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Liberal arts education helps Bryan native change career paths

Political Science graduate James Rodriguez '89 says his degree has allowed him to pursue his passion and help people.

By Allen M. Junek ‘18

Not far from the courthouse in Bryan, TX, the old paint of what once was the first Mexican restaurant in Brazos County is still visible.

“In 1895, when a 6-foot-2 Mexican walked down Main Street in downtown Bryan wearing a sombrero–that’s where it all started,” James Rodriguez ‘89, a fourth-generation Texan and whose extended family owns Casa Rodriguez, said proudly. “We were one of, if not the first, Mexican family to settle in Brazos County”.

Over the years, the restaurant evolved, changed locations, and eventually became Casa Rodriguez, a popular restaurant in the heart of downtown Bryan.

The Rodriguez family’s presence in the Bryan community was coupled with ties to the local university just a short train ride away. Rodriguez recalled how his grandfather, Paul Rodriguez, rode the train to work at Texas A&M University for 45 years. Paul served in the mess halls from 1928 to 1973, eventually becoming the head of Sbisa Hall. Paul’s brother Pete worked in the chemistry department for 48 years, eventually becoming department head until his retirement.

Despite his family’s long presence on campus and in the B-CS community, James was only the second in his family to attend Texas A&M, graduating with a bachelor’s in political science in 1989.

After graduation, James received a fellowship from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. As a young aspiring politician, he moved to Washington D.C. where he worked as a legislative assistant for three years. However, James soon realized politics was not his passion, so he moved back to Texas to study law.

“It’s important to love what you do, because if you don’t, you’ll never reach your full potential,” James said.

James attributes his ability to change course to his liberal arts education, which he describes as a bridge to a wide range of opportunities and career paths. This flexibility enables liberal arts students to find their niche, an atmosphere where they are able to thrive, which James said is what truly matters.

“[The liberal arts] give you the knowledge and skills to adapt to any given situation,” James said. “It’s the best, most well-rounded education you can get.”

After years of working full time as a legal assistant and taking night classes, James graduated from the University of Houston Law Center in 1996. Working at a legal firm gave him firsthand experience in the justice system and shaped his decision to work exclusively as a personal injury attorney.

Having served as a past president of the Mexican American Bar Association (Houston) and vice president of the Hispanic Bar Association (Houston), James regularly takes on pro bono work with various immigrant rights organizations.

“To those whom much is given, much is expected, so I try to give back as much as I can by being a voice for those in need,” he said.

Although he now works in Houston TX as a partner and co-owner of Padilla and Rodriguez L.L.P., a firm specializing in personal injury, James maintains an active presence in the B-CS community via the Hispanic Forum of Bryan and the family restaurant. His dedication to service and love for tradition were cultivated through both Texas A&M and his family.

“My dad–a long time activist and one of the first Hispanic city councilmen in Bryan–taught me to give back, get involved, and to never forget where I came from” he said.