Photo by Roy L. Williams.
Alba Hernandez, a bilingual Realtor with Luxury South Realty, poses in front of a Hoover home that she is seeking to sell. She specializes in selling homes for Spanish-speaking clients.
Since moving from Costa Rica to Alabama in 1983, Alba Hernandez has spent much of her life trying to break down barriers and educate residents of metro Birmingham about the Hispanic community.
She has served as a Spanish interpreter and teacher. Hernandez was one of the founders of the Hispanic Business Council of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce in the early 2000s. She also helped to create Fiesta, an annual Saturday event promoting the Hispanic culture including food, music and crafts.
In March 2015, Hernandez filled another niche: serving as one of the few Spanish-speaking Realtors in Hoover with Luxury South Realty at 2105 Lorna Road, Suite 159.
Q: Tell me more about your role in educating the public about the Hispanic community in metro Birmingham since moving here 32 years ago.
A: Back then, I saw that there was a great need to educate the community about Hispanics. Not everybody is from Mexico. There are many differences in the Hispanic community in geography, local expressions. That was my goal when we started the Hispanic Business Council.
The idea for Fiesta came because I had a friend who lived in Tennessee and she had started a festival there. Other individuals have continued on with the idea. It has been very successful and I’m proud of it.
Q: How has the Hispanic community grown in Hoover and surrounding cities since you moved here in 1983?
A: When I first came here, there were not that many Spanish-speaking people in this area. Now you go anywhere and you see Hispanics and people of all different nationalities. We are so diverse. In Birmingham now you not only see and hear people of Latin backgrounds, but you also hear and see people from Russia, from India, from the Middle East, from Europe, from all over the world. That is the beauty of who we are now as a country.
Q: Does being bilingual help in your line of work selling real estate?
A: Yes. There aren’t many bilingual Realtors in this area. Our office on Lorna Road is the central place where Hispanic people can come to find out what they need to do to purchase a home. We are planning on conducting some real estate workshops in English and in Spanish so that people will be informed.
Our office is such a niche market. In our office, we have a bilingual mortgage broker. He has had clients who have come all the way from Huntsville.
Q: In 2011, Alabama enacted HB 56, billed by many as the harshest immigration law in the country. It caused friction between many Hispanics and other Alabamians, with several immigrants fleeing the state and making it difficult for construction companies, restaurants and other industries to find workers. Has the climate improved?
A: I personally have some mixed feelings. I do understand we have to control immigration. I had to pay my dues to become a citizen. I went through a lot to obtain my citizenship and am grateful and proud of it. I believe everybody should abide by the law.
But on the other hand, when you talk about the humanitarian side of it, and being a Christian, your heart goes out to these immigrants and the challenges they face in their home country. Due to discrimination, some left after the new law.
Q: Are there any stereotypes about Hispanics in the Hoover area you’d like to address?
A: It has happened to me on a couple of occasions. People hear that I have an accent, recognize that I speak Spanish and say, “Oh, you’re from Mexico.”
Do not assume because somebody speaks a certain language they’re like everybody else.
Another stereotype is that everybody who speaks Spanish is uneducated. That’s not the case. We need to open our eyes. If we want to see Alabama move forward, we need to embrace diversity and embrace people who are different.
In many ways we are different, but we are all the same. People want to provide for their families, everybody wants to have a better life.