Interview: Fernanda Herrera
After reading “Alabama Dreamers face confusion, fear as Trump administration signals weakening of DACA“, on al.com, Melanie reached out to Fernanda for an interview. Comprehensive Immigration Reform and bringing change to our southern states is so important. There are so many stories and that’s what I Am The F-Bomb is here for…to share the stories. Here is Fernanda’s.
Like many immigrants illegally brought into the United States as children, Fernanda Herrera took on added responsibilities and debt for herself and her undocumented parents after she was granted temporary protective status from immigration enforcement in 2012.
The 22-year-old Homewood resident says she took out student loans to study international relations at Samford University beginning in 2013 and that her parents’ two businesses are now in her name, as are two car notes.
Herrera, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, says she chose to shoulder that burden because she believed that she could not be deported because she had received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
But ever since President Donald Trump was elected in November, she has grown increasingly concerned that the DACA program that allowed her to gain the temporary right to live and work in the U.S. will be encroached upon or repealed outright. –
(image: Connor Sheets/al.com)
1) Where did your parents move here from, how old were you, and do you have any memories of it?
We moved from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico when I was 2 and a half years old. I unfortunately have no memories of it, which makes it difficult for me to participate in conversations with my cousins, aunts, and uncles who all either arrived when they were old enough to remember or are US citizens and have been able to visit.
2) Why did they move here, what went into that decision?
My parents ran my grandfather’s grocery store and we lived on the top floor. My dad was assaulted 13 times in the span of a year in 1995. On one of those occasions, the robbers had made their way to the top floor where I was sleeping in my crib, with the intent to kidnap me. My dad had grown anxious and was suffering from a deep depression because of the assaults, but that event shook him into action. He and my mom decided that they needed to come to the US for a few years, but have ended up staying for 20 years.
3) I imagine you were fairly young at the time, but could you tell me a little about how you felt when President Obama established the DACA policy in June 2012?
I was 17 years old when the announcement happened. My parents were under an order of deportation, and I was under the same order because I was underage. Because HB-56 had just occurred in 2011 in Alabama, I had begun to realize what came with being undocumented. By July of 2012, I understood that I was undocumented and that it barred me from applying to college among other things. I knew that DACA came at the perfect time to keep me from being deported and apply to college, but I understood from the beginning that it did nothing for my parents and that it was temporary.
4) What was your experience with DACA, and going through the process of achieving DACA status.
Because of the active order of deportation, my parents had hired an attorney. Luckily she handled the filing and mine was one of the first applications to be sent in on August 2012. Every subsequent application has been difficult though, financially. You would think that it would be easy to save $500 every two years, but when you’re already having to pay for college out-of-pocket and have a limited income it can be almost impossible.
5) Can you tell me a little about how you felt the day DACA was repealed?
I was in DC participating in a four day hunger fast when DACA was repealed. That morning the 27 fasters and I had our last meal, and the mood in the room was somber as we ate and got ready for a day of actions and the news about DACA. The rally was energetic as the 11 o’clock announcement time loomed. A fellow faster and I were towards the front of the makeshift stage during the press conference in front of the White House when the news broke that DACA had been rescinded. I am guessing the shock and anger was evident on our faces because the cameras immediately zoomed into us as we turned to each other for comfort. The rest of the day was a combination of anger and impotence mixed with a sense of empowerment because we were already taking part in a tangible action, which served as an outlet for our frustration.
6) Do you feel that America is your home? I’d love to know your thoughts about what it would be like for you if you were made to go live in Mexico at this point?
I’ve been to DC 5 times in the past two years for anywhere from a week to 10 weeks at a time. I care deeply about the United States and have always seen the potential that my chosen country has for change and to be an agent of peace and harmony in the world. After each disaster, the United States pours out love and resources to countries in need. The “American superpower” is something I have always admired and aspired to be a part of.
However, these past few years as I study about my Mexican heritage I have become increasingly proud of being Mexican as well. I have come to learn that the two should not be mutually exclusive. Immigrants should be able to still celebrate their roots shamelessly and feel as though they are a part of American society, just as they are when they pay taxes and contribute to society.
I have thought about moving back recently after the announcement. There are several programs that help reintegrate those of us who left when we were little. However, my friends and family are here. If I leave it would be impossible for me to return to live here permanently and I would be leaving my entire life behind.
7) What are some things that you and your family have been able to accomplish that you feel wouldn’t have been possible if your family hadn’t moved here from Mexico?
I have been able to learn two more languages. I am fluent in English, obviously, and have also learned Portuguese. My parents own two businesses, two cars and have been able to send their children to great schools. Looking back though, I feel as though they have sacrificed just as much as they have earned. My grandmother passed away a year ago and my mother was not able to see her before she died. My parents often talk about all of the cultural aspects of being Mexican we have missed out on because we are here. I feel as though a piece of me is missing most days, but I know that I’m fulfilling my parents’ wishes of success for me.
8) Have you personally noticed an increase in hostile comments/actions toward immigrants since the election last year?
I have seen them mostly online, where they can hide behind a keyboard and computer screen to spew hatred. I haven’t had any hateful speech directed at me personally, but have encountered a lot of ignorance and disinformation. I am fortunate that the “opponents” that surround me are people who have been willing to listen and partake in dialogue with me. When I have a conversation with someone who doesn’t have the same experiences as I and they don’t understand the issue of immigration and undocumented immigrants, I see it as an opportunity to change minds and hearts. I confront hostility with love and knowledge and have seen positive results, but I am just one person.
9) Do you have faith that Congress will come up with a working plan for DACA, and what can other Americans do to help the people who are being affected by this move to shut down such an important program?
I see movement on a DREAM Act, but am fearful of it including a wall and increased ICE intervention in our communities, which would definitely make those who would benefit from the DREAM Act fearful and intimidate their families. I am upset about the division that DACA, the DREAM Act, and the term “DREAMer” has caused within our communities. It has increasingly criminalized our parents, who are the original dreamers, and caused the country to look down upon those immigrants who aren’t attending college or couldn’t apply for 2012 DACA due to age restrictions or entry restrictions but are nevertheless making meaningful contributions to society and deserve to be protected just as much as DREAMers do.
I would ask that allies call and write to their Members of Congress and Senators and tell them that our communities need a CLEAN DREAM Act that would protect DACA recipients but also not create more difficulties for their families. I would also ask that allies attend marches and be active supporters of our cause, not just change their profile picture on Facebook. We need true warriors on our side.