Ahead of the release of their debut poetry collection Hood Criatura, féi hernandez spoke with Sundress Publications editorial intern Kanika Lawton. Here, they discussed ways of radically imagining better futures, transforming pain into myth and power, and the necessary work of creating intersectional frameworks of being, belonging, and existing.
Kanika Lawton: What does it mean to be a criatura? That is, what does it mean to be a criatura that exists—and thrives—outside of binaries, boundaries, and borders?
féi hernandez: To be a criatura is to be myth and wailing truth all at once. It is having the innocence and authenticity of a child, but the bite and grit of truth-tellers that are not afraid to shatter illusions. To be a criatura is to have wings that lift you above your own body where you can bear witness to your liberated self, the old world, the lies, the new world, and your captive self simultaneously. To be a criatura is to defy all things and choose your joy, your liberation, regardless of the uncomfortability of others. To be a criatura is to be all parts of yourself, out loud or in silence (as long as YOU claim YOU and all intersections), because it is through that how we become a torch in the darkness, a guide, for how we enter the new world.
A criatura has the answer inside and all it takes for them to light the path is for them to wear their answer on their lips, to shout their calling, or be more at home with themselves. Like a child and a beast, a criatura breaks into a smile when it learns to run untethered, no longer looking for a mother’s arms or validation from an antiquated world. It means running, it means open meadow and blue sky just for you. It means bringing the new world into your heart and scribbling it on every wall.
KL: How can we radically imagine living as our fullest selves with all of our intersecting identities?
fh: It starts by placing everything we are on the table. If we can name our intersections, we can begin to understand what conditions are necessary to ensure the aliveness of said individual and their intersecting identities.
While decolonizing our imagination is imperative to envisioning the new world, I believe it also takes seeds to give breadth to its manifestation. The way to radically re-imagine a new world is to live it, to construct it every day, to believe in it and ourselves amidst the violence of murders and discrimination––amidst the chaos of bigotry and inhumanity. To radically imagine, we (collectively) need to constantly practice radical optimism responsibly and in an accountable way.
To many of us (Black, Indigenous, POC undocumented, disabled trans, intersex, gender non-conforming folks), radical optimism is out of reach (at times), due to the pessimism of our realities. This means that our counterparts need to establish the conditions for us to be able to dream without considering our mortality. It takes hard work to create a new world where intersecting identities can run free. We ALL have our part in the revolution. To muster a radical imagining requires that we live. Thrive. Have the resources to live through the revolution and not be killed for it. We need to make it through to the other side.
KL: Can you speak about the use of the speculative and the mythical within these poems?
fh: Black writers Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison gave me permission to invite my spirits and their origin stories into my work. They helped me trace my own ancestry, call forth my lineage of folklore and my spirituality to ensnare my work with its smoke.
The revolution, although grounded in our terrestrial experience, has a soul. A question I asked myself a lot as I wrote Hood Criatura was: how can I transform my suffering? How can this book be an invitation for others to find their own soul as they explore their place in the revolution? As we all know, the personal is political, so let’s get really personal.
Through my manuscript I summon spirits, I summon all parts of myself, I summon El Chupacabra, La Llorona, and The Devil because as I mentioned before, to be a criatura is to light the way, which means we need to know what stories, myths, and speculations we come from. Through myth and speculation, I was able to go deep into the blue cave within me and lead my family and our stories out. Consider my speculative poem “Lala the Origin or Futuristic Magical Realist Text Sample” where I envision a post-apocalyptic world where Lala, a curandera, (the spiritual revolution), prepares ALL immigrants (including “you”) for their (continual) survival in the United States.
This poem takes us away from my present terrestrial context and gives the reader a personalized invitation to see the themes of Hood Criatura in a different world. These are the kind of mental gymnastics we need in order to exercise our re-imagining a new world.
KL: Tell me more about your choice of language, dialogue, and syntax, especially in poems such as “dontcomeformyhood” and “Brunch”?
fh: My immigrant Mexican family and my acculturation in Inglewood are extremely important in my formation. Anyone who knows me and reads “dontcomeformyhood” and “Brunch” knows that I speak in those ways verbatim. To take my authentic voice and deem it literary is not only radical in the sense that I’m debunking traditional ways of poetry and language (I’m definitely not the first), but because I’m creating space for my people. Accessibility is central to all the work I do.
