TRENTON, NJ—Rutgers University alumna and activist Marisol Conde-Hernandez was honored at the New Jersey State House by Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula for her dedication to fighting for change and opportunities for the state's undocumented immigrant population.
Conde-Hernandez has inspired others with her fearless sharing of her own story as an undocumented immigrant, and strengthened the community through her active involvement with the state's immigration policy.
The assembly passed a ceremonial floor resolution sponsored by Chivukula praising Conde-Hernandez's exceptional work.
"She put herself through 50-60 hours of work so she could get her education," said Chivukula. "She is an immigrant’s dream and it's indeed a pleasure to welcome her to the New Jersey Assembly and honor her as an accomplished woman during Women’s History Month."
Being undocumented, Conde-Hernandez was required to pay out-of-state tuition when she was enrolled at Rutgers University.
Her awareness of policy and its effect on her life began as early as 2001 where she realized the proposed law known as the DREAM Act could help others undocumented New Jersey residents enjoy the same tuition as other in-state residents.
"Knowing we couldn’t afford an attorney …I followed [the DREAM Act],” she said.
During her first semester at Middlesex County College, Conde-Hernandez began her public speaking and advocacy for the act through leadership development and building support.
"I began to understand my life beyond my own experience. I dedicated a lot of my time soul searching through academia, trying to use academics, research, papers, qualitative and quantitative research to understand my situation, to understand me in a sense," she explained.
Through this research she was able to see her situation on a broader level and use her education to have a transformative influence on those dealing with the same effects stemming from being undocumented in the U.S.
"What’s rewarding to me in the work that I do is seeing people facing the same situation be able to take so much negativity and internalized oppression and be able to turn it into productive work.
"I have had a couple people saying they are so thankful that I went to their school to talk about it because they met someone else who is going through the same thing. That’s really what’s most important to me."
She described the importance of the support system, saying "There is no guide to being undocumented… It's what other people have called an underground railroad of resources that you have to use to make it work."
Contrary to the common perception many have toward undocumented U.S. residents, she says being undocumented does not come from a lack of desire to become a citizen but because of financial matters.
"There is no pathway as it exists for many of us. It’s how expensive [and] unregulated immigration attorneys are as well, you could easily get scammed by one or be charged too much, it’s ridiculous."
She said when thinking about the hardships her family has gone through and the trials her parents have endured, she is driven to counter these conditions for her, her family and others in the undocumented community.
"It’s really my family and it goes beyond my immediate relatives. It goes to the other young people who experience or have experienced the same stuff that I am going through," she said. "It’s not pleasant and I want to make it easier for them."
Assemblyman Chivukula, who represents New Brunswick and four other towns in the legislature, expressed his gratitude for Conde-Hernandez’s involvement with social justice as he believes it to be an essential mechanism in improving the livelihood of our immigrant population.
Chivukula said her life and work gives us two messages: "One message [is] trying to see that there is hope, trying to see the land of opportunity and hope for betterment. The second message is excel. Excel in your education in spite of how you have to work to pay for the education, it is worth it. Education is the greatest equalizer."
"Sometimes you may have to put yourself at risk to help somebody out," he said. "I think that is a powerful message in Marisol’s story. She was not afraid of her situation but she thought that we have to fight for not only what she could not get but [for] what others could not get as well."
With Conde-Hernandez’s myriad of responsibilities starting at a young age, she said she has always been ready to take the initiative and happy to address the needs of her community.
"The legacy I would hope to leave behind is one of love and a never ending fight for justice," she said.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.