Welcome…

Memoir – Introduction

Posted on July 7, 2017

You are strong.
You deserve effortless, passionate love.
You matter.
Work hard and be kind today.

 

There’s this thing that some of us have inside us. It’s a kind of angst that doubles as raw, all-consuming pain. I think it comes from a deep yearning for something, something that almost seems unattainable. Will I ever find it? Will I be happy one day? This thing, this thing inside some of us, it was put there. It had to be.

Maybe it was left behind the first time I saw my Mom and Dad tearing each other apart at the top of their lungs. Or maybe it came with the scar my sister left on my thigh the time she beat me with that leather belt. Other times I wonder if it came from the times I made my little sister cry, pulling her hair and bruising her sweet, delicate arms. Why am I crying? It could have come from the time my father stomped his foot on my stomach. All the air left me and, maybe as I was gasping for life, I inhaled this thing. I could’ve put it there myself, too. All the years of self-loathing, of telling myself to be someone I wasn’t, something I didn’t want to be, maybe I left it there when I tried to be someone else, someone others wouldn’t hate. Maybe he put it there, left it behind after he forced himself onto me. The feelings of shame, disgust, and betrayal might have brought it with them along with the scalding, hot tears I shed on my best friend’s shoulder.

Heartbreak might have something to do with it. After all, when our hearts break something is taken from us and something is left behind, something empty. Maybe that’s it. So maybe he gave it to me the time he slept with another man and then again with me, when he stabbed me in the back. Or maybe he gave it to me when he said he couldn’t do it anymore, that the responsibility of another was too much. Maybe he left it inside me as a parting gift when he left me, broken. Or maybe he gave it to me when he, like my father, took the wind out of me, this time with a closed fist. But heartbreak comes in different ways. So I have to wonder…did my Mom put this thing inside me? Someone put it inside of her. Maybe she gave it to me the last time I looked her in the eyes, tears falling down her face, as she tried so hard to live, to leave. She left me empty. Maybe she tried to fill the void she left behind in me with this thing.

Maybe all of these things together, all of them, put this thing inside me. This thing that feeds on my insecurities, that keeps me awake at night and devours me from the inside out.

But maybe, maybe it’s not something inside of us. Maybe it’s something outside of us that has been taken away. Maybe that’s what we’re searching for, for the last piece of ourselves. The piece that will make it all okay. Will I ever find it?

 

National Coming Out Day

Posted on October 11, 2017

onstepsIt was nine years ago when some of my high school classmates would whisper the word “faggot” and throw gum at the back of my hair. I didn’t play soccer during lunch, I didn’t make jokes during class, and I didn’t make passes at the girls. I helped the teachers after school, I did all my homework on time, I had a small voice, and I liked having lunch with the girls. At the time I knew I was gay but was too scared, too sensitive, and too stressed with everything else to try and live a proud and authentic life. Looking back at that time, unfortunately, I don’t think I was in an environment that fostered and focused on safe spaces. I didn’t know that I was allowed to be me, so I fought my internal shame every single day. Every day, while I tried to get gum out of my hair after school, I told myself something was wrong with me. I just wasn’t right. It was easy to hate who I knew I was. Very easy.

Despite my internalized self-hate, I couldn’t always help the way my body reacted when I saw a handsome guy or the way I felt when I had a crush on a classmate. I knew who I was, I knew I hated who I was, and I knew others couldn’t find out. But I also knew I was who I was, and that, maybe, I would be okay anyway.

I had my first experience with a “boyfriend” when I was a junior in High School. He was a freshman in college and had just graduated from my school. I was more the reading books type than the going out type, so when I started going out often with my “girl friends” my Mom grew suspicious. It was unsurprisingly odd that I was spending less time reading books and more time on the phone and going out. One night, while me and my then-boyfriend took a ride to Starbucks and parked on a quiet street for talks and kisses, he noticed a car had parked behind us and no one had gotten out. I wasn’t too sure. We decided to stay where we were. Maybe they were also a young, crazy couple “in love” hiding from a cruel world. Minutes and minutes went by and, eventually the car turned on and moved past us. Still, no one had ever gotten in or out. I recognized the car immediately and my breath left me. My heart sank. I wanted to be anywhere but there. I called home and asked my little sister if I could talk to Mom.

