Patty Rodriguez is a 5-foot slice of Los Angeles in high heels.
She’s multicultural, bilingual, and has a sprawling array of talents. In the mornings, you could listen to her On Air with Ryan Seacrest, where she is a senior producer. At lunchtime, you could hit up your favorite bookstore and pick up a Frida Kahlo inspired children’s book from Lil’ Libros, a bilingual first concept book company she co-founded. By bedtime, you could do a little online shopping and order one of her chic MALA by Patty Rodriguez jewelry pieces.
But what makes her more L.A. than anything is that her lifeblood is powered by tacos. “They are a part of us,” Patty told L.A. Taco. “Tacos are a way of life.”
L.A. Taco caught up with Patty at her favorite taco spot Tacos Estilo Guadalajara in her hometown of Lynwood to ask her the real deep questions like what motivates her to get up in the morning and why she uses both the green and the red salsa on her favorite tacos.
Patty arrived a few minutes late, excused herself to wash her hands, and ordered her regular: cuatro tacos de cabeza, 4 tacos made of steamed cow head meat. Tacos Estilo Guadalajara, a growing mom & pop shop that just recently moved to its new location in a strip mall on Long Beach Boulevard specializes in tacos al vapor (steamed tacos) and only in tacos al vapor.
No burritos or nachos on the menu, just tacos. In addition to cow’s head and asada, the filling options are beef cheek, beef tongue, and beef lips.
L.A. Taco ordered lengua, cheek, and head–two of each. All six tacos were ready within minutes, and only moments later Patty had drenched her tacos in green salsa and sprinkled Tacos Estilo Guadalajara signature red habanero sauce on top of that.
L.A. Taco: Why do you use both salsas?
Patty Rodriguez: The green one because it takes me back to my childhood. And the red one because it’s got the kick. It’s really spicy but it’s so good, I can’t help it. They say that the salsa makes the taco but I kind of don’t agree with that. Some places have really good salsa but they don’t have the meat. It’s a dance between both of them right? The meat and the salsa.
Was green salsa you favorite childhood salsa?
We used to live in East L.A. in this public housing area where there’s like 10 apartments that look the same. And there was this man who would post up and he would have tacos al vapor there with his little toalla (towel) and we would eat tacos de cabeza exactly the same with salsa verde. So when my friend brought me here, I took a bite … It was like in the movies where you whole childhood flashes before your eyes and it just stopped right there in front of those apartments with that man and his little toalla over the meat. And I was like, “This is home.”
Cabeza isn’t something most kids, even Mexican kids, will eat very often.
My mom says when I was not even one, I wouldn’t stop crying. I didn’t want the bottle. Nothing. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. So she told my dad, “Why don’t you go across the street and go buy her some tacos de cesos?” Cesos, brain, because it was the softest meat. My dad went and came back and my mom fed me the cesos and I stopped crying. I don’t know if that’s a folktale or what but my mom always tells that story of how I fell in love with tacos.
Have tacos always been a big part of your life?
Yes. Tacos Estilo Guadalajara is my favorite spot but I will always have this emotional connection for King Taco because my dad loves King Taco. There used to be a King Taco inside the Villa Market that used to be where the Food for Less is now (Long Beach and Imperial). And my mom would buy two burritos on payday, they would go home and she’d open the burritos. And she’d make tacos from the fillings of the burritos for all five of us to eat.
You have two kids of your own now, do they come here and eat cabeza too?
I like to give the kids labios (lip tacos) because it’s soft and it tastes like asada.
Why not just get them asada?
Because you can get asada anywhere, you know?
It seems like you like to give your kids the variety of their culture?
It sounds really weird but I get so excited when I see my son take a bite of a taco. Like I get goosebumps. I deliberately make tacos. I deliberately make pozole. I am consciously aware of it. I want him to grow up knowing his culture. I just want it to be a part of his blood too. Him being a second generation Latino, it’s a lot more difficult to hold on than it was for you and me. For us growing up, our homes were like living in our own little countries. But now there is just so much noise. It would break my heart if my sons didn’t like tacos.
Why are you so in love with your culture?
I don’t know. What is there not to love? It takes so much work as a parent to make sure that their culture is embedded. I just want to hug my culture. Growing up, I always had these dreams but they always seemed impossible to achieve because of my status. We are always seen as the lowest of the low. Some people don’t even see us as Americans. That’s the big one. That can so easily affect you as a child that you actually want to push your culture away. I think it has a lot to do with that. Maybe at some point, I tried to push my culture away but it didn’t work because I don’t know how not to be Latina. It would be silly of me to pretend to be anything else. And it’s challenging to have to constantly prove that you are American.
Are tacos American?
I would say they are to you and me. They are to my child.
You have a jewelry line, your own book company, you’re on the radio every day. You’re so busy. What drives you to keep going?
I was thinking about this yesterday. My love for music got me onto the radio but my community kept me there. We’ve made it. We’ve broken through. It would be a disservice if we don’t turn around and tell our children the secret to break through. Not giving up. It sounds easy when you say it but it definitely very hard.
Is it a good lesson for your kids?
For me, everything solidified when my first son was born. I don’t want him to ever doubt himself. I want him to be so proud of his identity. And never think that his identity is keeping him from becoming whatever he wants to be. I’m also so indebted to my parents. Our parents somehow did what seems like impossible to us. They risked their lives to come to a foreign country and give us everything. They had the courage to come here, not knowing anything or speaking the language. When you break it down, your mom came to a foreign country and kept you alive somehow.
My mom is the most careful person. That’s got to be the only time she’s ever put it all on the line like that and she did it just because someone told it was better here.
Yeah. Mine too! Just for a rumor. There were no pamphlets. There was no sizzle reel. Just some guy in town talking about el otro lado. It’s just the ultimate sacrifice. It’s amazing. And how can you not wake up each morning for that and honor their legacy? That strength that you can find within you, that alone can take us somewhere.