HOLLYWOOD — For one local Tribal student, being a teenager is merely a gateway to having a loud voice for change. Talia Rodriguez, 16, is a sophomore at Hollywood Hills High School looking to help people understand the Seminole Tribe in a way that goes beyond school textbooks and history lessons.
On Feb. 22, the school hosted a multicultural event where students can demonstrate their cultures. Students representing Israel, Jamaica, Argentina, China, Colombia and other countries displayed cultural clothing, food, dances and singing for the 100-plus guests. Each representative gave a brief speech about their culture, including Rodriguez, who described the significance of Seminole ceremonies and medicine men, ending her 30-second speech with, “We are forever unconquered and we are the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”
At her table, where she displayed cultural items such as handmade skirts, beads, baskets, a carved canoe and an alligator head, Rodriguez explained that many people don’t know about Seminole culture. Many people, she said, just know the stereotypes.
“I want them to know we are way more than that. We fought in wars and our ancestors died for us to be here right now,” she said. “I just want to share with everyone that there’s a deeper meaning behind the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”
This wasn’t the first and will not be the last time Rodriguez seeks to share the Seminole story. She has made it one of her priorities to take every opportunity possible to share the story and her next goal is to do so as Miss Florida Seminole Princess.
“I want to be the voice for our people,” she said. “When the opportunity strikes I have to take it and show everyone that we are here, we’re not small and we have voices.”
Rodriguez competed for the title of Junior Miss Florida Seminole Princess a few years ago, but didn’t win. This year, she said she is much more prepared and is determined and confident in her abilities to be a leader for the community.
After high school and her hopeful role as princess, Rodriguez plans to attend Haskell Indian Nations University to play basketball, a sport she’s played since she was 5 years old.
Though future plans are still uncertain, Rodriguez assured that one fact she knows for sure is that she will continue sharing the Tribe’s story in all of her endeavors.
“I think of it as being a sponge where I can absorb all of the knowledge I can and hold it in me,” she said. “Then when I go and travel, I can release that knowledge to everyone I meet.”