Fernanda Herrera never thought she’d be inside the United States Capitol.
Herrera was one of 38 Latino students who attended an eight-week internship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute this summer.
“It was a lot of team-building and learning from each other,” Herrera said. “All of us were college students which was a very unique experience for me because Alabama doesn’t have a big plethora of Latinos in higher education.”
In D.C., Herrera worked in the office of U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D- AZ). She learned a lot about what goes on behind-the-scenes in the Capitol.
“I was not very familiar with Native American issues at all,” Herrera said. “I was very exposed to what was going on and what they go through; I also learned a lot about their tribes.”
Herrera and the 37 other students in the program saw the reality for many Hispanics every time they traveled around D.C. The only other Latinos they saw were either pressure washing a sidewalk or throwing out trash at a restaurant or wiping windows at a store, she said.
“I was sitting here thinking, ‘They’re doing this for their children, and to be something in society’ and it would make me think about my parents,” she said. “They have a small restaurant in Ragland, Alabama, and it was like I would see my parents every day on the streets doing labor. I was in my business clothes, just walked out of interning on Capitol Hill, so it was like an immediate contrast.”
Herrera was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and she and her parents came to the United States when she was 2 years old. She grew up in Gadsden and is a first-generation college student in her family.
Herrera hopes to take everything she learned in D.C. and apply it to her leadership roles at Samford University, where she studies political science and is the co-founder and Vice President of the Latino Student Organization.
Since returning from D.C. Herrera is focusing on school and hopes to attend law school, but fears she may face some difficulties as result of a Supreme Court deadlock on the Deferred Action for Parents of American citizens. That’s the policy that grants deferred action status to certain illegal immigrants who have lived in the U.S. since 2010 and have children who are either American citizens or lawful permanent residents.
“That was pretty difficult because eight of us were undocumented in the program, and most of our parents were undocumented,” she said. “After work, we all went out in front of the Supreme Court and stood out there with some signs. We didn’t speak, we just stood there together in solidarity.”
Herrera said she wants to use her experiences to help others and change stereotypes.
“They don’t expect a Latino from Alabama to have a law degree and to represent people from different of areas, walks and colors of life,” Herrera said. “If all of the stars aligned . . . I would like to run for some type of political office.”