Art is one of the most powerful ways to express oneself or deliver an important message to the world, something that artist Féi Hernandez has discovered throughout the years. For the past 15 years, Inglewood-based visual artist Hernandez has used their art as a way to not only express their individuality but also advocate for the communities that are important to them, such as the LGBTQ community, people of color, and Latinos.
These communities are often the main characters and subjects that Hernandez portrays in their art pieces. Their visual art consists of paintings, digital illustrations, and graphic design work. Their most recent work is a performance called ASENXIÓN LIBERTAD which demonstrates the “spiritual odyssey” experience of a former undocumented trans-person living in the United States.
The 29 year-old artist has been a multifaceted talent since a young age. They have actively practiced their craft since the age of 13, when their love for animation and motivation was encouraged by a teacher at Ánimo Inglewood Charter High School. After high school, Hernandez received a scholarship to attend Dickinson College, where they studied American Studies and Studio Art. After college, they taught eighth grade creative writing and art for three years at Century Community Charter School. They currently teach a crafting eternity writing class at Palms Up Academy in LA.
Hernandez is also a writer, their writing featured in several media outlets such as National Public Radio, Immigrant Review, and Non Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity.
They are also a VONA (Voices of Our Nations Art Foundation) fellow. As a spiritual healer, Hernandez practices energy work, conjuring, limpias utilizing different modalities such as Reiki and Akashic Records. They also perform ancestral practices such as limpias de huevo (egg cleanse) and elemental practices.
Hernandez is one of the 10% of Latinos participating in this year’s Inglewood’s Art Walk, which is a special homage to the city that raised them. However, Hernandez overcame many obstacles in order to be in the position that they are today. As a former undocumented, non-binary, transgender, immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico, Hernandez grew up navigating many challenges such as fear of deportation and surviving surrounding crime and policing while discovering their identity in the city of Inglewood.
CALÓ NEWS recently spoke with Hernandez as they narrated their early life as an undocumented immigrant while growing up in Inglewood, overcoming hardships, self discovery, and the importance of LGBTQ, people of color, and Latinx representation in the art world.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
FÉI HERNANDEZ, 29, INGLEWOOD, VISUAL ARTIST, WRITER AND SPIRITUAL PRACTITIONER, THEY/THEM, MEXICAN & PIMA/ RARAMURI INDIGENOUS
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR EARLY UPBRINGING AND IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE? DO YOU THINK YOUR EXPERIENCES AND CHALLENGES PREPARED YOU INTO THE PERSON THAT YOU ARE TODAY?
My early upbringing was complex. I was formerly undocumented and so was my mom. Lot of the time I spent with different caretakers while my mom was working. I had a very wild imagination and relied heavily on anime, cartoons, Pokémon, manga, comic books, which kinda filled my life with color because it was rough times. I was an only child to a single parent. My father pretty much abandoned us in a new country that we were not welcomed in. We were undocumented and didn’t speak the language so it was complex. At the same time, nothing is in [the] monolith. I experienced a lot of joy with my mom, a lot of excitement because she found ways to kinda shield me [from] things that were happening. I also knew they were happening but she would take me to the beach often and we would spend a lot of genuine quality time when we would be together. I grew up with my cousins, they were like my siblings, my primos/hermanes. I loved cruising on my bike, on my scooter or walking around the neighborhood, it’s always something that I liked. I specifically remember my grandpa walking me around the block, smelling these white flowers, bush trees near the main street. I think the family did their best to maintain this sense of unity by playing cards, scrambling, and I had to use my creativity to feel safe [and] feel comfortable because it was challenging and complex.
I don’t think Fei Hernandez would exist if I hadn’t experienced the life that I did and didn’t discover the identities that I have.
WHAT WERE YOUR EXPERIENCES WHILE GROWING UP IN THE CITY OF INGLEWOOD? DID THESE EXPERIENCES INSPIRE THE WORK YOU PRODUCE? AND HOW?
