Some people are so low-key in their accomplishments one would never know the extent of their accolades. Meet Katalina Rodriguez, a Chicana from Chi-Town, musician, writer, lawyer, activist, producer and co-founder of ELKAT Productions. Kat, as she is affectionately called, is driven by the force of advocacy. Applying her expertise to create a platform where artists can not only create and share their work but protect their art, Kat serves as advisor and counsel to many creatives by helping them understand the importance of contractual business. Through her production company ELKAT, she continues to raise awareness for human rights issues affecting the undocumented like teaming up with various artists to produce the Smokin Word album with all proceeds benefiting No More Deaths/No Más Muerte. At an introspective glance, one would think Kat is a peaceful warrior. She moves in silence and prefers to hang below the radar and while the revolution may not be televised, Kat is the reminder that sometimes it doesn’t have to be.
Who is Katalina Rodriguez?
Katalina Rodriguez is a proud first generation Mexicana, born and raised in Chicago, who came to NY to follow her dreams of becoming an entertainment attorney.
I never realized my move to NY over 10 years ago would be so life changing. It was here that I grew up and really found myself, but most importantly, it is here that I found the love of my life, El David. As my best friend, biggest advocate and protector, he helped me realize dreams I thought were long gone, like, music production, singing, writing, and performing. But out of all my dreams pursued, becoming a wife and mother have been the most rewarding.
As co-founder of El Kat Productions, what do your day to day operations consist of?
ELKAT Productions has a mission to produce art and music that stays true to what moves the heart and soul. El and I created this mission together because we saw too many production houses “pimping” the art, for lack of a better analogy. El personally experienced what the mainstream music industry could do to an artist’s vision and how they would do anything to make things commercial. We vowed to respect the art, but most importantly work with artists that were coming from a place of passion and genuine love of the art, not to just turn a profit.
With that said, ELKAT’s day to day operations consists of pushing forward the projects we are working on whether it’s working on an album or EP, putting together an anthology or putting together a show. El and I have our roles we each play in pushing forward our projects, he’s the main driver of the creative, although we do collaborate on projects and get each other’s take on a new beat or newly written piece; while I take care of the legal and grant writing work, scheduling and correspondence. We are our own marketing team, along with recruited help of some of our closest friends, Vanessa Chica, Rebeca Lucret and Tonysha DeChecchi; so we market and share all our projects via social media outlets daily.
You are also an emerging poet. How would you describe your aesthetic?
Kat: It’s important to note that I have always written for myself, but after some coercing from El and after my first Sunday Writing Circle cycle, I really found my voice. In my childhood and young adult life, I struggled with self-esteem issues, family issues, abuse, and substance abuse. Fortunately, I have found peace with my past, but find that my story may be helpful to young women still going through those tough times. So I write from a place of truth, spirituality and growth.
I also am very passionate about the issues that my people are facing daily in Mexico and in the border states. The topic of immigration, illegal immigration, laborer’s rights and the treatment of Mexican people at the border is very raw and real for me. I have family that have been directly affected by these issues, so I find it’s my duty to shine a light on their lives and their realities in my written work.
Aside from writing and curating duties, you have a degree in Entertainment Law. What influenced your decision to obtain a law degree?
The truth is a bit comical, but as a young kid, my mother and I used to watch Matlock (a lot). I was so enamored by the whole idea that an attorney could help people’s lives in such a meaningful way. I was eight years old when I declared that I would one day be an attorney. I even begged my mother to buy me a graduation card I found in Walgreens that you would give a law school graduate. I vowed to give it to myself the day of my graduation. I still have that card and was so happy to be able to fulfill that young girl’s dream.
At that time, I wanted to be a criminal attorney, but as life unfolded that was not the path for me. I have always had a passion for music. I began playing the French Horn at the age of 9 and continued my love affair with music through high school. I found that Entertainment law really married these two passions together.
My current practice also includes advising startup companies, incorporation, trademark/copyright, non-profit and venture capital law.
You provide low-cost legal services to artists in the community. What would you say are some of the biggest mistakes artists make in their prospective fields?
Lack of proper planning. What I mean by that is the lack of creating a proper business plan. Whether you are in the business of arts curating, a non-profit, or branding yourself as an artist, you must have a business plan together. Recognize what your goals are, what are the risks involved, how would you plan for such risks, what are the financial obligations or obstacles, how will you solve said obstacles, what are your legal obligations, etc.
