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Yasmin Hernandez


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Yasmin Hernandez
Yasmin Hernandez



September 11th, 2012

Don Pedro



"Raising Revolution", 2004, Yasmin Hernandez,
Collection of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies

September 12 is the day many commemorate the birthday of my hero, father of Puerto Rican Nationalism Don Pedro Albizu Campos.  Everything about this man is controversial, including his birthday, which some debate is in June. I'll stick with Sept 12. This isn't a post about when he was born, but just a tribute to that great, intelligent, compassionate, revolutionary, fearless spirit that was Don Pedro. I wrote the following poem in 2008.  Listed after the poem are links to the various art pieces from 1994-2007 that I have dedicated to his life and legacy:

Omnipotent ombligo
Curled beneath the soil
Of a majestic ceiba
In Tenerías, Ponce
Announcing the arrival
Of a black, Basque
Brilliant rebel
Who would rise
From barrio sands
Like a wild palma

Traveling through lands
Stolen and trampled
Collecting ammunition
Against the beast
Marked by lust and greed
Master’s tools
Strategized and sharpened
To be turned against him
From within and without
His own evil institutions,
Accused and convicted
By a great warrior spirit
Packed into a small
Black Boricua body
Belonging to Don Pedro.

Spirit too huge to take down
So they imprisoned his frail body
Behind bars of radiation and steal
Burned the flesh off his bones
Left radiating
Like rebel sun rays of revolution
That soak into the soil
Of a landless nation
Of a grave imprisoned
Between fortress walls
And Atlantic waves pounding
Into the hearts and spirits
Of everyone ever trampled upon
And stolen from their majestic paths.


September 29th, 2011

"Indestructible", 2010, Yasmin Hernandez, Luz series

"Indestructible", 2010, Yasmin Hernandez, Luz series

I have deliberately chosen not to update my website with recent works until after tomorrow.  I was invited by Jose Vidal to participate in Tertulia Latina tomorrow, along with painter Eric Sanchez and photographer  Luis Carle.  A tertulia is an enlightened “chat” or discussion about cultural, artistic or political themes.  (See the description below). For me however, this lends itself for a more intimate dialogue.  As such I have chosen to present the ideas behind my work of the past 3 years, marking a transition in my creative practice for which my trips to Vieques served as catalyst.  During those trips I was able to witness the unending cyclical motion between personal struggle and collective effort, where ideology is not informed by just books or history but is largely driven by spirit, personal experience, ancestral legacy and the quest for survival and liberation of all kinds.  Recognizing that in this fearless  community allowed me to prepare for several large transformations I was about to undergo in my own life.  As always, making sense of everything through art, it yet again became the space where I was able to dissect what was happening, make cross-cultural, cross-faith, Diasporic connections and straight up survive.  This process has been very introspective and personal. As such, I’ve scaled back on public events, discussions and so on in recent years, trying to make sense of it all myself before knowing how to share it. So tomorrow is my test run and a preview of some of these works and of the new direction where my creative process is headed.  I’m excited and hope you will join me tomorrow, September 30th.  Below are event details. 


Three Artists:::Three Visions


Friday, September 30 @ 7PM



305 7th Avenue

5th Floor (between 27th and 28th Street)

New York City, NY




Yasmín Hernández




Erick Sánchez




Luis Carle



visit our Facebook page to RSVP and Like us! Facebook/Tertulia-Latina 


A tertulia is a social gathering with literary or artistic overtones, especially in Iberia or Latin America. The word is originally Spanish, and has only moderate currency in English, in describing Latin cultural contexts. It is rather similar to a salon, but a typical tertulia in recent centuries has been a regularly scheduled event in a public place such as a bar, although some tertulias are held in more private spaces, such as someone's living room. Participants may share their recent creations (poetry, short stories, other writings, even artwork or songs). Usually (but not always) the participants in a regularly scheduled tertulia are, in some respects, likeminded, whether by having similar politics, similar literary tastes, etc.


August 3rd, 2011

Risas Y Llantos


Risas y Llantos

Giggles and Cries. They are opposites and yet they are united with the “and”, the “y.” One cannot exist without the other.  I now know this, long after hearing the expression for the first time while pledging.  It was the “line name” of my sorority sister Ana Luz, a founding hermana of Sigma Lambda Upsilon’s Zeta Chapter at SUNY Oswego. If you met her, you’d know why.  Full of emotion and passion, she would shed a tear with you if need be or, funny as hell, she’d have you in giggles to the point of tears. But as an 18 year old back then, I hadn’t fully grasped that “risas y llantos” is the essence of life. 

I learned that after losing my brother to cancer.  Some random faces I hadn’t seen in years showed up at the funeral and stirred tears in me from the support I needed but for some reason forgot existed.  Then others never bothered to call but were blowing up our phone just weeks later inviting us to birthday barbeques.   I realized when he was sick, if people don’t want to cry with me, then don’t  expect me to come and laugh with your ass. You gotta be the whole package, like Ana Luz. You can’t choose one and not the other. You can’t have laughter and not ever expect tears. And you sure as hell can’t be a bucket of tears with nothing to smile about. Even political prisoner on death row, Mumia Abu Jamal writes about how everybody must find something to smile about. It keeps us human.  

But I’m trying to figure out why I know all this but then fail at heeding my own lesson. Did I let Julia de Burgos and Frida Kahlo down?  I just dedicated a mural to them in East Harlem, and more importantly an event in their honor on the day Julia died, and Frida was born, July 6.  The event emphasized the lives and legacies of two incredible women who suffered a great deal yet poured their sorrows into powerful bodies of art that would serve as healing and inspiration for generations globally.  They are my role models. Their legacy teaches me never to allow myself to be consumed by sorrow, to convert it to beauty, healing, upliftment. Yet I find myself paralyzed again.  After losing her first born son last year, two weekends ago, my mom buried her husband, lost to the same disease that stole my brother: cancer! It’s just too fucking much sometimes. I rage for my mom and that rage dominates.  It controls my every day.  It has also zapped my creativity.  In grieving the loss of my brother, like Julia and Frida I poured my pain into poems and pictures, a catharsis of free creative therapy sessions I crafted for myself, but where are they? They’ve been on my studio wall for a year—alone, unseen, unshared. 

Art is the pulse that since adolescence has been my therapy, my salvation.  It has kept me alive, aware and empowered.  Yet art was easy when it served as a political soapbox.  This personal stuff is damn hard to create and even harder to share.  But the reality is that the personal IS political.  For however much we want to praise the (s)heroes of yesteryear, we are still dying every day, everywhere.  If we do not fix the conditions in which we are living we will only live to commemorate the dead and nothing else.  We love to laugh because we love to live. It is the love of life that fuels the struggle for liberation, a universal truth and right to which we are all naturally entitled.  

 If I disappear or am incognito it’s because I’m thinking a whole lot and trying to figure this all out. Here’s what I’m thinking: Problems arise when tears flow unrelentingly and no joy is to be found.  There is always joy to be found, some are just too consumed with anger to look and are poisoned by their rage. If another time arises in which yet again I’m that pregnant woman at a funeral, instead of sitting in rage, I will have to surrender to the miracle of being part of life’s cycle.  I will have to rejoice in the gift of being chosen to bring forth life as another closes.  And knowing all the work left to be done for our future generations, I vow, no matter what sadness, what rage, to never waste another day of this short existence for which I must fulfill a particular mission, as we all are here to do.  Time keeps on ticking.  I know death is not the end and do not want to be a frustrated ancestor.  I’d like to say I did what I came to do and I hope to leave here better than when I first came. 

“In this house of suffering
I gotta let some joy in
I hear that freedom will win”

(lyrics from legendary black rockers [actually rock IS black by origin] and hardcore music creators Bad Brains)

June 8th, 2011

In the spring of 2008 I pitched an idea for a mural to the East Harlem based organization Art for Change.  Unfortunately various events of the next two years resulted in a delay in bringing this project to life.  Within this time the concept for the mural grew even more personal and dear to me, more than I can ever fully express.  Thankfully over the past few months, through a collaboration between Art for Change, Hope Community, Inc and El Barrio Arts Cluster, the project has finally gotten off the ground. 

I began working on “Soldaderas” on Friday, June 3rd, 2011 at the Modesto Flores Community Garden on Lexington Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets.  To dispel the stereotype that the Puerto Rican and Mexican communities in East Harlem, only battle each other for space, this mural is in tribute to the common struggles that informed the art of the Mexican Revolution and later that of Puerto Rico and the political solidarity between these two communities.  Visually, the concept is inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting, “Las dos Fridas” and photographs of soldaderas, the armed women who participated and fought in the battles of the Mexican Revolution.  In my design for “Soldaderas” however, Frida Kahlo does not sit alongside herself, hand in hand, but rather sits holding the hand of fierce Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos. 

Both women shared a profound love for their respective homelands of Puerto Rico and Mexico, an appreciation of revolutionary ideals, and a feminist outlook.  They suffered similar struggles and worked to overturn injustice.  At a time in which their male counter parts men did not delve into personal issues in their work, de Burgos and Kahlo unapologetically made the personal political.  Both women were profoundly affected by the loss of their babies through miscarriage and shared their despair though graphic paintings and poems. I view these women not only as contemporaries but as soul sisters, battling the same challenges though hailing from different countries. In a poetic twist Julia de Burgos passed away on Frida Kahlo’s birthday.  They died almost exactly one year apart. To mark this historic date in the legacy of these incredible mujeres, we are planning the unveiling event for the evening of July 6 at the garden. 

If you are interested in seeing how the project is progressing, Art For Change and Hope Community Inc. will be hosting an “open air studio” event this Friday evening, June 10th from 5-8pm.  See the work in progress and bring any questions you might have about Frida Kahlo, Julia de Burgos, and the common struggles and triumphs of Puerto Rico and Mexico.  The event will also feature a food sampler by the mural’s neighbor East Harlem Café. 

Hope to see you then.  Also stay tuned to this Live Journal for more project details, updates and images. 



(Below: "Las dos Fridas" the painting by Frida Kahlo that inspired the concept for the mural.)

(Below: "Soldaderas" mural at one day old, Saturday, June 5, 2011)

















(Below: "Soldaderas" mural after day 3 of painting.)





April 27th, 2011

April 27, 2011

One Year

Most anniversaries celebrate and commemorate happy moments.  We take pleasure in reliving these times and in celebrating the births of new lives and new loves.  Other anniversaries mark losses.  Yet most of us are blessed to be so far removed from those losses that we have the privilege to just honor the legacy of those individuals, to respect and be grateful for their contributions.  Some of us are torn apart by these losses as they also mark the death of something within us.  Another group of us dread these anniversaries with chronological count downs that relive the last weeks, days, hours, minutes, leading up to when death happened.  To have witnessed those final moments and then the ultimate moment in which a spirit returns home is both beautiful and fucked up altogether.  To consider the fleeting nature of the body as it deteriorates, as the spirit sheds from its incarnate state; to witness the power of the flesh as it battles to keep alive; to witness the war and conflict between the two and then, the moment of surrender in which, if destiny has it written, a spirit departs from the material plane is both overwhelming and humbling. 

Since having witnessed that most intimate time with my brother, I have oscillated between rage and despair.  His life and spirit have flooded me with love and inspiration. Yet the pain of this loss often renders me incapable of functioning, of producing.  But I must remind myself of the grace in his transition.  After bravely being beside him for the two years of his cancer battle, accompanying him to chemo treatments, CT scan appointments, and visits during recovery from Stem Cell transplants, I made myself scarce those last few weeks.  I was unable to withstand my brother’s awesome spirit trapped within a weakened body, overtaken by cancer.  His big, strong frame, almost overnight, was rendered more and more frail.  The cancer in his blood and bones relegated his dancing body to his bed and to a wheelchair.  His long-time refusal of drugs and pain medication gave way to the quintessential morphine of those last moments that mark the end of a cancer battle.  I was there that final night because something in my spirit told me that I had to say goodbye.  It was midway into the night that my spirit then told me, that as with my mother in law, I could not sleep. I had to stay up because he would soon leave. 

Still in that last night, unable to speak or see, he fought hard to stay.  But we knew.  In his having turned all of his struggles into a gorgeous life of love and service to all those that God placed in his path, he grew too big for this place—his body nearly busting at the seams, too sick and too weak to continue to house the phenomenal spirit contained within. 

I cannot be mad.  I witnessed something bigger than myself. As my big brother he was always bigger than I, but this was different.  I witnessed something unworldly, beyond full comprehension for those of us left here.  My relationship with my brother grows more profound each day. It has deepened in these 365 days since his transition.  I see him as the light he always was—free from pain, free from drugs, free from cancer, free from bills and from the bullshit that often colors this place,  gone fishing in a celestial sea…. 

Joseph Hernandez (Joe, CJ)

Rest in Peace

June 20, 1966- April 27, 2010
My brother Joseph Hernandez

September 2nd, 2010

Love, Life and Liberation


Motivational Speech #579 (for all my goddesses)

Here is what I have learned in life, what I use as my mantra and what I will teach my son as soon as he is old enough to understand:

I am not better than anybody but nobody’s better than me/

You are not better than anybody but nobody’s better than you.

It might sound elementary, but it is a life saving concept.  It is the essence of equality in this life and in fact, the extent to which equality does exist among people.  Nothing’s fair in this life.  No resources are distributed equally amongst all, unfortunately. But this little mantra taught me that I was worth it, that I must have the dignity to battle for what is ours, what others try to keep away from us.  Why do the privileged keep resources from others? Because they function under the myth that they are actually “better” or more deserving than others. The entire institution of slavery and the continued institution of racism are built on this very foundation.  Our colonizers have taught us that we are inferior.  Throughout history, colonized people have been convinced that theirs is an inferior existence.   We were forced to give up our language, spiritual beliefs, cultural practices to take on the “better” ones of the colonizer.  As simple as the above statement seems, unfortunately not enough grasp it. If we did, no one could be convinced that their identity is inferior and forced to adopt another. It is the essence to achieving liberation, both political and personal.

Within personal relationships, how many people have fallen prey to abusive relationships? In the process victims are convinced that they are deserving of such abuse, when in fact the abuser abuses because they are afraid that you are better than they are. It is their own insecurity and fear that causes them to act violently. The abuser abuses to subjugate, to gain power over another.  Since childhood it seems we are fated to grow up under the pretense that others are always better than we are.  How many of our young girls grow up in this society taught to believe that other girls are better than they are, prettier, better dressed, smarter, etc?  How many boys are subjected to this same competition? We are reprimanded, instead of rewarded when as children we resist conformity and express individuality.

During his short adulthood, I watched my brother treat everyone the same.  The person could be a friend, a celebrity, a doctor, an addict, a stranger—my brother treated them all exactly the same, with love and respect! How many of us change our demeanor when addressing a friend versus a person of supposed authority? We allow society to dictate who is worthy of our respect and attention. Those who are perceived to be of no use to us are ignored, thus disrespected.  My brother was so secure with himself that he never changed or hid any aspect of himself based on the person standing in front of him. He was not afraid to reveal his true self to others and would not dare suppress his true self for anyone else.  More importantly, he was so secure in his love for others that he was able to respect and nurture the friend, the celebrity, the doctor, the addict and the stranger, all equally.  It was miraculous and inspirational to witness, in his life and in his passing.  To be secure in love for oneself is to have no desire to be disrespectful, arrogant and abusive towards others.  Those traits are just evidence of an insecure individual trying to superficially build their ego. 

Here’s to folks that have inspired me in my quest for love and liberation in all of life’s aspects!

My big brother Joseph, rest in peace + light!

detail, Carpeta: Albizu Campos, by Yasmin Hernandez, 2007

Father of Puerto Rican Nationalism Pedro Albizu Campos

Puerto Rican Freedom Fighters Lolita Lebron, Irving Flores, Andres Figueroa Cordero, rest in peace and light, and superhero don Rafael Cancel Miranda

Ramon Emeterio Betances

Boricua/ Dominican Ramon Emeterio Betances- Abolitionist, author of the September 23rd, 1868 Grito de Lares revolution in Puerto Rico.

Freedom fighter, Machetero leader, Filiberto Ojeda Rios, killed by the FBI on Sept 23, 2005,  rest in peace and light

Puerto Rican born hero of African Diasporic studies and the Harlem Renaissance/ Black Rebirth- Arturo (Arthur) Alfonso Schomburg.

Soul Rebel: Julia de Burgos by Yasmin Hernandez, 2006

Literary liberationist, the fierce Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos

Last but not least, fierce mujer and Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo

Yasmin Hernandez, Visual Artist

August 18th, 2010

To accompany my previous post on Lolita Lebron, below are my paintings that she inspired, 

Yasmin Hernandez

“51st State” 1995, Yasmin Hernandez

“El pesar y orgullo de la revolucionaria” 2004, Yasmin Hernandez

“Carpeta: Lolita Lebron” 2007, Archivos Subversivos series, Yasmin Hernandez

“Independence Day” 1998, Yasmin Hernandez

“Sin Miedo (Para Lolita)” 2003 Yasmin Hernandez
Collection of Luivette Resto-Ometeotl and Jose Ometeotl




As I approach the closing of my 34th year on this earth, I reflect on the actions of another 34 year old, the global impact of those actions back in 1954 and their continued impact. Her life and work has always inspired me.  6 of my paintings are dedicated to her legacy.  Today I reflect on Lolita Lebron in memory of her long, accomplished, dedicated, fierce and valiant 90 years on this earth!  Below is the revised version of an article I wrote several years ago, contextualizing Lolita Lebron’s experience within Puerto Rico’s position as a colony.  These words helped me to consider how Lolita could be anyone of us.  In the end, she wasn’t. She was a special brave breed, but certainly we all have her in us.  What we choose to do with that inner Boricua and how we choose to use it is up to each of us. 

Yasmin Hernandez

detail, “Mothers of the Motherless,”  2008, Yasmin Hernandez
Commissioned by the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People,
Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio

Dolores “Lolita” Lebron
*November 19, 1919- August 1st, 2010
Que en paz y libertad descanse!

On March 1st, 1954, four Puerto Ricans arrived on the steps of the US Capitol. Their commander was 34 year-old Lolita Lebron.  Dressed in a tailored, skirted suit, velvet hat, peep toe pumps and pearl earrings, no one might have suspected her of being a revolutionary.  With Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores Rodriguez and Andres Figueroa Cordero by her side, from the Ladies Gallery they stood over a session of the US House of Representatives.  A separate space for visitors, Lolita subverted the Ladies Gallery when she unfurled a Puerto Rican flag, shouting "¡Viva Puerto Rico libre!"  The group opened fire.  Several Americans were injured from bullets that ricocheted.  When questioned, Lolita simply stated: Yo no vine a matar, yo vine a morir.  (I did not come to kill, I came to die.)  They all seemed to have the same intent as they each had purchased one-way tickets to Washington, never expecting to return.  Lolita’s purse contained what would have been a suicide note.  It read:

Before God and the world my blood calls for the independence of Puerto Rico.  My life I give for the freedom of my country.  This is a cry for victory in our struggle for independence. I say that the United States of America is betraying the sacred principles of mankind with its continuous subjugation of my country, violating our right to be a free nation and a free people with its barbarous torture of our apostle for independence Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos. I take responsibility for everything. 

Lolita Lebron and her comrades succeeded in bringing global attention to the cause for Puerto Rico’s independence.  Their intent was to protest the US occupation of Puerto Rico since 1898, but more specifically, to denounce the disguising of the colony with the new so-called commonwealth status that was approved in 1952.  This new status allowed for the United States to have Puerto Rico removed from the list of global colonies that the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization had been reviewing.  The United States claimed the island was no longer a colony, yet the US president still has veto power over any law passed by Puerto Rico’s government.  In addition, the colonial government criminalized the desire for the natural right to independence.  The 1948 Law 53, la Mordaza or the Gag Law illegalized any public expression of pro-independence sentiment in Puerto Rico.  Lolita Lebron and her comrades were charged with seditious conspiracy or the attempt to overthrow the US government.  They served a total of 25 years in prison before their release in 1979.  Andres Figueroa Cordero’s sentence had been commuted two years earlier because of his failing health due to cancer.

Revolutionary sentiment in Puerto Rico has always been nurtured in Lares. It was in this mountain town that on September 23rd, 1868 people took up arms against the Spanish colonizers, claiming Lares as the Republic of Puerto Rico.  Although colonial authorities managed to end the rebellion, that revolution is credited with having cemented the Puerto Rican nationality in the hearts and minds of Boricuas. In 1919, a half century after the insurrection, Lares was the birthplace of another light in the struggle for liberation, only this time the struggle was against a new oppressor. 

Dolores "Lolita" Lebron was born in Lares on November 19th, 1919.  Not only was her birthplace significant, so was her birthday.  It was on November 19th, 1493 that the first imperialist, Christopher Columbus, arrived on the shores of Boriken, the land of braves, as called by the native Taino people.  The Taino were among the most recent civilizations at the time of the European’s arrival. They were descendants of thousands of years of indigenous peoples to have inhabited the Caribbean islands.  November 19th 1493 marked the beginning of Boriken’s battles against the Spanish colonizers who changed their homeland’s name to San Juan Bautista and then later to Puerto Rico.  It was a battle to save their lands, their culture and their people, all under siege by foreigners who came to exploit and enslave.  

If a Boricua is a person hailing from Boriken—land of braves, then being Boricua is being brave.  Lolita was most definitely born to continue the legacy of braves like the Taino caciques Agueybana, Guarionex and Cacimar, or Anacaona, a woman warrior from Bohio/ Ayti, Boriken’s neighbor.  Lolita was born into struggle.  At the time of her birth Puerto Ricans had either witnessed first-hand the transfer of their land from one imperialist to another or had to face the brutal realities of a new colonial authority.  In 1917, two years before her birth, without their consent, all Puerto Ricans were made US citizens with the Jones Act.  This law coincided with the US entering WWI, subsequently allowing for the drafting of Puerto Ricans to fight in WWI and every US war thereafter.  These soldiers, through a second-class US citizenship ultimately served a foreign government within which they had no voting representation.  To this day, soldiers from Puerto Rico, their families or anyone in Puerto Rico for that matter, are not able to vote for their supposed commander –in-chief. 

In response to these colonial injustices, unlike the parties that came before it, el Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico (Nationalist Party) was founded with the specific purpose of liberating Puerto Rico.  In 1929, when Lolita was 10 years old, Don Pedro Albizu Campos born in Puerto Rico to a woman of African descent and a Spaniard of Basque descent, was elected President of the Nationalist Party. Albizu transformed the Party into a liberation movement to free Puerto Rico from US colonial control by any means necessary.   

In the Puerto Rico of Lolita’s youth, children were among those serving as first-hand witnesses to the hardships under a new colonizer. Lolita and all the other Spanish-speaking children were required to recite the US Pledge of Allegiance in class and read textbooks written in English.  She remembered the young children who resisted by refusing to speak the imposed English language and others who were forced to wet their pants for not requesting permission in English to use the bathroom.  Her adolescent years were marked by intense battles between Puerto Rican Nationalists and the colonial authorities.  Innocent Boricuas died at the hands of colonial police and Nationalists responded with armed resistance.  In 1936 they assassinated the Chief of Police in retaliation for the colonial injustices suffered.   The US response was to arrest the leadership of the party in 1937, including Albizu Campos who was imprisoned for the majority of his adult years in a government attempt to smother the Nationalist movement.  

By the time Lolita reached her adult years, a massive sterilization campaign was being launched in Puerto Rico.  Women were encouraged to get their “tubes tied,” but not informed that this procedure involved the permanent severing of their fallopian tubes, resulting in their infertility. Promoted as an anti-poverty campaign, the plan seemed to serve a more genocidal agenda to de-populate Puerto Rico of Puerto Ricans while keeping the island itself under US colonial control. One disturbed American doctor even injected Puerto Ricans with cancer as a way to eliminate a people that he considered to be inferior. As Albizu said, "The Yankees want the birdcage without the bird". In addition, Puerto Rican women were used as lab rats on which to experiment the contraceptive foam and contraceptive pill.  The unhealthily high levels of hormones in these early pills tested in Puerto Rico led to the long lists of warnings and side effects included on today’s package inserts.

During this same time, the colonial government initiative "Operation Bootstrap", aided in destroying the island's agricultural economy by putting an industrial one in its place.  Its aim was to provide more jobs for Puerto Rico, however in diminishing agricultural production across the island, Puerto Ricans no longer produced their own food. They now had to import all their food from expensive US markets.  What was being produced in Puerto Rico was controlled by foreign corporations who took their products and capital elsewhere. Consequently, the women of Puerto Rico, Lolita Lebron included, became part of a plan to develop an island-wide sweatshop that would craft a new generation of workers to exploit. The new dollar-driven economy required the cheap labor of both Puerto Rican men and women for the benefit and profit of foreign corporations.  Having less mothers and less pregnant women meant more cheap female labor, which is why factories heavily supported the sterilization campaign, even giving women special days off to get sterilized. Additionally, thousands of Puerto Ricans were encouraged to migrate to the US in pursuit of the "american dream".  In the earlier part of the century they were forced to do oppressive agricultural work in the racist, segregated south, in California and in Hawaii, among other places. By the 1940s many women arrived in large cities like New York only to learn that they could not change employers, residence or even go back home to their families until they had lived/ worked out a contract with an employer who controlled their every move.  So only decades after the 1873 abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico, young women found themselves as indentured servants in the "land of the free".  Farmers in Puerto Rico were forced to sell their land to foreign corporations because they could not compete with the rich invaders. As a single mom, Lolita Lebron was forced to leave her child with her family and move to New York to try to earn a living as migration campaigns promised. 

As with WWI and WWII, the Korean War gave Americans another reason to draft Puerto Rican men into the US military.  Draft resisters were arrested, including Lolita's comrade, Rafael Cancel Miranda.  Meanwhile, in New York, Lolita endured sweatshop labor, even sewing patches onto the military uniforms of Uncle Sam’s army.  She, like Albizu before her who had served in the US military, also came to experience first-hand American racism and segregation.  Signs that read "No Blacks, no dogs, no Puerto Ricans" were a common sight for Lolita.  She quickly realized that there were no greener pastures on the other side of el charco.  Recognizing the injustices Puerto Ricans faced both on the island and in the states, she gravitated towards the Nationalist movement.

During his incarceration, Nationalist Party leader Pedro Albizu Campos was subjected to radiation experiments by the US government.  These experiments were part of a global lab that the United States launched after its bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, using the victims as lab specimens on which to test the results of radiation.  Other victims of these experiments were prisoners in the US, like Albizu, tortured for his actions against the US government.  Unable to withstand the radiation attacks, his body succumbed to illness.  The attacks and abuse inflicted on their nation and their leader further convinced the Nationalists to advance their work to break free from imperial oppression.  A series of insurrections were launched in Puerto Rico and in Washington in 1950.  A few years later, on March 1st, 1954, Lolita Lebron took her turn.

As stated earlier, Lolita and her comrades served 25 years by the time they were released in 1979 in response to a mass campaign launched by the people in support of their release.  The cycle within the struggle for liberation continued however when in the following year, 1980, another group of Puerto Rican freedom fighters, members of the FALN, were arrested and also charged with seditious conspiracy or attempting to overthrow the U.S. government. A few years after that another series of arrests were made affecting the Machetero organization.  Two political prisoners continue to be held at this time.  One of the longest held prisoners, Carlos Alberto Torres was released just a few weeks ago after serving three decades in prison.  He arrived to a heartfelt welcome in Chicago and in Puerto Rico.  Lolita Lebron passed away the following week. 

It is my belief that people can have the power to choose the time of their departure. Lolita chose to go after the wake of pride and accomplishment that swept the nation for the successful homecoming of Political Prisoner Carlos Alberto Torres. However she also chose to go during the time of organizing sweeping the Puerto Rican Diaspora in preparation for the fifth anniversary of the FBI assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Rios, Machetero leader. The event will be commemorated on September 23rd, as the US government knew to violate that sacred, revolutionary date in Puerto Rico’s history by choosing to assassinate one of its most radical and beloved leaders on that day in 2005. These events following one after another are again building momentum to reinvigorate the Puerto Rican liberation struggle.  Oftentimes within these struggles repression builds fear and occasional strategic government hand-outs build complacency.  Sparks are needed to remind us not to get too comfortable, not to forget that we are not yet free.  Lolita Lebron was aware of never getting too comfortable and losing sight of the struggle.  After 25 years served behind bars for her nation and her people, one would think she fulfilled her duty. However at the age of 81, she proudly entered a prison cell again in defense of the people and the island of Vieques violated over 6 decades with US Navy bombings. 

Lolita fought for her nation to her last breath. Lolita exemplified the title of Boricua which she carried proudly in the legacy of so many brave warriors that came before her.  Boricua is a term that has entered the mainstream via pop music. People like Lolita do not just give us access to this name that marks our homeland and ancestral heritage. More importantly, Lolita challenges us to question whether we are living up to the title. Have we earned the right to call ourselves Boricua? Are we walking the brave, fearless, selfless paths of our warrior ancestors?

PS. As this post was too large, part two will include my images inspired by Lolita Lebron

*Note: I find two birth years listed for Lolita, 1919 and 1920. I’m going with 1919 unless I can find proof otherwise.

August 10th, 2010




1: a waiting period set by an authority
2 : a suspension of activity

Moratorium. The word itself sounds morbid.  People fear change and worst of all, they fear death or anything having to do with it or resembling it.  Death is renewal however and signifies change.  However too many see it as an end, so when you propose a pause or a break, people are too quick to associate it with stagnation, immobility or death.