“She left. Right after you left. I don’t know where she is.” My Mom’s suspicions about what I had been up to had finally caught up with her, and this night she made the decision to follow me and find out for herself. I rushed home and waited for her, uncertain of what would happen now. Did she see us kissing? Was she disappointed? Did she still love me? Was I a bad son?

When my Mom finally came back home, it was difficult for me to find the right words to talk to her. She went in the laundry room and began to fold clothes. I made my way there and watched her. She didn’t look at me.

“Mom? Is everything okay?” I asked quietly.

“Yes.” I didn’t know how to ask what I knew I had to.

“Mom?” I almost choked. “Did you…did you follow me earlier?”

This time she looked me straight in the eyes. “Should I have followed you? Were you doing anything that I needed to follow you for?” I stood frozen. “Lets talk about it when we’re alone.” She turned back to the clothes and kept folding. I walked away, filled with shame.

The day we were alone came and my Mom and I cried, together. She asked if I liked boys. I said yes as I suffocated on tears that tasted of guilt, disgust, and shame. She asked if my “friend” was more than my friend. I hesitated, and then I said yes, scared to look her in the face, scared that she’d stop loving me. My Mom started crying. My heart started breaking. I had disappointed her, shamed her, and now she was crying. My Mom had already cried over a cheating husband, my Mom had already cried over an abusive man who put his filthy hands on her, my Mom hadwmom already cried over the loss of a child, and here she was crying again, this time my fault. I made my Mom cry. I did that. I hurt her. But, something was different about her tears. It wasn’t an angry cry, or a painful cry, but a deeply moving, mournful cry. My mami told me that day that she was crying for all the suffering that I would go through in life, for all the discrimination, harassment, and pain my sexuality would cause me. She wondered out loud if maybe all I needed was a therapist, and then she corrected herself and said all I needed was her. All I needed was my Mom. She held me as I cried all my ghosts away and said, “I will love you. I’ll love you. You and I will grow old together if nobody wants you, if nobody accepts you, and you and I will be together forever. I will love you. I will accept you. Always.” It was in that very moment that my grown ass curled up in the fetal position over my Mom’s lap and cried. It was the very first time I felt loved for who I was and the very first time I didn’t feel like I needed to be ashamed. It was the very first time I felt free.

Unfortunately, I still kept hidden in the deep shadows of my “closet” to everyone else besides my Mom and my sisters. I was still afraid. What about the bullies at school? What if my friends stopped loving me? I don’t think my school was to blame for the bullying and harassment I lived with for years, but I do hope nine years later they talk openly about accepting one another and encourage the students to stand up for each other despite their differences. I do believe that at the root of the problem was growing up a queer person of color in a predominantly Latino community deeply immersed in machismo attitudes. The same attitudes that proved all my fears right and took the ground beneath my feet when I finally came out to my father years later and he severed our relationship forever. He said he couldn’t love me because I was “just like a child molester, disgusting.” It hurt at first, but I’m stronger now. I don’t need the love from an abusive man, anyway. I love me now, and that’s enough.

In the end, a year later as a little freshman in college I decided to make a change on my Facebook profile. I was tired of hiding. It’s difficult to explain, but it takes a lot to wear a mask every day and show the world someone you don’t see in the mirror. I was tired of hating my self when my Mom, my sisters, and the few friends I had been brave enough to tell had loved me still. I was ready to be me and be loved for the man that I was without the mask, without the shame, and without the guilt. So I changed my “Interested In: Women” to “Interested In: Men” and made the change public. My life, and my happiness, changed drastically. Not immediately, and there have been highs and lows.

