Yasmín Hernández is a Brooklyn-born and raised artist whose work is rooted in struggles for personal, political, and spiritual liberation. She explores these themes through her paintings and mixed-media works, portraits primarily, that weave storytelling through layered images, text, and calligraphy.
Hernández is also Puerto Rican and she was scheduled to be part of the Debt Fair panel at El Museo del Barrio in Manhattan on Saturday, October 14. She was unable to make it and instead sent a letter that shares her experience and appeals to other to help Puerto Rico. Hyperallergic has agreed to publish her statement in full here with little editing in order to maintain the author’s voice and because of the current realities on the island of Puerto Rico.
Occupy Museums, which organized the panel, has also released a statement in solidarity with Puerto Rico, and it is published below Hernández’s letter.
Letter from Yasmín Hernández
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, my flight out of Puerto Rico was canceled. As a result, I missed a long anticipated meeting with the legendary bell hooks in Kentucky and lost my place at a healing justice retreat for artists and activists in Tennessee, to which I had received a scholarship. I have now canceled my rescheduled relief flight to NYC where I was to spend time with my mom in Brooklyn, help with hurricane relief and be present at this panel.
Having been born and raised in Brooklyn, in 2014, I answered a soul call to repatriate to my ancestral homeland of Borikén. My Queens-born and raised Colombian husband and I, and our two small boys made our home in Moca in the northwestern part of la Isla Grande. On Wednesday, September 20, 2017, still recovering from loss of power and water from Hurricane Irma, her sister hurricane Maria took an unexpected turn at the point it had been predicted to exit the island. Its center passed right above us, and its eye wall, with wind gusts of over 200 miles per hour, thrashed us twice. Our beloved Moca looks more like winter in Brooklyn. Trees left standing were seemingly punished for weathering the storm, stripped bare of their leaves, flowers, and fruit. They stand brown, broken, and brittle revealing homes, rivers, and roads once hidden within lush tropical landscapes. Our view of the green Jaicoa range of hills bares the brown earth lacerations carved by landslides.
I will spare you the details of our experience during the storm, its effect on our home, our family and community in an effort to focus on the topic at hand and because with limited access to news and communication, there is much we have heard but have not been able to confirm. Infrequent communication with the outside world brings atrocious accounts that might be true, though I haven’t seen any of these first hand. Since we have chosen to stay here through whatever this brings, we prefer to focus on the gestures of solidarity and love that we have witnessed. It seems the human tendency is to speak mostly of the tragedies while acts of heroic survival, including the sharing of resources and community building, go uncelebrated for the most part. For example, the morning after the storm our neighbors provided us with access to their generator which they turn on just a few hours every day. This has allowed us to provide fresh food and cold drinks for our children since the storm. It is the reason that I am able to charge a computer and type this statement, though I must still figure out an internet connection with which to send it. Another neighbor gave us her telephone when Claro was the first and only company with cell signal. She sent us out to an antenna in Aguadilla with her phone and that is how after 10 days I was finally able to call my mother and family in New York. Afterwards she had us drop the phone off at her Moca home where she waited for the municipio to install a tarp since she had lost half of her roof. These are the accounts we must circulate. These are my heroic, generous people whose selflessness fuels our commitment to stay.
Since arriving in Puerto Rico, my work explores nebulae to transcend the abyss of colonialism and oppression, to claim ancestral connection and to affirm our spiritual space in the cosmos. Moreover painting our ancestors in transparent layers of nebulae is how I combat the invisibility imposed by colonialism. In the spirit of the latter, I send this statement in my absence, having been rendered invisible yet again, this time by the (un)natural disaster of hurricanes unheard of, compounded by the complexities and contradictions of colonialism.
The difficult decision to not have boarded my flight this morning is testament to the often impossible intersection in which artists work — the intersection between inspiration, sustainability, struggle, and survival. To have the opportunity to escape to New York City for a few days, unable to secure plane tickets for my family until November, would have meant leaving them behind with no running water, no power, no communication. Eight years ago, I left my teaching artist positions with El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in Harlem after birthing my first son. This fall, I was celebrating my return to a full-time artist practice, having recently resigned from a teaching position and enjoying that both of my sons are in school now. I began the fall with a commission that funded these trips that would mark that return to my full artist self. These two hurricanes have cost me my trips, these opportunities and my studio — dark for three weeks and counting — houses a commission unpainted. Our children attended school four days in the last month and a half. Classes were canceled for hurricane preparations or for lack of water and power in the aftermath of the storms. Semi-rural and rural communities like mine, already accustomed to losing light and water periodically, are threatened with the possibility of living without these services for months.