OGDEN — Andrea Hernandez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, wasn’t always so involved, an activist.
Growing up in California, though, seeing migrant workers from Mexico working the fields around her home and school in Oxnard, that slowly started to change. As a high school student, tutoring elementary school students and assisting in drives to collect Christmas presents for those in need, she realized the recipients of the help were largely the kids of those workers. She started learning about the challenges of the farm workers — many of them immigrants from Mexico, like her parents — and the tough lives they can face.
“It didn’t register until I started learning about Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement,” she said, alluding to the late Hispanic civil rights icon and the labor movement he helped launch.
She learned, got involved, and thus began her march to activism and advocacy for the immigrant community, undocumented or otherwise, as the debate over immigration reform has sizzled.
“It’s important for those of us who are not in that situation to be partners,” said Hernandez, now coordinator of Weber State University‘s Diversity and Inclusive Programs. As a U.S. citizen, she sees herself in a position of relative privilege, able to help. Moreover, she identifies as Latinx, like many of those at the center of the immigration debate, and her parents were immigrants.
These days, living in Ogden and working at Weber State, Hernandez, 27, continues her advocacy, now with WSU students. The mission of Hernandez’s office is to raise consciousness about issues related to diversity in the WSU community, to promote intercultural sensitivity. She works with Latino students, including undocumented beneficiaries of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, which gives them leeway, for now, to legally remain in the country. One of her aims is to empower them, help them assert their identities.
Indeed, the Latino community in Utah, she’s noticed, isn’t as outspoken as in California. Graduate school brought Hernandez to Utah and she’s finishing a master’s degree in education at Weber State as she works at the university.
“Here it’s very much more quiet. People aren’t saying they’re undocumented and unafraid,” she said, alluding to the battle cry of some immigrant activists. “They’re very quiet about it.”
She doesn’t mean to mold students here into something they aren’t. She just wants to help them see their own power, uplift them. Hernandez helps lead the fledgling WSU chapter of MEChA, a group focused on helping Hispanic students navigate college life. Last spring she helped organize the Latinx/Raza Graduation ceremony, meant to honor the crop of Latinos getting WSU degrees ahead of the school’s formal commencement ceremony.
“That’s what I want to do, is just create that awareness,” Hernandez said.
‘SIGN OF THE CROSS FOR THEM’
Though she was born in the United States, Hernandez’s parents originally came from Mexico, searching for a better life here. Her mom crossed illegally into the United States and her dad entered legally with a tourist visa but overstayed it. Both benefited from the amnesty measure signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, allowing undocumented immigrants at the time to stay and legalize their status.
“If it weren’t for that amnesty... my parents would still be undocumented to this day,” Hernandez said.
Her parents’ background notwithstanding, they were quiet on the immigration question as she grew up, Hernandez said. Her mom is a certified nursing assistant and her dad has held many jobs, most steadily, perhaps, as a barber.
As she was pulled more and more toward the immigration issue, though, her involvement and activism through high school and into college at Chico State in Chico, California, kicked into high gear. She recalls nationwide protests in 2006 and 2007 by Latinos calling for immigration reform. “Every time I wanted to take part, my mom was like, ‘No, it’s kind of dangerous. We don’t know,’” Hernandez said.
They supported her, though, and quietly supported the cause. She educated her parents about the plight of migrant farm workers, and whenever passing such a group, Hernandez recalls, her dad “always did the sign of the cross for them, to show respect and share a blessing for their day.”
Hernandez took a more active role, participating in protests and demonstrations on the immigration issue in California. She backs a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, one of the thorniest parts of the debate, and is particularly ardent in her support for beneficiaries of DACA, which, subject to review by the U.S. Supreme Court, faces an uncertain future.
Now in Utah, Hernandez said there isn’t “as large and loud of a movement.” But in her current role, it isn’t all about protesting, marching and activism. Advocating, too, is just as important, being there for others.
“I have had a lot of mentors assist me as an undergraduate and graduate student,” she said. “I know how beneficial that was to me and I want to give back.”