I have placed a moratorium on exhibiting my work.  Along with all the change brought by my brother’s recent transitioning into that immortal, celestial place of ancestors, I will no longer have his smile and laughs at my art events.  He was one of my biggest inspirations, from my days as a little girl running through his bedroom filled with graffiti-tagged furniture, to his colorful black books.  I will forever miss his big brother presence at my events, or any family event for that matter, where he’d arrive early, scout the crowd, help set up food or anything else that needed to be set up and then would just be there with an infectious smile that told the world that all was well.  His friends will remember him the same and even staff at the hospital that treated him because he went everywhere to participate, to help and to radiate love.

Artists seem to always have that song, that poem, that painting that is often requested but doesn’t always reflect where we are at the moment.  My husband spent a decade requesting “Vamonos P’al Monte” at Eddie Palmieri concerts wondering why he never played it.  Then one day, his son Eddie passed on the request and told us he wasn’t sure if it would happen because that is a song whose arrangement and complete essence remind Mr.  Palmieri of his late brother, fellow master pianist Charlie Palmieri.  But he indeed answered the request and played it that night at SOBs, to a nice intimate crowd, different from the densely packed seats of Carnegie Hall where we had also seen him play.  I stood there, pregnant, marveling at the genius that is Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, but also at the kindness of this man, having played a song that he knows brings much pleasure to his audiences, yet stirs nostalgia and perhaps pain within him over the memory of his brother.  We had the opportunity to thank him afterwards.  Seeing my round belly, with a father’s concern, he asked that I be careful and take care of myself. 

That belly came about in the midst of my brother’s first cancer treatments.  We then lost my brother two weeks after my son’s first birthday.  I have spent the summer contemplating the cycles of life, the celebration of life and the significance of its lost physical state.  In response to a recent invitation to exhibit I realized, how could I get through the opening reception of the next exhibit without seeing my brother there?  Would he be there? Absolutely! Would I be able to see him?  Not sure. So my solution to the dilemma of being able to see my brother at the next exhibit is that I will dedicate it to him.  I have been working on images of my brother as well as images dedicated to the intersections between his life and that of my son for the brief year they had together.  That is the moratorium—a delay in exhibiting anything else or any old works until I do this tribute to the person who inspired me, encouraged me, loved and protected me, the best big brother someone could ask for! 

In the meantime, I continue to create these images, and search for a venue where this may be a special, spiritual, intimate tribute, similar to how Eddie Palmieri felt the comfort to share a song that reminds of us of his special bond with his own brother and the beautiful music they made together and continue to make.  Likewise, I like to call this a posthumous collaboration with my brother as this work features images of him or by him, his words or words inspired by him and personal items of his.  Knowing my brother’s spirit, he is also dictating what he wants done and how!

In closing, I leave you with some  images and the words of my brother:


Yasmin and CJ aka Crazy Joe

Yasmin Hernandez with Big Brother Joseph Hernandez

IMAGE:  My self-portrait with my big brother, painted in 2003

CJ, work in progress by Yasmin Hernandez

IMAGE: “CJ” work in progress featuring an image of my brother as a youth, a detail of one of his bandanas and an excerpt of a poem I wrote about our childhood in Brooklyn:

Boricua outlaw brothers in leather and chains, Taken off their bodies and minds, Turned into weapons of self-defense, Rocking punk patches, Patria banderas and bandanas on their foreheads and back pockets

Indestructible, work in progress by Yasmin Hernandez

IMAGE: “Indestructible” work in progress featuring image my brother took of his own hand together with my son’s hand. The title refers to the song of the same title by the late master percussionist Ray Barretto.  The message of the song teaches that when one suffers a wound from beloved blood that was lost, within new blood resides indestructible strength. 

“Cuando en la vida se sufre una herida
porque se pierde sangre querida…
en ese momento piensa que todo es posible
que con la sangre nueva esta la fuerza indestructible…”

August 9th, 2010

Up and running again...

After a three year break on this blog--wow, can't believe it myself--I'm gearing up to get it going again.  A whole lot has happened these past three years. As always, I have lots to say and as usual shit continues to happen.  Am looking forward to future posts and dialogues! 
There, short and sweet, for now.....

Yasmin Hernandez, Visual artist
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