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Over the years I have lost friends who said I was “too gay,” or that I “was becoming gayer and gayer.” I laugh at that now because it just meant I was being myself more and more, unafraid and unapologetic. I was loving myself more every day and being just who I was. Over the years, also, I have gained friends and loved ones who see me for who I am and embrace the uniqueness that I have to offer to this world as a brown, immigrant, Ivy-educated queer Mexicano.

The world now sees all of me, all of who I am and all of who I want to be. My sexuality doesn’t define me. My kindness, my patience, the way I love others, the way I encourage and support the people that I love…that defines me. My sexuality only tells you who I choose to love, but it doesn’t make me any less of a good or a bad person. It does get better, but you get better. I grew resilient, strong, courageous…that defines me. And today, today I am loved for all that I am and not all that I pretended to be. Today people love me for me, for my flaws and my gifts and my love and for all that I am.

Today, on National Coming Out Day, I share my story in hope that the world finds a new perspective for all the wonderful, amazing, and talented boys, girls, and gender non-conforming kids who are trying to be courageous and brave. Just two summers ago, as part of my work with the University of Chicago, I interviewed homeless youth in San Diego. The last teenager I interviewed, 20, had been sleeping in his car for months after experiencing traumatizing verbal and physical harassment from his father after coming out. I drove home crying, broken. I get to live an authentic life and, though it gets better, it is still work for so many of us out here. Even for me, in all my queerness and “I don’t give a fuck” Rihanna kind of attitude, there are times when I tone myself down for others, or walk just a bit faster in certain places where I feel unsafe, or try to speak with a deeper voice in order to feel “normal”, or let go of the hand of the boy I like because someone is staring. I am still a work in progress. I still continue to embrace all that I am and find love for myself within me. So…today on National Coming Out Day, I hope that my friends, famwhappyprideily, and loved ones (and particularly those folks in education), continue to push the boundaries of social constructs and create safe, loving, and welcoming spaces for all. We all deserve love. We all deserve truth. We all deserve life.

Today I stand proud to be an amalgamation of identities that make me who I am, one of them gay, and I hold my head high and walk confidently. Today, too, on the 9th year of my Mom’s passing…I miss the fleeting moment I had with her more than ever. But I’ll always know she freed me from my cage.

May every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and heterosexual individual live lives full of warmth, love, and truth. May every human individual live lives full of warmth, love, and truth. And if you’re still working on it, keep working. I’m here for you.

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Lennox grad pushed on

Posted on June 28, 2017

Faced with one obstacle after another, Lennox grad pushed on

The Tough Tests
Staff Writer
Posted: 06/13/2009 11:38:39 PM PDT

By Larry Altman Staff Writer, Daily Breeze Newspaper in CA

 

Francisco, after delivering the Valedictorian Speech

“My name is Francisco Hernandez and I am writing this statement to explain various events and circumstances that currently present themselves as obstacles toward myattending a four-year university.”

Francisco went through the colleges’ e-mailed responses one by one.

No. No. No. No.

Like so many other aspects of Francisco’s life, adversity and disappointment again seemed to be taking over. He began to think about moving to Texas to live with his older sister.

It looked like Francisco would have to disregard the 4.1 grade point average he earned at the Lennox Mathematics, Science and Technology Academy. Instead, he figured he would work and attend community college.

Someday, the 18-year-old Lennox student would earn enough money to send himself to a university, one that wanted him and one he could afford.

Then he opened the last e-mail.

Francisco and his two sisters began their lives in Guadalajara, Mexico. They lived with their parents above their uncle’s restaurant where the adults worked.

Before long, they followed their father to California, moving into a room in Lennox, living under the roar of jets landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

Life for Francisco wasn’t easy. His father abused his mother and served jail time for it. He cheated on her, neglected Francisco, and ultimately moved away.

Francisco’s mother, Ana Rosa Hernandez, worked in the same restaurant as her husband, learning he was having an affair with another employee.

