FORMER UNDOCUMENTED FILIPINO DEVOTES LIFE TO HELPING IMMIGRANTS

By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Mar 12, 2013

DALY CITY, Calif. – Forty-eight-year old Bernadette Herrera, coordinator at the Filipino Community Center, has made it her life’s goal to help abused immigrant workers, especially those who are undocumented.

She said, “I used to be undocumented so I know how they feel. I know how scared they are. But I tell them, do not be afraid.”

For three years, Herrera became an undocumented immigrant in America, working long hours as a housekeeper and caregiver, for little pay. She said life as an undocumented immigrant is a life of fear and paranoia.

She said, “I had to watch my back. I did not talk to anyone about my situation. All I did was to stay home and go to work.”

Herrera is used to living a life filled with hardships. She was born and raised in Pampanga, Philippines. She and her 11 other siblings grew up poor.

“It was really hard because there were so many of us. I had to live with relatives who would send me to school. While in school, I also worked as a maid so I could still send money home to my parents,” she said.

She was able to go to college after borrowing money from another maid. While in college, she learned how to be a leader and stand up for those abused by the system. She said, “I was at a student assembly and I spoke up about high tuition rates. I knew it was not right, especially for struggling students like me.”

Herrera soon became a provincial board member for Pampanga, fighting for the poor and oppressed.

Because jobs were scarce in the Philippines and she had three young children to feed, Herrera decided to move to America on a tourist visa in 2000. She said, “If there were only opportunities for me back home, I would not have left. That was the hardest thing I had to do, leave my children and my family behind. But I had no choice. I had to do it for them.”

After overstaying her visa for three years, Herrera married a U.S. citizen in 2003. She soon filed immigration petitions for her children, Red, AV and Jeremias.

Herrera wanted her children to realize her hard work in America and do well in school. AV said, “Even when we were young, she told us that was the only thing she could pass on to us — education.”

Herrera’s guidance paid off. Red is now a member of the U .S. Navy. AV and Jeremias both graduated valedictorian at Westmoor High School and went to Stanford University on a full scholarship.

She said, “I am proud of what they have accomplished. But I’m prouder that like me, they also serve the community.”

Herrera and her children said the true meaning of success is sharing your success with others, especially those who continue to suffer abuses because of their immigration status.

She said, “The Obama government should listen to the cries of undocumented immigrants, who are not criminals, but people who want to make life better for their families. We are calling for legalization for all.”

Herrera is now a U.S. citizen but she said, she will never forget helping other Filipinos immigrants who want nothing more than to belong in this country.

You may contact Henni Espinosa at henni_espinosa@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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