|Erica Fernandez speaks at the 2011 MY HERO International Film Festival|
Even in the face of adversity, when nobody expects you to
come out victorious, when one person goes up against a billion dollar
corporation, there is no room to let down or give up. Erica Fernandez is the
prime example of this; a young Mexican-born Latina who stood up for her
community and fought for a cause that many thought was worthless because of who
she was going up against. Not only did she succeed in her quest, but she also
gave "a voice to the voiceless". She stood up for what was right and achieved
Her name is Erica Fernandez. She was born and raised in
Michoacán, Mexico until the age of 12. At that time, her family migrated to the
United States to the agricultural city of Oxnard, California. One of her
biggest obstacles at the time was the language barrier. Neither her parents nor
herself could speak English, a language that to this day her parents don't
understand. After a few years of living there, she developed a strong sense of
community through familiar experiences and relationships with the people in
"Eres mi héroe madre" [You are my hero mom]
|Erica Fernandez speaks at the 2011 MY HERO International Film Festival|
One day, Erica got word of the proposal of BHP Billiton, the
richest mining corporation in the world, to build a natural liquefied gas (LNG)
facility off the Coast of Ventura County. This proposal would have had a
36-inch pipeline routed through low-income neighborhoods in Oxnard. The proposal
was first presented to richer communities like Camarillo and Ventura but was
rejected. The company then added 10 miles to the project so that it can go
around these richer communities and only affect Oxnard. This pipeline, had it
gone through, would have caused 280 tons of air pollution each year, not only
affecting the health of Oxnard residents, but also causing their crops and
farmland to be affected tremendously.
Seeing that her community was going to be taken advantage
of, she figured she had to do something about it. Erica knew that her community
was targeted because most of the residents there are Mexican and don't speak
any English, therefore the corporation would receive no opposition. Little did
they know that in this community lived a young girl who would fight for what
|Erica Fernandez and her mom are embraced by Kathy Eldon at the 2011 MY HERO International Film Festival|
Erica decided to join forces with local community
organizations like the Sierra Club, Latinos No on LNG and the Coastal Alliance
United for a Sustainable Economy, to stand up to BHP Billiton and stop this
proposal from going through. She organized protests at the BHP Billiton
offices, led marches through the neighborhoods that were going to be affected
the most, reached out to the media to get coverage on this injustice, and
gathered more than 250 high school students to a rally that was critical to
their success. All of Erica's efforts became worthwhile after her passionate
speech before the California State Lands Commission, which influenced not only
for the project to be vetoed and the Commission urging the Governor to do the
same, but it also led to the creation of SB412, a bill introduced in the
California Senate that entitles communities to have a say in coastal
"Everyone of you, I know that you have your heroes and each of you are a hero yourself"
|Erica Fernandez gives a passionate speech alongside her mom at the 2011 MY HERO International Film Festival|
Standing up to a billion dollar corporation of any sort
would have made a successful businessperson's knees tremble, and for a young
girl, at the age of 12, to do what she did and succeed; that is truly
admirable. She does admit that at a point, it seemed like they would not get
anywhere because there was only so much she, and the groups that backed her,
could do. But her persistent efforts and courage to keep fighting made it so
that her community could live comfortably. Obviously Erica didn't fight this
alone, if it weren't for the groups that helped her and the thousands of people
who protested with her, the pipeline would have not been rejected. But what is
amazing is how Erica brought this issue to life. Not many people knew what was
going on, or maybe they did but weren't going to do anything about it. It was
Erica who reached out to the organizations, it was Erica who organized the
protests, and it was Erica who informed the community what they were fighting
for. Like she says, "The protests were not just people yelling for no reason,
they knew what was the final result that they wanted." and they knew because
she had done anything and everything to inform them of it.
Erica is a hero not only because she had the courage to
organize for such an important issue, but also she is an outstanding
student-athlete that has overcome many obstacles. In high school she was ranked
fourth in her graduating class of more than 500 students. She took advanced
placement courses and maintained a 4.4 GPA, all while being part of the Varsity
Cross Country and Track team, plus being the captain of the Varsity soccer
team. Now, she is studying environmental justice at Stanford University, where
she got a full ride, and she works with "SEEDS", a group that introduces local
high school students to ecology. Not to mention, she didn't speak any English until
she got to the US at the age of twelve, yet she has accomplished everything she
has due to her commitment and dedication to succeed, even in the face of
¡Sí se puede! [Yes we can!]
|Erica Fernandez and her mom pose with their bird trophies at the 2011 MY HERO International Film Festival|
spoken to Erica and her mother personally, I know she is a very genuine person
who is all about family. Her mother talked to me about how proud she is of her
daughter and everything she has accomplished. Erica has received countless
awards and is getting her school paid for because of her hard work. She has
traveled around the nation thanks to her efforts; but apart from all that,
Erica never forgets where she came from. Her mother said to me that Erica
enjoys talking to people about having the ability to act and make a change but
what stood out to me was when she told me that Erica always wears her
"gabán" which is sort of like a big scarf but it goes over your
shoulders, commonly used by women in Mexico as an accessory. She says "When
I was a baby, my mom carried me in a rebozo - a shawl. Now I always have one
when I speak to remind me that women are powerful at home and in society."
made me realize that Erica is proud of her roots and doesn't shy away from them
even in the biggest of stages. She never takes full credit for her success and
she always acknowledges the people that have helped her be where she is today.
Erica says that her hero is her mother. She says that she knows everyone has a
hero and everyone is a hero themselves. Her actions are ones to look up to and
her family's humbleness is truly remarkable.
to Erica and her mother really reminded me of my parents and myself. I can
relate myself so much to her because of the way she carries herself and because
of the respect she has for her mother. She is so thankful for what her parents
have done for her and always keeps them in mind when success comes her way. We
have very similar backgrounds and our parents have taught us similar values.
She has gone above and beyond what anybody expected of her and has never been
ashamed of where she comes from. Erica, at her young age, has already done what
many accomplish once in their lifetime. She saved a community from a potential
deathly situation, but most importantly she is teaching us how to live life the
right way. We must follow in her footsteps and always acknowledge your roots
and where you came from. Be appreciative for the people who have allowed you
success and most of all, make a difference. Regardless of the situation or whom
you're up against, you can make a difference!
INTERVIEW WITH ERICA FERNANDEZ
Who is your hero(es)? Why?
I have many Heroes or what I called them Angels on my shoulders. First of all, is my mother, father and the rest my siblings. And other iconic Heroes that I admire and I look up to them are people like Cesar Chavez, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dolores Huerta, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and everyone who is willing to fight non--violently for justice like my community of Oxnard.
What is your advice for young people who are trying to make a difference?
To speak up and to take action. Believe in yourself and go change the world, ¡si se puede!
What are some of the awards you have received?
Red Cross Young Women of the Year 2008
2009 Jane Goodall Global Leadership Award
Cosmo-Girl Born to Lead Award
Brower Youth Award
Gates Millennium Scholarship
Glamour- Top Ten College Women of 2011
2011 Daniel Eldon Activist Award
What's the best part of being a young hero?
Others can look up to you and they can identify with you and be heroes themselves. You get to meet amazing people that are changing the world!
What are your future goals?
I am doing a Masters at Stanford University next year. Future plans is to go to law school and a joint program in Public Policy. I want to continue empowering communities to take action and help my family.