Maria Cerna was born and raised in Santa Ana, El Salvador. She was raised by her grandmother while her mother was working in San Francisco, California, trying to provide food and money for her family and to have better opportunities. Maria migrated to the U.S. when she was 11 years old to live with her mother in the Bay Area. Growing up in her country and then migrating to the U.S. has shaped Maria’s resilience and determination. Maria wants to empower the immigrant communities by pursuing a career in the legal field and advocating for the rights of the marginalized communities who face injustices within the current system.
As a first-generation college student, Maria is attending San Francisco State University, where she is majoring in Criminal Justice and Women and Gender Studies. She is also part of a combined Bachelor's/Master’s program that allows her to take graduate courses to start working on her master’s degree in Women and Gender Studies. Maria is paving her way to law school and in the future to become an attorney. She is currently exploring different fields of law such as criminal and immigration law. These are some of the biggest accomplishments for Maria, as she comes from a low-income family that faced a lot of economic instability back in their home country. Maria’s mother is her biggest inspiration; she admires her mother's courage to come to the U.S. fighting through social and political barriers looking for new ways and opportunities to support her family.
As an undocumented Latina, she faced many obstacles throughout her college journey and pursuing her career. Nonetheless, this does not stop Maria from looking for new opportunities and pursuing her American Dream. Recently, she was part of the Liberal and Creative Arts New Student Leadership Council at San Francisco State, where Maria shared new ideas and brought awareness to issues that were impacting students’ learning. Her passion for learning and helping those around her has inspired her to be a mentor. Currently, Maria mentors students who are in a similar career path as her, and supports incoming students with resources throughout their first semester.
For the DreamSF Fellowship, Maria is placed at WE RISE SF Labor Center for Immigrant Justice, where she works with immigrant communities and provides legal and wraparound services to immigrant union members and their families through collaborations with local unions. Some of her roles include Spanish interpretation, form filling, and connecting clients to the different services available.
In her free time, Maria enjoys listening to music, dancing, going to the beach, watching sports, and reading poetry and novels. She believes paper books and the sound of turning pages can make you forget about reality. She also enjoys learning about different cultures and trying new foods.