Student Activist Proves Immigrants Get the Job Done


Shea Roberts, Staff Writer

Yeimi Hernandez-Cruz, a 20-year-old business administration major from Freehold, opens up about why she’s an activist for women and immigrants during this trying time in America.

“We’re all human beings. Legal status is not a definition,” she said. Her family, Hernandez-Cruz said, came from “humble beginnings. Everything I have today I’ve had to earn.”

She started her career in activism by watching her mother and working herself. Her mom took ESL courses at Casa Freehold, an organization that strives to educate and empower immigrants. At the same time, Hernandez-Cruz assisted a professor through the same organization in teaching English.

In volunteering there, Hernandez-Cruz became the spokesperson for Casa Freehold for almost three years. During this time, she met with and was trained by various lawyers and activists on how to speak in public.

“My intentions are not to impress but to inspire,” said Hernandez-Cruz. “I wanted to do something to help people like me.”

By “people like me,” Hernandez-Cruz means immigrants and women, whose causes she is most passionate about in her work. “Everyone should be treated equally. I was told at 8 or 9 years old that I would never be anything because I wasn’t a citizen.”

Hernandez-Cruz noted that her biggest inspiration has not been one specific person, but rather many people, who all believe as she does and are working toward making that thought process a reality.

“I come from nothing,” she said, “so I know how hard it is to build from scratch.” One day, Hernandez-Cruz says she wants to become a lawyer, or potentially a judge. “I’m very passionate about human rights and social justice, so my hopes are to continue to be an advocate, whether it be local, state or nationally,” she said. “We’re not represented as well, or enough as a minority group, because we’re oppressed. Although we have advocates within our community, many of them are silenced. I want to be heard.”

Her favorite event in working to protect immigrants thus far was when she spoke in front of the Board of Chosen Freeholders about an immigration bill. “The bill would have allowed ICE to train and deputize local police officers to find illegal immigrants.” Hernandez-Cruz said.

She was asked to speak on behalf of the Latino Action Network. “It was really special that I got to do that,” said Hernandez-Cruz. “I was helping people.”

Hernandez-Cruz noted that a large personal obstacle she is still overcoming is her culture. “I come from a patriarchal culture,” she said, “I’ve had to break some of those norms.”

But it still presents a challenge. Being a woman means she is seen as weaker, especially when she shows emotion. Being an immigrant has been difficult as well. “I’m not white-passing, I look like my ancestors,” Hernandez-Cruz said. “The sun just loves me a little more.”

“My skin is not a burden, but it is an obstacle,” she said. “I feel like I’ve had to work ten times harder.”

At Brookdale, Hernandez-Cruz is primarily involved in the WILL club and Dreamers+ program. WILL allows her to connect with other female leaders, something that has been very empowering. The Dreamers have asked Hernandez-Cruz to represent their group several times.

“I’ve gone to lobby with them in D.C. twice, once virtually and once in person,” she said. In addition, Hernandez-Cruz uses her various community connections to advocate for the group. “I ask organizations to lend their support to the Dreamers.”

Her advice to anyone looking to become involved in activism is to, “Pay attention to politics, open your eyes to the issues and struggles that currently surround you. You do not need to go to another country to do community service.” After all, she got her start by watching her mom. “Everything is interconnected, you just have to tap in.