“When I picture my parents screaming, I can remember myself in a corner of the room covering my ears and screaming as loud as I could just so that I wouldn’t have to hear them,” Francisco recalled.

As Francisco grew up, his mother was diagnosed with Takayasu’s arteritis, a rare condition that causes blood vessel inflammation that damages the aorta. She required weekly hospital visits and open-heart surgery.

She couldn’t work at times, but found a job as a low-paid cook in a Lennox restaurant.

“It was really hard for us. We have no family here,” Francisco recalled. “Our life wasn’t very much.”

Despite the family’s problems, Francisco made the honor roll at Buford Avenue School.

But when he reached the fifth grade, his father took him back to Mexico, splitting up the family.

They moved into two rooms at the back of his uncle’s restaurant. Within weeks, his father brought his girlfriend from the United States to live with them.

“After that, he kind of stopped taking care of me,” Francisco said. “He stopped caring if I did my homework, if I showered or not. I would sometimes rarely see him.”

Francisco’s grades suffered. He ditched class and received C’s and D’s.

His aunt fed him and looked after him, aware that his father paid no attention.

At the start of the eighth grade, Francisco’s father brought him back to Lennox, returned him to his mother, and moved to Oregon.

Unlike his father, Francisco’s mother was strict. She required him to do well in school.

Francisco quickly earned a 3.9 GPA at Lennox Middle School and made the honor roll. He earned a 4.0 the second semester.

“I felt that somebody cared for me and somebody wanted to see me succeed – not nagging but `You have to be someone in life, not work like me and your dad.”‘

“Attending a four-year university has been one of my biggest dreams since sixth grade and since then, I have excelled academically.”

Francisco’s mother’s illness worsened. She had repeated surgeries, taking pills to keep her blood flowing and for depression.

“She always told us, `The only reason I am still alive is because of you guys. Here is where you guys can get an education,”‘ Francisco said. “We would say we have to do good in school and be good kids.”

Her moods swung from happiness to sadness. At one point, she downed a bottle of pills.

“She looked like she wasn’t there,” Francisco said. “Her eyes were open and she was looking at me, but I felt like she wasn’t there anymore.”

Doctors saved her.

Francisco, his Mom, sisters, and niece.

Francisco engrossed himself in school work and sought counseling from his teachers. He regularly talked with Kimberly Chavira, his Advanced Placement chemistry instructor.

Chavira became his confidante, talking with him about everything going on at home as well as normal teenager issues.

“He was just always very sensitive,” Chavira said. “He seemed to need someone to open up to.”

In October, Francisco’s mother went to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center for a routine CT scan.

When she never returned home, Francisco and his sisters went looking for her. They discovered she suffered a massive stroke at the hospital and had fallen into a coma.

“As soon as I saw my mom, I ran back out,” he said. “I started crying. I can’t see her like that.”

Francisco and his sisters turned off the machines Oct. 20 when her brain stopped functioning.

Chief Coroner Investigator Craig Harvey said an examination determined Ana Hernandez’s death resulted from the effects of an anaphylactic reaction to an administered iodine injection. Francisco’s mother’s death was officially ruled an accident.

She was 38.

Devastated, Francisco pushed himself again at school, barely missing class.

“At school, I always try to forget everything,” he said.

“The experience has been both traumatic and devastating for me. I have no relationship with my father, and my younger sister and I were faced with being alone.”

Francisco, who had become president of his student body, believed his days in Southern California were over. At 17, with no family and no money, he figured he was on his way to live with his older sister’s family in Texas.

He had no idea what was going on behind the scenes.

“The thing about Lennox Academy is it’s just a fantastic school,” Chavira said. “He was so college bound. If he had to switch, he would lose all his AP classes and have to figure out the college admissions process on his own.”

Teachers met at a Starbucks coffeehouse.

“Everybody asked me to take him in,” Chavira said. “He would say I was like a second mom.”

But Chavira was six months pregnant. She knew she could not take in a teenager.

Martial arts teacher Erica Delgado was close with Chavira. She didn’t know Francisco well, but she knew about the conversations he’d had with Chavira.

