by Michelle Kiang and Abaki Beck
Daisy Hernandez is a queer Colombian-Cuban writer. She is perhaps best known for co-editing Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism alongside Bushra Rehman and for her recent memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, an honest and beautiful portrayal of her upbringing in New Jersey and the experiences of the women in her family. She is journalist and former editor of Colorlines. In addition to being a prolific and inspirational writer and editor, Daisy is our Feminist Hero because she is so wise, genuine, and kind.
Daisy Hernandez's work, and the way she goes about her work, shows us the importance of sharing our stories in creating positive social change and always seeking justice, and moves us to become the theorists of our own lives. We are thankful for her work, and for all the work she inspires.
We were lucky to have been able to correspond with Daisy and ask her a few questions about feminism, her writing process, and what inspires her:
When did you first start writing? Why is writing meaningful or powerful for you?
I've been writing since grade school. Back then I wrote poems and also essays. After college, I joined this group Women in Literature and Letters started by these three Latinas (novelist Angie Cruz, playwright Adelina Anthony, and poet Marta Lucia). They organized workshops and readings and I started sending my work out to literary journals. Actually I guess they first introduced me to literary journals. I had no idea what they were. And I wrote back then and still try to write based on what Toni Morrison said: Write the book you need to read.
How do you decide what aspects your life/family histories to include in your writing?
I write about questions that I have. Oftentimes people think that autobiographical writing is what you already know but it's actually the opposite. The memoirist Patricia Hampl says that in memoir we stalk the hidden relationship between stored image and hidden emotion. That's what I'm doing when I pick what I write about. I'm trying to understand why a memory as manifested in image has stayed with me.
How did you start planning for Colonize This!? What was this process like (“mentally,” “logistically,” and otherwise)?
That's such a great question! I remember calling Bushra from my bedroom at my parent's home and saying, Do you want to work on this? And we had such a great conversation about feminism and the women in our family. I think of that as the start of the process, just two women of color in their twenties talking about life and community and family. We drew up a list of all the topics we wanted to hear about from women of color that we didn't discuss back then in "formal" feminist spaces -- affirmative action, hip hop, queerness, gentrification. Then we made a flyer and shared it in our communities and with strangers and waited to see who would write to us.
What did you hope readers would gain from Colonize This!? Have you seen your hopes be realized?
I didn't have a hope exactly but I guess I thought that readers would find community in the pages of the anthology and they did. More than I could have imagined!
Where were you when you were 22? What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
I was....a year out of college and working at New York University Press as an editorial assistant. I had just joined WILL, Women in Literature & Letters. I was helping to organize the readings and participating in the workshops. My advice to my 22-year-old self: "take a deep breath girl. It's all good. Trust what you're creating right now and get it out in the world."
What does feminism mean to you? How is feminism a part of your life? How has your relationship with feminism changed throughout your life (if it has)?
Feminism to me is about moving toward a vision of community that's inclusive, free and compassionate. So police brutality is a feminist issue for me and so are the attacks on voting rights. They're both forms of state violence that diminish the possibility of a community where gender doesn't dictate who we are or what we do.
Who is your feminist hero?
I have so many. Today I'd probably pick Andrea Pino. The work that she's doing to raise awareness about sexual assault at colleges has changed the conversations that we're having in this country.
What is something you’ve read that has changed your life?
It's a long list. I remember the first time I read Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider. I didn't understand what theory was then. I just knew she was dropping wisdom in this blend of academic prose and autobiographical writing and what she would call the erotic. I saw the possibilities.
What inspires you?
Tonight at the fake Mexican joint here in Cincinnati, this little boy was with his mom and older brother. He was probably around five and wearing these baggy jeans with a tight waistband. He dug his hands deep into his front pockets and struck this pose like: I got this. He caught me watching him and tried to hide behind his mom's friend. Then he started crying to his mom, Pick me up! She smiled at him and didn't lift him up but just kind of wrapped him around her legs. His head didn't reach her waist. We were all standing on line ordering, and she rubbed the top of his head while ordering, and then he felt better and put his hands back in those front pocket, and he was ready to face the world again. And I just marveled at him, at his vulnerability and also his security with her, and now writing about him, I'm thinking that I want him to make it. I want him to have his future and his mom, too. But the police here killed another black man less than two months ago and the Republican convention here in Ohio is going to be a nightmare for communities of color. It's our first election without the voting rights act. So I draw inspiration from these quieter moments in life.
What makes you happiest?
Pancakes topped with bananas and the super expensive maple syrup. Blank journals. Laughing with my sister and my sister-friends. Playing ping pong with my auntie who is in her seventies and plays a mean game. Hearing my sweetheart get excited about baby pineapples. Listening to Beyonce's Formation in the car on the drive to work. And pretty much any time that my cat looks at me with her big eyes, I'm happy.
You can find more about Daisy and her work at her website www.daisyhernandez.com