Not many teenagers would have the confidence to address a United States Senator, but Joanna Hernandez did. When Senator Dick Durbin visited Erie Neighborhood House to discuss the need for comprehensive immigration reform, Joanna thanked him for his work and shared her experiences as an immigrant.
Joanna credits Erie House with helping her to develop the confidence that made addressing a large crowd, including a US Senator, possible. She first began working with Erie House two years ago through their Program Visionaries. Visionaries is part of Erie’s Youth Options Unlimited (YOU) programming, an after-school expanded learning program for at-risk youth ages 12-18. Visionaries is a multi-media apprenticeship program where youth learn to use cutting edge digital media software and they are able to create magazines, mini documentaries and democracy themed posters.
Erie House helped Joanna with a number of things, but perhaps most life changing, was helping her complete her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application. Once her application was approved, Joanna was able to get her first job. Last summer she worked as a program assistant in Erie’s health and leadership program. Joanna was able to work with parents, learn about health issues, and develop her translation skills.
But as she told Senator Durbin, DACA is not enough; it is one step on the path to Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR).
“I see all of the struggles my parents have to face every day. Having one job is not enough to pay bills or even feed us. My parents have given up everything back in Mexico to give me and my brothers and sister a better future. They are both willing to be mistreated, work long hours, work in hard jobs, and get paid so little all to show us they are here to make a better future for our family.”
Joanna’s involvement with Erie House has not only helped her, but she has inspired her siblings. Both her younger brother and sister are now involved with Erie House to get the same kind of support she did with school, jobs and an opportunity to fight for immigration reform.
Thanks to DACA, Joanna no longer has to worry about working without papers; she believes everyone should have this chance and more. She believes everyone should be able to live without fear.
“Having an immigration reform law would mean so much for our family and for every other family out there looking to be successful. We all know this is the land of opportunity; we all come here to take advantage of the opportunities we don’t have back at home. We all want to give back to this great country; we want to be able to live without fear; we want to make everyone proud of us.”
We bet Joanna is already making her parents and her family very proud.
To learn more about Erie Neighborhood House and all of its amazing programs, visit: http://www.eriehouse.org/