April Hernandez, a social activist and actress, discussed with students the importance of owning one’s identity on Sept. 26 at the Panorama Room for Hispanic Heritage Month hosted by the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center.
Hernandez is best known for her character Eva Benitez in the movie “Freedom Writers.” She is a domestic abuse survivor and an advocate for Voices Against Violence, a group who advocates for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.
Hernandez identifies as a Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx and asked students how they identified. Several students shared their heritage, race and nationalities with no hesitation.
Hernandez compared one’s identity to their own fingertips. Everyone has fingertips, but each person’s fingertips are unique to themselves. Each person has their own struggles which help form who they are.
Hernandez expressed her struggles before her acting career and after. As the discussion continued, Hernandez expressed how it’s unbelievable how she made it out of an urban said neighborhood in the Bronx to become an actress when her neighborhood was home to the drug epidemic and teen violence where someone almost took her life during a drive-by shooting.
Hernandez wears her identity on her sleeve with pride. When first introduced into the film industry, she began to question her identity because of someone else’s judgement.
“I just wanted to whitewash this piece of art!” Hernandez saidof her identity.
She began to feel out of place until one day Hernandez spoke with her acting coach who said, “You are meant to be here. If you were not meant to be here, you would not have been booked.”
People of color in predominantly white spaces can relate to feeling out of place in school, the workplace, or out in public. Hernandez had to make the decision to stop allowing someone else’s judgement affect who she was.
Hernandez said a person has to reach their own moment to recognize who they want to be and if they are happy with the decision.
Hernandez closed her speech with the topic of inclusiveness. She explained how when going to auditions for movies and the directors want her to play a Puerto Rican. According to her, directors don’t realize a Puerto Rican from Puerto Rico is not the same as a Puerto Rican from New York. Hernandez mentioned, intersectionality weaves in and out through people’s identities, which makes everyone different from one another.
“Be who you are,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez explained her hardships and struggles have made her the person she is today, . She frequently uses her platform as an actress to encourage pride and confidence in individuals sense of self. When students ask her how they can stay true to themselves, Hernandez does not hesitate to encourage students to enjoy what makes them happy.
“When you embrace your identity you can use it as a platform to reach everyone.” Hernandez said,
For other future events during the Hispanic Heritage month visit the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center website.