Daisy Hernández is perhaps best known for co-editing “Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism,” the groundbreaking 2002 anthology re-released earlier this year, and writing her award-winning coming-of-age memoir “A Cup of Water Under My Bed.” I met Daisy in 2007 when she was a leading voice in the modern movement for race-explicit journalism. When reporting through the lens of race was taboo, she did a six-year editing stint at Colorlines, first in print and then online. She has also reported about big pharma targeting Latinx people for The Atlantic, the “poverty” disease Chagas for National Geographic and racial divisions in feminism for The New York Times. In addition to her reporting and journalistic writing, Daisy teaches creative writing at Miami University in Ohio. Here’s who Daisy Hernández thinks she is.
Who are you?
I’m a Latina writer, a queer woman, bisexual, Jersey proud. Cuban, Colombian. Author and journalist. Now an assistant professor. I’m 44, living in Southwest Ohio.
How do you identify racially?
I never quite identified as Brown. I didn’t feel that that was accurate. I’ve had a lot of people in the last couple of years identify me as morena, but I wasn’t identified that way growing up. My dad, he’s Cuban, my mother’s Colombian. And my dad is racist. He identified me constantly as White, but I was like, “I’m Latina?” It’s technically ethnicity, but because of the way racial dynamics play out in the U.S., it feels like more of a racial category.
Have you ever filled out the Census? And if you have, how did you answer the question about race?
The one I really remember was in 2000. I remember filling it out for my parents. I was with my mom, we were filling out the one for my dad. We got to the [race] question, and she was like, “El es blanco!” I was like, really? I was at NYU, studying a lot of Cuban history, so I was aware of the racial mixing in Cuba. But she insisted, and I honored what she wanted.
Are there other times or places that you’ve answered the question of “What is your race” differently?
For a long time people would say, “Where you from?” I would say, “What do you think?” I was doing an informal test, and it was all over the map, from Europe to Pakistan. My sister married somebody from India. At the wedding, one of his friends said, “If you didn’t speak, everyone would think you’re from India.” I haven’t claimed a racial category because I don’t feel there’s one that’s appropriate for me. I wasn’t the lightest one in my group of friends and also not the darkest one. For a long time, I just felt like, “Light Brown? Is that a category?”
And then, when you go look for makeup!? “Buttercup” I think was the name of the foundation I used. This is where you find your real racial identifiers. So “Buttercup” turned out to be too light. Then I got “Khaki.” That turned out too orange. I’m actually liking this one that I just got called—you ready?— “Driftwood!”
How will you answer the question on the 2020 Census?
I wish I could put “Other: Driftwood.” I’m pretty sure in 2000 I picked “other.” I wrote ”mixed,” which I have very uncomfortable feelings about because when people hear that they’re thinking, Black father, White mother or some combination. I don’t know what else I could say that would be representative. What is your definition of Latino/Latina/Latinx??
For me it has to do with having a relationship with Latin America. I feel like three things are essential: the region, the language and both historical and political context. Obviously, there are many Latinas whose families have been here for many generations in the Southwest. The reality is, if they’re near the border, you know which way the patrol is gonna go, simply based on how they look. I don’t care if your family hasn’t spoken Spanish in five generations. They see you near the border. They’re like, “Can we see your papers?”
How do you think the multiple—and maybe contested—definitions of Latino, Latina and Latinx impact efforts toward racial justice?
There’s racial justice the U.S. outside of Latinx communities and then there’s racial justice efforts [within] the Latinx community in the U.S. They look really different from one another. When I walk into a more recent immigrant community, they’re talking about race from [the context of] their home countries. In Central America, dynamics are really different. But across the board, the value given to Whiteness is very consistent. And people still feel really comfortable being disparaging around Blackness and Brownness. I think that’s what makes working on racial justice issues in the U.S. in immigrant communities difficult. Because there’s contested definitions. Many communities get thrown under that giant umbrella of “Latino,” from recent immigrants to fifth-generation Mexican-American families in the Southwest. When it comes to Latinas, we can’t talk about a single definition of race. We also can’t talk about a single effort towards racial justice.
What is the particular impact of Latinx racial identity on your work?
My memoir is about coming of age in this Latinx family. Race is definitely a part of the kind of messages I received around who [I] would pick as a partner, being very much defined by race. My own writing has been really focused on the relationship between White Americans and Latinx [people]. In the wonderful documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” Morrison was talking about pushing the little White man off your shoulder, the White editor. That really resonated with me, specifically how I write about race.
My parents still don’t understand why [growing up] I felt solidarity with African Americans. That was a point of disjunction. On my end, I wondered how it was possible that they didn’t see all the connections. They basically recreated their immigrant communities here and didn’t necessarily move outside of that. I’m the one who was placed into a very intense White context where I was like, Oh, I’m clearly not them. So, who am I? I’m clearly not being welcomed here. So, who are my people?”
Rosana Cruz is a writer, parent, social justice movement leader and intersectional feminist. They have lived in New Orleans for over 20 years and in that time, worked closely with numerous organizations in the struggle for racial justice, LGBTQIA+ liberation and immigrant rights. They currently serve as a senior fellow at Race Forward, the national racial justice organization that publishes Colorlines. Essays by Cruz have been published in hipMama, Bridge the Gulf Project, Colorlines and the anthology Mamaphonic. Cruz is a 2017 VONA Voices Fellow. Short fiction by Cruz is forthcoming in the Spring 2020 issue of Black Warrior Review.