As Women’s History Month comes to a close, it is our pleasure to shine the spotlight on a “Shero” and social justice champion that inspires us day in and day out, Dr. Belinda Hernandez Arriaga.
Belinda is the embodiment of kindness, compassion, determination, vision, and many other virtues one can only hope to develop. Although many know her as a prominent activist and mentor, Belinda wears many other hats. One of Belinda’s most important roles is as the Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Ayudando Latinos A Soñar (ALAS). She began ALAS in 2011 with no funds, no support, and no experience in the nonprofit world. The reason she began ALAS was because she had offered pro-bono counseling to the Latino community in Half Moon Bay, where she realized how fractured it was. Originally ALAS was created to instill pride within local Latino youth using traditional art such as music, dance, and costume. As time went on, Belinda’s vision blossomed into a much greater mission by providing help for the entire Latino community and most recently for farmworker families.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Belinda worked tirelessly to ensure that underprivileged families of the community received whatever they needed: PPE, counseling, clothing, toiletries, and health care. Belinda provided education regarding vaccinations, supplied transportation for people to vaccination sites, and ultimately ensured vaccinations to farmworker families in Half Moon Bay. Additionally, ALAS began a pop-up crisis food pantry to provide whole and fresh foods for our farm and essential workers during this difficult time. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg as it relates to the support that Belinda provides the community.
Prior to the pandemic, Belinda traveled to various immigration camps near the Mexico-US border 3 times a year over the course of a few years. She was actively aiding families in tremendous distress by bringing active support and care. In 2021 she brought at least 15 families to Half Moon Bay. ALAS provided housing, work, schooling, transportation, help with legal status, furnishings, clothing, and in several cases reunited the families who had been separated. This may have been one of the most challenging feats that she has faced due to the restrictions placed by immigration law, but Belinda has provided this critical support within legal parameters.
In addition, she is an award-winning author for her first children’s book, a full-time professor at the University of San Francisco, and is a San Mateo Art Commissioner. Even with this extensive list of responsibilities, Belinda always has the time to be a daughter, wife, and mother of 3 teenage daughters in a multigenerational home.
With her Doctorate in Education from the University of San Francisco she inspires new generations of students as a counseling professor and program coordinator. She earned a Master’s in Social Work from Lady of The Lake University and a bachelor’s degree in Arts and Communications from St. Mary’s University. She is well-versed in immigration law and various other legal matters. In 2020, Belinda was awarded the National Jefferson Award for Community Service- an honor given to individuals who find ways to instill major positive change without the intention of receiving recognition. Additionally, she was also inducted into the San Mateo County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2020.
Although she works with countless amounts of people day in and day out, Belinda deeply cares about each and every one of them. She holds a position of enormous responsibility within the community- a community that is in constant turmoil, meaning that her day is an emotional rollercoaster. Nevertheless, she remains calm and courteous even in the most stressful of situations. There has never been a time when Belinda did not try her best. She is absolutely dedicated to aiding those in need.
It’s important to note that her roots and upbringing were the foundation for the person she is today. Growing up in Texas and Panama taught Belinda the values that she promotes every day. Belinda was raised with ideals that taught her the importance of social justice and community engagement. Her father, who was a Merchant Marine, taught her the value of always helping those in need. Her family’s religious faith helped instill values of selflessness within Belinda, a trait that helped make her the dedicated advocate she is today.
Even at a glance, it is clear Belinda’s vision for the future will be just as strong and powerful as her past and present. Belinda’s life and work are an inspiration to countless others. Indeed, Belinda has helped so many find their wings and harvest their efforts into fruits of greatness for generations to come.
Ryan Lopez – Silicon Valley Latino Contributing Writer
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