Féi Hernandez: Queer, Organizer, Teacher, Artist, and Once Undocumented Immigrant

In history class, Americans are taught about the Civil Rights Movement, a movement that spanned for 15 years during the 50s and 60s. We are taught that because of the incredible fight that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X endured fighting an oppressive government, America became a post-racial society, a society that was based on merit and nothing else. We were taught to believe that the fight ended with them; but the fight never ended, the fight has not been won. Racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and oppression is alive and well. Fear is such an immense force to keep people oppressed and in this day and age where a white, cisgender, heterosexual patriarchy rule, it is disheartening to even think of revolutionize when you're busy thinking about how to pay the rent, or even wonder if you will have anything to eat the next day. Enter Féi Hernandez. Féi uses their art to liberate, empower, and create a space for the “marginalized”. Féi fights fear with art. Our interview took place after women’s march on Sunday the 5th. With the music loud, the food delicious and the michelada’s fueling us, we discussed everything from identity, politics, art and their vision for the future.


Vicky Silva: Thank you so much! Let's start with the basics. How do you identify and what does that mean?

Féi Hernandez: I identify as a queer, once undocumented immigrant person who is currently a full time proud art teacher in Inglewood. I’m an organizer and an avid poetry performer and art maker. 

VS: So for those that are still learning, what does queer exactly mean?

FH: For me, Queer is the umbrella term. Because my identity is complex and intersectional no one word can be as all encompassing as Queer. It addresses my gender expression, sexuality, but also it is more metaphysical, and invisible elements of my identity. I feel less boxed in. Regarding my immigration status I say ‘once undocumented’ because for 20 years of my life I was undocumented and lived in the experience to its full capacity, but now I am "semi-documented" as I am a resident.

VS: There’s also a lot of talk of certain people preferring certain pronouns and again, for the  uninitiated, what pronoun do you identify with?

FH: I identify with ‘they’ or ‘them.’  But it's hard. I'm disappointed often. Perception, the flesh is as deep as people get. But I am blessed to have  friends, organizers, and a small community that make this pronoun preference easier.

VS: To clarify a little more, what exactly does ‘they’ mean? Obviously its plural, would you like to elaborate more on that?

FH: This is why I like the term itself; through a spiritual lense I can perceive myself in my three parts: mind, body, spirit. Language is restrictive. But it's through he manipulation of language that we can create new spaces and provide a new deeper meaning for ourselves. Ideally, I would love to create a whole new language that gives space for us marginalized voices. But truth is we're constantly bombarded by colonizer tongues.

VS: How would you break that barrier in the Spanish language where plural is gender central or assigned?

FH: Well, like I said language is restrictive. English and Spanish are colonizer tongues. So there is going to be no middle grounding. This is the legacy of the violent colonization and divisiveness that the colonizer tongue has left us with.  To undo this we must decolonize and reindigenize. This will have to be a generational process where we constantly work to create new terminologies, new modes of speaking that are more gender inclusive. But as of now in Spanish there is the use of 'x' to replace the gendered vowel. But pronunciation is still a work in progress.

VS: And that’s fairly and very new!

FH: Exactly, Latinx, Chicanx. [this is the generational process I was referring to]. It’s a work in progress that we have to build up.

VS: Moving on to a different topic, what got you into art?

FH: I started drawing and painting when I was in high school. It had everything to do with my coming out as gay (at the time), but also as undocumented. I needed to vocalize my silences and give myself a voice, a place to exist. Inglewood didn't have those places for me. So I had to make them, even if on a page. I was blessed to not have been alone in this whole process. I had two or three supportive teachers, friends, and organizers at the time that showed me I could be something... be someone.

VS: What’s your favorite art medium?

FH: It’s a Japanese calligraphy pen on white paper. I love the sharp black on white. I also enjoy painting with acrylic and watercolor. But I must always have my Japanese calligraphy pen handy. I also do a lot of performance/ instillation pieces, poetry performances, I've made necklaces and have designed purses. So I have no fixed mediums. They fluctuate depending on my focus.

VS: Nice! That sounds amazing. Where do you get your inspiration from?

FH: Most of my inspiration has to do with my roots. Where I come from. My story: being born in Mexico, being raised in Inglewood, my community’s story. My mom’s story. A lot of the times its documenting our struggle. I pull inspiration from writers of color, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Morrison, bell hooks, Audie Lorde. They are what got me through academia.


VS: Are you an activist? Do you see yourself as an activist?

FH: I see myself as a revolutionary, someone that aims to uplift and uproot a capitalist imperial system that doesn't work and destroys. Revolutionary is the term I'm more comfortable using. But yes. I seem to be an active force to change what continues to chain us down, curtail our liberation.

VS: What emotions do you want to evoke with your art?

FH: More so than emotion, I want to provide a space. I try to let my viewer/ listener find themselves in me. That's all I can do: be a mirror for them.  That is why my work tends to be simple, yet conceptual, metaphysical, although personal and existential. That is what I care about. I want it to be a meditation. An awakening. A moment of reflection, even if it's short lived. Every piece of art, whether it's poetry or art is an encoded engraving that everyone will interpret different. Bottom line it's an ancient language. My spirit. The universe. It's the simple language of interconnectivity, empathy, and love. This is what I will leave behind. Work inside a temple that spoke of how I survived, it will document what it looks like to live in active resistance.

VS: What keeps you going?

FH: I know that I have to be a source of light. Whether I'm having a crappy day or not that is my mission. I have to be the meditation that may not come easy to others. It's my duty to heal the world in whatever way I can. My ability to keep going is that I know someone out there needs to hear what I have to say. Someone out there needs to have the space I provide. Growing up I didn’t have space where I could be accepted or be me. I know the weight of absences. So I hope to be part of the larger scheme of activism and poetry and art that can fill those voids for my community, marginalized voices, undocumented, queer people of color. I want to leave a space for us. I want to create space and art that says we are here and we ain't going no where.

VS: Last question, what advice to give to someone that wants to get involved?

FH: I say be authentically yourself. Follow your spirit. The reason I ended up at the Party for Socialism and Liberation is because I did not have to compromise myself in the space. I am a complex being and envision an intersectional world, movement where empathy, understanding, and love is practiced every day. I would recommend looking at the bigger picture of interconnectivity and remember to only use "I" as means to empower others, but leave the ego outside. We're here to heal something beyond us. So keep being yourself unapologetically, be true to your damn self. Do not compromise. Be spiritual. Heal yourself and others.  Practice self-love, self-care because without that, you cannot be out in the field and protest and move and organize or pull people. You cannot produce light from your hands out. it comes from the heart.

Féi currently has a collection of poetry and art beautifully named CL[AMOR] that features their art and tells the story of the struggles of queer love and the rebirth from it. If you’re interested in following all their art, poetry, and process as an art teacher follow them on Instagram @fei.hernandez and visit their website at famofaux.com If you are interested in learn about PSL - Party for Socialism and Liberation, learn about them at pslweb.org