I find that a lot of artists in the community do not give the power of a contract enough credit. Either they work without a contract in place or they do not read or have an attorney read contracts when entering into a contractual relationship. It’s so important to understand the severe ramifications of working without an agreement or worse, not reading the one provided. Unfortunately, many artists learn the hard way and either lose rights to works or are bound to agreements that they don’t want to be in for a period of time. Even when you are working with friends, an agreement is necessary. It doesn’t have to be a scary document showing that you don’t trust someone. It merely is a document that describes the relationship you are entering into or the project you are participating in and most importantly, gives a blueprint of how disputes will be handled, how rights are distributed and compensation.
Another big issue is copyrighting work and trademarking brands. All artists need to take a close look on how they are protecting their intellectual property.I plan on hosting a few workshops in the near future on these topics and more. Please keep connected with me for the announcement of dates and topics.
I love that people (especially in our community) have such big dreams and I would love nothing more than to see them become a reality. This is why I work a lot with startup companies and individual artists in our community. I want to share my knowledge, lend my help so that these ventures have a chance of succeeding. To me, what’s the purpose of having the knowledge if not to help my people out.
You are a staunch advocate for No More Deaths Organization, providing beneficial lifesaving services to those crossing the border. How did you get involved with the organization and how does activism affect you as a mother to a newborn son
I first heard of No More Deaths when I attended a Latino/a Law Students Association Conference. One of the keynote speakers was an attorney from Arizona who now works with the organization. He gave a power speech depicting the horrors many people face when crossing the U.S./Mexico border. He spoke of his work with No More Deaths and how they would go to the border and pass out water to those dying of thirst in the hot desert, providing medical aid and legal protection when detainees were abused by Minutemen and border patrol.
I vowed then that one day I would do something with this organization. It really was a dream made into reality when El and I put together “Smokin’ Word” the charity album a year and ½ ago. To be able to do what we do best, produce music and bring along some of NYC’s best poets to include their work on the album, was amazing. This album will help bring aid to many people in need. You can still purchase anywhere MP3s are sold.
Activism is extremely important to me for several reasons. I want to show my son by example the importance of connecting and helping your community. I want him to know that his actions can impact the whole community, no matter how small he may feel in it, he has that power to do something that can impact others. It’s our duty to do so. My parents came here from Mexico with very little and worked hard to provide a life for my brother, sister, and I. It would be disrespectful to not take this jump start in life they gave me and not do for our people. I find it is my duty as a mother to fight for a better world for my son. I can do my part and perhaps inspire someone else to do the same.
Recently El Kat Productions made the very progressive decision in having their Spoken Drum Open Mic Showcase free and open to the public. Funding is an important part of any grassroots organization. What led to this decision and how will it affect the El Kat mission?
You are right, funding is very important and for us, we still want to be able to pay our featured artists for their time and talent. So how can we do this? We really are putting our faith in continuing to get support in organizations like Poets & Writers and other curating grants. We also have been blessed to have our own jobs that provide for our family, so we do not count on Smokin’ Word Open Mic Series as our bread and butter.
This decision is in line with the vision and mission of ELKAT, in that we believe in the underground artists, those that are in it for the passion of the art. We want our open mic to be a true platform for all people, no matter their financial position. We keep our ear in the community and it’s very hard for many artists to make it out due to the financial hardships. We really want to be a safe haven for all those that want to grace a stage and share their truths.
How is Katalina the Writer influenced by the Chicana Arts Movement?
I’m deeply influenced by the Chicano Movement in general. Unfortunately, I wasn’t exposed to Chicano/a writers until I attended DePaul University. I chose to take an elective course called, Chicano/a history. For the first time, I was learning the truth about my people and reading books from some of the best, including Sandra Cisneros and Ana Castillo. They really opened my eyes in many ways. I was now able to see learn the true history and impact Mexican and Mexican-Americans have had in this country, as well as, finding mentorship with these Chicana authors. I was and continue to be inspired by these authors and others like them, sharing our stories with the world. They inspire me to do the same.
For these reasons, I am very honored to host Ana Castillo’s upcoming book release reading on May 12th at South of France, in the Bronx. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, as she is one of my favorite authors and she really made an impact in my life.
What are the last 5 books you’ve read?
“Conversations with My Skin” by Peggy Robles-Alvarado
“Climbing Ivy” by Viviann “True” Rodriguez
“Devil’s Highway” by Luis Alberto Urrea
“Black Dove” by Ana Castillo
Many, many children’s books (does that count?) I make it point to read at least 3 stories a day to my son. His favorite right now is Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat”.
What’s next for Kat?
I’m enjoying motherhood right now, but in my “spare” time, I’m planning the official rollout of my private practice, writing more poetry and short stories, performing in an upcoming ELKAT/Full Circle Ensemble production (more details to come), and get back to my trumpet.
Where can folks connect with you?
People can connect with me on: