USC Price School of Public Policy

Women of the Year Award

Knowledge in Action:

SPPD Student Receives ‘Unsung Heroine’ Award

By Cristy Lytal

Kristie Hernandez

Kristie Hernandez works full time at the community clinic organization AltaMed Health Services and goes to school full time at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development (SPPD), where she is pursuing a master of public administration with a certificate in public policy.

But it’s what she does in her spare time — volunteer with the East L.A. Residents Association — that earned her a place at this year’s Women of the Year “Unsung Heroines” Award Ceremony.

U.S. Representative Grace F. Napolitano honored 23 women for exemplary service at the ceremony, held at the City of Montebello Senior Center on May 15.

“It is essential we pay tribute to these women who volunteer their time to improve their communities and who are never publicly thanked,” Napolitano said. “The heartfelt dedication and hard work these women put into their volunteering is not only commendable, it is essential for the spirit and well-being of our community.”

As a board member of the East L.A. Residents Association, Hernandez works tirelessly to promote the cause of cityhood for unincorporated East L.A., where she grew up.

“East L.A. has already built its own identity, for better or for worse, because people have so many different ideas about this area,” she said. “It’s an area that’s known worldwide. There’s so much culture. And being able to give the next generation a city would be such a great gift.”

The East L.A. Residents Association has already completed an initial fiscal analysis suggesting that cityhood is viable, gathered more than 16,000 supporting signatures, and raised more than $134,000 to fund a more comprehensive fiscal analysis.

Hernandez first became interested in the issue when she volunteered for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s mayoral campaign, and then noticed that he wasn’t on her ballot.

“That’s because we’re under the jurisdiction of the county,” she said. “If I have any concern that has to do with a pothole in my street, a light, or a local school, I have to go to a board of supervisors that represents more than one million residents versus going to my own city council that would represent far fewer.”

She learned even more about the issue while working for California State Senator Gloria Romero, who represents, as part of her district, unincorporated East L.A.

“You’ll hear very frequently that government is local, and I feel that,” said Hernandez. “I want to know that I have a local government and local control. I’ve always been interested in influencing and forming public policy and advocacy, and I want to be able to do it for the community that I live in, East L.A.”

Hernandez has always been a passionate community advocate and volunteer. She was chosen to represent her high school at a congressional teen conference in Washington, DC, where she met everyone from her local congresswoman to Bill Clinton.

As an undergraduate at UCLA, she worked with youth through AmeriCorps and as an instructional aid for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She also held a variety of leadership positions with Hermanas Unidas, a support group for Latinas in higher education.

More recently, she also campaigned for Barack Obama in several states and started a campaign volunteer office in East L.A.

In the future, she wants to continue being an advocate for underserved communities like East L.A. while influencing policy. Still, an eventual run for office isn’t her goal.

“At the ceremony, Napolitano made it a point to talk about how I had just been in Washington, DC, giving a speech for the East L.A. Residents Association, and she had heard me speak,” said Hernandez. “And she thought: this is one of the next elected officials. But I always say that’s not on my agenda. I want to have a family and live a normal life. I just do what I feel very passionately about, and it’s not because I’m seeking that recognition.”