Delgado and her husband, Melvin, the parents of two daughters, offered to house Francisco and his sister.

“I think it’s just the way I grew up,” Delgado said. “When my parents took in relatives that just came from the Philippines or visitors for a couple months, we were told they were relatives but they weren’t.”

Francisco was collecting his transcripts in the school office when he received a call on his cellular telephone.

“It was Mrs. Delgado,” he said. “She told me if I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t have to. I could stay with her, with her family in her house, that they had a space for me and even for my sister.”

At first, Francisco’s older sister, Cinthia, rejected the idea. Chavira talked to her and changed her mind.

Francisco’s father signed over legal guardianship to Delgado and the teen moved into her Eagle Rock home. A home dojo for martial arts was converted into a bedroom.

His younger sister, Maria, however, chose to move to Texas.

For Francisco, living at the Delgado house was awkward at first, but he soon became comfortable.

“They were my heroes,” he said. “I felt that without my mom, I wasn’t going to have anybody else that would care for me except my sisters. They have cared so much for me.”

Delgado said she required Francisco to keep his room and bathroom clean, and do the dishes.

“We don’t try to rein in his life that much,” Delgado said. “We are not there to be his parents. We’ve just given him a place to stay. I never wanted to replace his mom.”

Francisco also stayed with friends’ families on weekends.

“I stayed in California to finish my last year of high school surrounded by the teachers and friends that love me. Since I basically have no father, and my mom passed away, I have no means of income. The little money I have right now, about a thousand dollars, came from my school so that I have enough income to sustain myself until I graduate from high school.

“I have very little resources to attain money to attend college, and that is the reason I am applying for financial aid.”

Francisco applied to several universities, but knew that without financial help, he had no chance of attending.

Four University of California campuses – Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Davis and Berkeley – accepted him.

He figured his only chance was to attend a private university offering him a scholarship.

“I am a dedicated, hardworking, perseverant student with the mightiest desire to attend college, major in the medicine field, attend medical school and eventually become a neurosurgeon.

“I have everything I need to achieve my aspirations, except the money necessary to pay for all of it. I want to be able to attend college, and I want to become someone successful.”

First, officials at Rice University in Texas turned him down.

Disappointed, Francisco waited for the other responses.

“I applied to Stanford. They denied me,” he said. “I applied to Yale. They denied me. I applied to Princeton and they said `no.’ Northwestern and Notre Dame. They all said `no.”‘

Francisco had applied to the remaining school as a joke, figuring a poor Latino from Lennox had no chance to get in.

“Harvard was my last e-mail to open, so I was like, `Heck, all of these schools say `no,’ Harvard’s not going to take me in.”‘

The first words read, “I am delighted to say.”

“I looked back and `delighted to say what?”‘ Francisco recalled. “It said I was accepted. At first, I stared at the computer for a couple of seconds. I was `What?”‘

Francisco ran crying to the Delgados upstairs. Word quickly spread.

“My husband and I were jumping for joy,” Chavira said. “We toasted with wine and Francisco was not even around.”

Money remained the issue. Francisco contacted the financial aid office and was told to write a “letter of circumstances.”

Before long, he received an answer. He would receive a scholarship, for a full ride.

“I was like, all of my dreams and all of my mom’s dreams came true,” Francisco said. “She’s been working her magic wherever she is. She’s the one that’s been pushing things so that I could have all this success.”

He also is grateful to all of his teachers, friends and family.

“I’ve gone through all these struggles,” he said. “I just want other people to see that no matter what happens, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. It’s up to you. Despite everything that happened to me, I never dropped the ball at school.”

Francisco closed out his senior year Friday as class valedictorian:

“Today we become accountable to the world, to the future, to all the possibilities that life has to offer. Starting today, our job is to show up wide-eyed and willing and ready. For what, I don’t know. For anything. For everything. To take on life. To take on love.”

larry.altman@dailybreeze.com