Like everything else, it’s complex. I love my city, I was able to get on my bike, drive around the street, and there was a point where I was tagging on my skateboard and doing my thing. But knowing the reality where homies were selling drugs and people were getting deported, youth were being policed. I was undocumented, so I couldn’t be driving without a license. There were a lot of complexities both personally and my personal identities in life but also within my communities and what they were experiencing too, by being targeted by the cops, being pulled over, were always surveilled and knowing that folks were being shot too. That was the reality, people got shot, jumped and if you were queer that was a huge obvious target on your back so that was also something part of my experience. I was a very feminine and queer youth. So being a dork, being a nerd, being an anime fanatic, living in the hood and being part of that without getting wrapped up in it because I couldn’t. To me it was always I can’t get wrapped up because I don’t have papers, what if I got deported? There was also a component where a lot of older students who have gone off to college and came back instilled into us the youth, the desire to be activists and fight for our rights. I felt very empowered because I came out as queer and undocumented. I want to help change this and fight for black, indigenous, POC and queer folks.
I think that my artwork and writing came from trying to immortalize my community and let people know that we are here. So, to me it started almost as my way to revolt, to fight the system that was oppressing me and so many other people that I hold dear and love. So yes, initially it was a direct response to my experiences. Over time, I was able to find a tune into my work and make sure it was saying what it needed to say. It was also competent within the field of the art world and the writing world. I wanted to produce good work and reactionary work which there’s nothing wrong with doing anyway. It was literally a direct response with my experiences.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME INTERESTED IN THE ARTS? HOW DID YOU BECAME INVOLVED? WHAT IS THE CREATIVE PROCESS WHILE PUTTING TOGETHER SOMETHING WHILE CREATING IT?
I think I got involved because I had high school teachers who gave us the platform. I had a middle school teacher who introduced art to us and I felt that I could release those secrets that I was harboring around my queerness and my different identities. So when I got to high school, I had a teacher, Ms. Joo. She had a huge impact in my life because she introduced us to all of these artists of color like Basquiat. I was just enamored and I realized that I can do this. Also my attachment to cartoons, anime and manga paved the way so I can create things that I was super interested in. I kept practicing and I realized that I could make powerful work for me, it was a gift for me but making a gift for me would also help other people. For writing specifically, [I] manifested [on my] senior year when I went to Da Poetry Lounge for the first time and that’s when I saw Black, Brown, queer poets going on the stage and speaking their truth. I said, “Hey, that’s me! That’s what I need in order to let people know who we are, let people know my story and help make a change.” Ever since then, I been creating artwork, creating poetry, essays, short stories and working now on a novel that I hope captures life in Inglewood as a queer, trans, formally undocumented person.
It feels spiritual, like I’m conjuring spirits of ancestors. It feels like I’m having a conversation with my body, in this case my hands as I’m painting or writing. I’m also listening to what’s next as well. As I’m writing and producing, I feel that I’m a good listener and pay attention to what I am receiving creatively, spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally and I move with it. I’m building conversations within the work and with myself in the process. It’s always very reflective, I care a lot about making conversations with history, with different moralities. I love making connections and addressing intersections. It always feels like I’m pulling on different strings to make a pretty blanket which requires time and space to look at the colors and see how they work. And also make something original in mind, it just feels very organic. I tend not to do so much planning, I sometimes get visions and follow the visions. Sometimes I will plan for commission work but most of my best work comes from trust, taking risks because it’s all I care about. I’m not here to impress anyone, I’m here to immortalize and give a voice to my community and make them feel seen through my work, or through their abstraction, liminality or intersections.
WHAT MESSAGES YOU TRY TO IMPLEMENT INTO YOUR WORK?
