Elena Herrada was born on March 28, 1957 in Detroit, Michigan. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit, becoming involved with activism and Chicano Boricua studies. She graduated in 1980 with a degree in Criminal Justice and a major in Chicano Boricua Studies. Her motivation to graduate partially stemmed from her grandfather, who attended her graduation wearing full revolutionary regalia, shouting, “Viva Herrada!”
Several of Elena Herrada’s archival documents include references to Gilbert Gutierrez, Herrada’s old boyfriend. Gutierrez was killed in 1977, and Herrada participated in his trial. Herrada cites Gutierrez as the reason she studied Criminal Justice in college.
Much of Herrada’s later activism stemmed from the concept of “Los Repatriados,” the Repatriated. The Repatriated refers to the history of Mexican immigrants who were encouraged to move to the U.S. to work in bracero programs, only to be deported in massive numbers during the Depression, serving as a scapegoat for U.S. economic issues. Many Mexicans and their U.S.-born children moved back to Mexico, often to lead impoverished lives. Herrada’s family experienced this history, being forced to move to Mexico in 1930, and then returning to Detroit in 1932. Herrada’s research and activism surrounds raising awareness of this history through screening documentaries, collecting oral histories, and hosting events to raise awareness about Los Repatriados.