Teresa Hernandez is a maverick professional and a Latina who is changing things for our community with her passion, tireless work and commitment to healthcare and education reform, and her positivity and engagement with the issues that affect Latinos. This is Part II of our Spotlight.
- Tell us more about your activism.
In January of 2020, I was approached by the Director of Leaders of Color (LOC) New York at Education Reform now, Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez, a wonderful leader. She was and still is a volunteer with Prospanica New York and we discussed in detail the work LOC does to recruit, elect and elevate Black and Latino Leaders to public office. LOC advocates for equal and quality education for all people of color and provides a suite of resources to help leaders win elections. I went home that evening, did some research on the organization, and knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. There isn’t enough representation of people of color in public office, and in my heart I knew we needed a drastic change. I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work to help make this a reality.
I was extremely nervous, a bit of imposter syndrome took over, but I was sold! I began my training with the first LOC New York Cohort in April 2020. Due to COVID, the in-person meetings became virtual. During this intense 6-month training, we had open, difficult and raw conversations surrounding social justice issues and had the opportunity to meet some amazing leaders in public office, including Rossana Rosado, Secretary of the State of New York, Maria Teresa Kumar, one of the founders of Voto Latino, Juanita Lewis, Community Voices Heard and several more. I graduated as a Fellow in October 2020 and what an experience it has been!
I want to say the LOCNY Cohorts (GenZoom is what we call ourselves) are an extended family for me. We laugh, cry, debate and support one another’s path to success. I am extremely proud of the work we do and the impact we will continue to make in our communities of color.
In November 2020, I was asked to join the Advisory Board of The American Dream Charter School. Their mission is to develop academic excellence in both Spanish and English for grades 6-12. We meet monthly to discuss various ways in which we can assist 12th graders on their path to college. It brings me joy knowing that I can provide the necessary resources and tools based on my education and experience for these students to excel in college and beyond. Not only am I an advocate for equal education, I am also passionate about the healthcare disparities that have inundated the black and Latino communities, especially during this pandemic. There is a clear disproportion in treatment and the costs have been and continue to be fatal.
- Were you bookish? Sporty?
I would say bookish, with some activity…. I was a chubby little girl growing up, comiendo mucho arroz, habichuelas, carne guisada, arroz con gandules, which was my favorite. My grandmother would cook the most delicious meals for us daily and I miss her cooking so much. My parents wanted to ensure they kept both my sister and me physically active, so they enrolled us in swimming lessons at Truman High School. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me; the fear of drowning and going straight to the bottom was too overwhelming for me as a kid. My sister on the other hand, really enjoyed it and turns out she is a fairly good swimmer! Then, my parents tried tennis. I was nervous about this, so my dad decided to take the lessons with me, and it became our bonding time. I am no Venus or Serena Williams, but it was fun. I also enjoyed volleyball and bike riding. I still ride my bike and I live an extremely healthy lifestyle as well, working out 4 or 5 days a week, getting up at 5AM to get my day started.
I loved school, loved to learn (I still do!). History and English literature were my all-time favorite courses. I remember a class I took during college called The Harlem Renaissance Era. I had the opportunity to learn a great deal about African American cultural expressions through literary works, music and film. I was a fan of Shakespeare and read pretty much all of his plays. I also took a course at Hunter College one semester on Puerto Rican studies and had the opportunity to interview my late grandmother for a paper I wrote titled “The Education of Women in Puerto Rico.” To this day, I love to read and have a small personal library in my home.
- What inspires you in general?
Seeing people win! I truly enjoy success stories from those who are “underdogs,” if you will, those who have felt defeated or have triumphed over a great deal of adversity. Especially my fellow Latinos. I love to see us win! My parents also inspire me. They inspire and encourage me to be my best self and never ever give up on my dreams. My mom doesn’t realize how much of an inspiration she is when at the age of 52 she returned to college and obtained her BS in Health Education and Promotion. It was not easy for her, but she did it and I want her to know how immensely proud I am of her.
- What is a favorite author or creative person whose work brings you joy?
If I had to choose, I absolutely love Sue Tsai. She has a great deal of bold and edgy art that captivates the soul. Her work is extremely diverse, and I have two of her pieces hanging on my wall at home.
- Do you have a favorite quote that you use for inspiration or motivation?
Favorite quote, there are so many. The two that resonate with me:
“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” -Henry Ford
“Be brave, take risks, nothing can substitute for experience.” – Paulo Coelho