gave me the courage to start Lil’Libros.”
You may have seen Lil’Libros popping up all over the place. Currently they are in Target, The MOMA in NYC, and Barnes & Noble, among other stores. I thought it was interesting that she made the jump from radio, to jewelry and then to children’s books. Rodriguez explained that after having her first child, she felt like she couldn’t be complacent anymore. “When I had my son I wanted him to be very proud of his culture and heritage. I wanted to make sure he saw himself in these creative spaces and that he knew the Spanish language. Seven years ago there were no books [bilingual or Latino stories], only books in translation. All the publishers said ‘no’ so I gave up.”
Some time later Rodriguez experienced tragedy – her house was lost in a fire and it in turn lit a fire within her to do something for her son and for children everywhere who don’t see themselves, their culture, and their stories represented in the books their parents read to them. “In the house fire I lost everything and I started questioning my existence. I wanted to know what my imprint was going to be. So I started again. And started pitching the books to independent publishers. We had no experience. We just created our own publishing company! We were going to prove to the world that these daughters of Mexican immigrants can do this! We did not expect the reaction at all! In not even six months, Target calls us!” It’s a ride that she and her partner Ariana Stein still haven’t gotten off of. Lil’Libros is still going strong, expanding to different stores and telling new stories.
On top of all of these accomplishments, Rodriguez was also instrumental in MAC’s Selena-inspired makeup line that debuted in October of 2016. Of course I had to get the scoop on how she made it all happen.
After the debut of the Marilyn Monroe line in 2014 she simply thought it would be a good idea if MAC did one for Selena too, so she cold-emailed the CEO. Miraculously she got a response not long after thanking her for her email and enthusiasm, but not much else. “I started a petition and hashtag that got no traction, so I gave up.” Time went by and she still felt the itch to do something about it, a mock-up image of Selena’s MAC packaging started circulating online so Rodriguez reached out to Jose Figueroa, who had photoshopped the image.
And that was it, she was re-inspired and decided to revisit the idea. “The image was going viral and I sent it to the same person who emailed me. I did the petition again and it just exploded. 37,000 signatures in 10 days it was on CNN and NBC. MAC emailed me and said ‘we appreciate the enthusiasm’ and they said they’d take it into consideration. I was like ‘consideration?!’ We are giving you permission to use OUR icon! They called me back and said ‘Okay, what do we do?’ ” Patty actually cold-called Selena’s sister Suzette Quintanilla and connected her with MAC executives. She attended and spoke at the packed MAC launch party in Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas.
With this long list of accomplishments, Rodriguez still has more things planned for the future. Lil’ Libros is releasing their first Loteria-inspired bilingual board game and they plan to bring even more traditional and new stories to life in the future. But most of all Rodriguez wants the next generation to follow their dreams. “I want to inspire young children to believe in themselves and see themselves in positions of power.” She hopes her journey also encourages adults as well. “Our biggest challenge is ourselves, start in baby steps and break it down. One thing at a time – all those one things compound themselves. Believe in magic, believe in the impossible. We’re all created to create.”