International produce market on International Boulevard in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. Credit: Pete Rosos

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It’s often said that immigrants come to the United States in search of the “American dream.” But growing up listening to my own family’s immigration stories and seeing them struggle to make a life here for me and my two brothers taught me that immigrant journeys are far more complicated and nuanced. As a child in Los Angeles, I would ask my parents obsessively about what their lives were like in El Salvador. I can’t recall a single moment when they refused to answer my questions. 

Both of my parents fled El Salvador, separately, to escape the bloody civil war that broke out there in 1981. My mother was 18 years old and had just graduated high school when she and her siblings moved to the United States to live with their mother. My father was 22 and in his final year at the University of El Salvador. He sought entrance to the U.S. as a refugee and was denied, but eventually made his way to Canada where he was granted asylum. Montreal is where my parents eventually met and where I was born. When I was a month old, we relocated to Los Angeles to be closer to family and I spent the next 15 years living in an apartment complex there, surrounded by other immigrants.

My decision to study and pursue a career in journalism was largely a result of hearing those immigration stories as a child and wanting to learn more. I immersed myself in media studies as an undergraduate at Cal State Los Angeles and spent two years studying and reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a student of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where I was proud to graduate just last May. 

Ricky Rodas reporting during shelter in place as a J-school student at UC Berkeley last spring.

Now, I’m thrilled to be joining The Oaklandside through Report for America, a national service program that helps to place emerging reporters in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues and communities. I’ll be following my lifelong passion by reporting about immigrant-owned small businesses, and I’m excited to be covering this newsbeat in Oakland. The city’s energy is unlike anything I’ve ever felt, and that has a lot to do with how different ethnic groups overlap and interact with one another. I aim to explore those relationships and share the human stories behind our city’s storefronts.

I know that many of our readers share my curiosity. Over the last several months, our organization conducted listening sessions with community members to help guide our reporting. One of the things they expressed was a desire to know more about Oakland’s local businesses community and how small business owners are faring financially. With so many small businesses struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic, the question couldn’t be timelier.

I look forward to putting a spotlight on Oakland’s immigrant-owned businesses in a way that humanizes and informs, and I invite you to join me on that journey.

Email me at ricky@oaklandside.org or find me on Twitter at @Rickytherodas.

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Ricky Rodas

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He has spent the last two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the hyperlocal news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, joins us through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Rodas will be reporting on small and immigrant-owned businesses in Oakland.