I think one of the biggest is the concept of freedom, just literal freedom. I have made artwork for just protests, for revolutionary work, I have done on-the-nose type of projects, illustrations and placards that are definitely about justice, freedom, racial equity, transness, and queerness. The
guiding force in my work for me, is how to just be your multitudes, how to move in that freedom without giving a [damn]. I want people to know that what they have to offer is important. The way I show that is my rawness, showing them that I’m not perfect and that’s not the aim of this but the aim is to liberate something within me that can be a service to the world. It’s almost an invitation for them to do the same. It’s like, look at my work, enjoy it, revel in it and feel seen in it but how can this piece also guide you closer to yourself so that you can determine on how you can also be of service, tell your story or connect with people. But knowing that you can be of service in intentionality is something that is important for me. Lastly is liminality, I think I try to capture a lot of what it looks like for me to exist in a body. I’m third/fourth generation diaspora, I’m from Mexico, I was formally undocumented but even then I was already displaced from my indigenous roots like three generations back. What do I make of me? Who am I? So I think, I’m always deconstructing, I’m always trying to understand my wholeness. I think I translate that into my work where I invite folks to really ask themselves like who are you? Where do you stand? What is your personality? And what are you going to do about it to not perpetuate any of the isms or assert any of the privileges you have to build genuine community.
HOW DOES IT FEEL OF BEING PART OF THE 10% OF LATINO/X PEOPLE PARTICIPATING IN THIS YEAR’S INGLEWOOD ART WALK? HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO SEE MORE LATINX PEOPLE GETTING INVOLVED IN THE ARTS?
Yeah! I feel that it’s super important, I know there are a lot of black, indigenious and POC/Latinx artists, writers in Inglewood that haven’t been recognized. This is true since I was a kid, like I mentioned earlier I was out on these streets graffitiing, trying to take up space and make space for other queer Brown and Black youth. There just wasn’t that space. I’m grateful to be part of this movement in Inglewood Open Studios. It’s definitely necessary. [This program] is doing their best to reach out but I’d rather be part of this right now to make space for more voices like ours than to completely reject it. I think I’m just trying to move on what’s available, just working and being front and center rather than angry in a corner and not making a change from within. I have great conversations with Inglewood feminist artist Renee Fox, they always find a way to loop me into the work that they do. Inglewood is my home, is where I [represent], it’s here what I fight for. So, it feels like an important position to be where I’m at and I hope to continue to move in honesty and make sure there is space for the people that I want to bring with me but also decentralize for non-Black voices and making sure Black voices are at the center of this and everyone else follows.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER LATINX PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GET INVOLVED IN THE ARTS? WHAT EXAMPLE DO YOU WANT TO LEAD WITH FOR OTHER PEOPLE WITHIN YOUR COMMUNITY?
I say, just do it! I think there is a voice within us, it might be a colonizer, imperial voice [or] maybe a white supremacist voice speaking and saying that your work isn’t good enough, it’s not this or that enough. You have to decolonize it, stop policing yourself, find the root of your being and be able to write or create art in its place. At times we think about resources. I’m someone who never had resources, someone who had to work for them or they just appeared out of thin air. I never stopped creating on the basis of “I’m never going to be published” [or] “ I’m never going to be given a space to create art.” No one ever gave me that, no one ever said, “I’m going to pay you to make this artwork.” I just continued working from day in to day out, not because I was thinking of the fruits of my labor but I was thinking of the work I was doing: one as a gift to myself, two as a service to the people that I wanted to serve and three as an opportunity, the need to get to know myself better. I had to do this work and move to the speed of your breath. To me making artwork [and] writing is breathing. Whether I make it, whether I die before my time, whether I’m published or not. This is something I’m going to continue to do and I know that the more I work, the more I put myself out there. I’m going out of my way to showcase my work because I know it’s important and still have a sense of importance in your work to put it out there. Make sure the voices, the people and the communities that you’re making this artwork get to see it.
I think the example I want to leave behind is that I take the time [to] understand who I was, I take the time to explore through the world and who I am and what I want to do. It’s again that invitation to continue deconstructing, to not settle easy on every level especially on identity, get to the root of who you are, what you’re here to do and focus on that. It’s not easy but I think that’s what I try to emulate with my lived experience of constantly deconstructing and trying to be honest. I’m constantly making sure that the work that I’m doing is coming from a heartfelt place, making sure it’s not hurting anyone, making sure that the representation is clear and not generalized. I think of what I am doing now and would want people to follow and pursue would be to make the work that they make as a gift for themselves as much as it is something that can be of service to somebody else.