PATTERSON — Adriana Hernandez was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, and immigrated with her family from Mexico when she was 2 years old. She grew up in Redwood City just like any other American kid, but she always felt like she didn't belong.
"I felt like I was living with second-class citizenship," Hernandez said as she walked into Patterson on Friday evening. "I felt like I didn't have an identity in this country because I didn't have some piece of paper."
Growing up as an undocumented immigrant in the United States was demoralizing at times, but Hernandez persevered. Even though she struggled to finance her education, she earned a bachelor's degree with a double major in Latin American studies and American studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz.
In 2011, Hernandez became a U.S. citizen. The 26-year-old has since earned a master's degree in public affairs from the University of San Francisco and moved with her husband to Patterson.
She has shared her story many times over the past week while participating in the Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship. Hernandez says it's not a protest, but rather a journey to find spiritual significance and learn how to help others in the same situation that she once was in.
The pilgrimage, which started Sunday in Sacramento and is scheduled to end Sept. 2 in Bakersfield, made a stop Friday night at Patterson's Sacred Heart Catholic Church. The 23-day walk is aimed at galvanizing support for immigration reform and raising awareness about immigrants in this country.
The community network PICO California and its local affiliates organized the pilgrimage. Homero Mejia of Congregations Building Community in Stanislaus County said they want to change the nation's narrative surrounding immigration.
"They're hardworking. They're not strangers they've been here for dec-ades," Mejia said of immigrants. "It's important that we see them as human beings, not as a debate in Washington."
Hernandez is one of 11 people, representing 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, walking about 280 miles and meeting with political leaders and residents along the way.
They walk every day from 5 a.m. to about noon, traveling along rural roads away from busier highways and freeways, then attend afternoon and evening events designed to bring together local people for discussions on immigration reform.
Each morning, they start the walk where they stopped the day before. For instance, they'll return to Manteca today to start their walk again. They walk about 12 to 15 miles each, but never more than 19 miles.
"It's difficult, physically. But spiritually, we're strong," said Adriana Flores, 40, of Merced.
Flores joined the pilgrimage "to demonstrate that we are not criminals, that we are hardworking people of faith." She has lived in the United States for 20 years as an undocumented immigrant. She brought her son to this country when he was 10 months old.
"I can't even say how hard it's been," Flores said in Spanish. "I've been living here for 20 years and I can't even establish myself financially."
She said she wants a better life for herself, but especially for her son. She believes now that there is a real chance for millions to come out from living in the shadows.
The 11 participants walk alongside support staff riding in two vans with plenty of supplies. They also travel with a nurse whose job it is to make sure they stay healthy through their journey. Each participant had to pass a physical before being allowed to join the pilgrimage.
Gonzalo Santos, 63, ended Friday with a numb left leg, a painful blister on the bottom of his right foot and a runny nose after inhaling dust kicked up by some friendly dairy cows.
"This is absolutely nothing compared to the pain people are suffering right now crossing the Arizona desert to come to this country," said Santos, a historical sociology professor at California State University, Bakersfield. "My pain is just a way of sharing their pain."
He said he considers immigration reform that leads to citizenship for immigrants the most important issue in this country, but said he decided to join the pilgrimage because of his students.
The students who commute long distances to jobs that pay for their education. The students who show up to class even though their mothers have been deported and they now have to raise their younger siblings.
"My students are heroic. And they get A's in my class," Santos said, fighting back tears. "I'm very humbled by them, and I do it for them."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394. Follow him at https://twitter.com/modbeecourts.
AT A GLANCE
Area stops for the Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship:
Today, 6 p.m.
St. Jude's Catholic Church, 3824 Mitchell Road
Mass with pilgrims
Monday, 6 p.m.
St. Anthony's Catholic Church, 1799 Winton Way
Mass with pilgrims
Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.
Merced High School, 205 W. Olive Ave.
Tuesday, 6 p.m.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 671 E. Yosemite Ave.
Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Central California Women's Facility
News conference and prayer vigil
For more information, go to www.pilgrimageforcitizenship.org.