The son of migrant farm workers, Rudolfo (Rudy) Peña grew up in Aberdeen, Idaho and spent his youth traveling from his permanent family home in Aberdeen to Western Idaho and Oregon to pick fruit, potatoes, apples and other seasonal crops in the region. Mr. Peña’s mother, who only completed the third grade, was an education advocate. She insisted that her children return to Aberdeen at the start of each school year and remain engaged in school throughout the year. During his first year of attendance, Mr. Peña was sent home with a note on his shirt requesting that he not be sent back to school until he learned to speak English. Both he and his two sisters subsequently graduated from high school and earned college degrees—a success that Mr. Peña attributes to his mother’s belief that education was their salvation from a lifetime of backbreaking work in the fields.
After earning two degrees from Idaho State University, Mr. Peña moved to Boise to teach and coach. It was here that he developed a lifelong passion for education social justice. He became deeply involved in the Chicano movement, helping to organize activities to support farm workers in the northwest and west coast. Mr. Peña served as chair of the Idaho Bilingual Education Task Force, actively supporting bilingual education in schools and Chicano studies programs at the university level. He was instrumental in the creation of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Upon moving to Pocatello in the early 1990’s, Mr. Peña earned a Master’s degree in community counseling and spent 16 years as a counselor in the American Falls School District before retiring. He continues to live in Pocatello with his wife, where, in addition to spending time with his family, he continues to advocate for Latino education projects.