Marisol Hernandez has been in the United States for over a decade but felt like she was asleep for most of it.
“I felt I was asleep because I wasn’t involved with an organization or learning anything new,” said Hernandez, “but I woke up and realized that there was an opportunity to educate myself and that life is more than just going to work and going home every day.”
Originally from Michoacán, Mexico, Hernandez has come to be a staple at “La Parada,” the concrete area intersected by Marcy Avenue and Division Avenue in Williamsburg. There, she talks to women that come from all over the city in hopes of being picked up for domestic work. For many, being undocumented means they are vulnerable, at greater numbers, to work-related hazards and unpaid wages.
As an organizer with the Workers Justice Project, the plight of domestic workers and their stories is what keeps her focused. Just recently, a woman told her of an employer who laughed hysterically at the sight of the worker’s tearing eyes, a reaction to working in a closed bathroom without gloves and nothing but a liter of bleach. Another worker told her that an employer continued to circle a block, refusing to stop to let her out, forcing her to jump out of the moving vehicle.
She attributes the support of her family to her ability to help others. Her husband, free of the machismo mentality she says affects her community helps and encourages her self-development. In fact, even her children are involved in the wage marches and events she organizes.
This support allows her to balance family, work and champion workers’ rights. She has also become a certified Ebola responder in the event of another outbreak; she’s an authorized OSHA trainer; and she continues to attend workshops on leadership with another nonprofit in New Jersey.
Her advice for undocumented newcomers and longtime residents is simple: “Don’t be afraid, let it go,” she said fervently. “Fear is a barrier, but if you weren’t afraid to come to this country, leaving your family, your customs, why are we holding on to fear now?