If I can model, in my own way, what it means to be my authentic self, then I hope my people take their voice seriously and write. We are constantly shamed for our language. How can we deem ourselves “worthy” or “excellent” writers when the literary canon is white? For so long I have been judged, belittled, made an example of for what writing shouldn’t be. But let me proclaim in this moment, I am everything writing should be. “dontcomeformyhood” specifically accentuates my rapid-fire, sassy flow that emerges when I’m provoked by ignorant folk. “Brunch,” one of my favorite poems, captures my constant fury, the conversations that I have daily, the way my mundane is radical, whether it’s calling out someone for misgendering me or addressing anti-Blackness. I don’t have the luxury of a careless “brunch” not contextualized in my identity as a trans person that centralizes the Black experience.
KL: In “Please Sing Along,” the speaker declares allegiance to “a new world” against one that silences Black and Brown voices; namely, America. With this “new world” in mind, how can we envision our freedom away from the myth of America?
fh: James Baldwin says, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” We must know The United States for what it is––a country-beast with its many paws all over the world wreaking havoc with its flailing tail and poisonous breath.
It is only by naming and suppressing the racist, transmisogynist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic country-beast that we live in, that we can strip it of its ignorant hysteria and let it rest. We need to know the myth of America. We need to reveal the Native and Black peoples whose land this belongs to, who have always been here.
To envision a new world means we do what The Tower tarot card would tell us to do if drawn: let it burn to the ground. From the ground we raise what North America was before its taking and let Black and Native and Immigrant and Trans peoples in leadership of this country decide what becomes of a flimsy United States. This is when we listen and envision.
KL: Tell me about the importance of finding ways of belonging, whether in the hood, our people, or ourselves.
fh: Belonging keeps animals alive. If a young wolf is separated from the pack, it’ll survive, but its sense would be confused. Demented. It would be likely to take a winding path down to doom. The young wolf could give in and unravel into bone in days.
To have representation, to have a place where you know your people are self-aware and know how to show up for one another, saves lives. For many years I struggled with belonging to myself, which is the flip side to the support we can have (or not) from the people or spaces around us. I couldn’t love myself from all of the socialized, internalized fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia. If I didn’t belong to myself, then I belonged to the opinions of others.
If I could not be of service to others, which was my way of coping, then I would feel the looming emptiness inside. Without finding a way to belong firstly to myself, then my community and spaces I occupy, then I would not be writing this interview response. Without the constant process of loving myself I was lost. Without the constant process of believing people could be there for me, I would be crushed bone marrow and flesh.
After trauma, hurt and pain, it’s hard to relate to anyone, even when the conditions are (finally) safe and comforting. Society is divisive, in the way it was constructed, a capitalistic tool to instill shame and lovelessness. It is by carving spaces, people, belonging, that we get by. It is through belonging that you find the revolution, the people you’ll march with, the people you’ll laugh with and let your guard down with, it’s where you feel normal. These are the people and spaces that you will protect and that will protect you back.
KL: Throughout Hood Criatura, the speaker carries many names—My Little Son, My Little Dog, My Sister, My Love. How does naming (and renaming) our bodies shift how we live within ourselves and the world?
fh: Just like a single Pokémon may have up to three different names along its evolution trajectory, while always having the option of changing its assigned name, one should also be able to evolve and be addressed however they choose.
I have gone from one nickname to a million attempting to find home in just one. Fabian Alberto Hernandez Lorenzana, my legal name, at one point was my reference, it was how I related to myself (even if it was always so burdensome and long), to my family, to my friends, to my Inglewood. Until I realized I’m not Fabian. I have always been féi.
The agency to choose my name, like my pronouns, much like how I choose to live my life, is my power. Adults, I’ve noted, are the strict name and pronoun police, whereas my students and children have been so easy to comprehend me having a “new” name.
When I was a middle school teacher in Inglewood, I introduced myself as Mx. Hernandez. My students had questions, but once they were answered they never mispronounced my title as Mx. Hernandez. Beautifully, my students had educated their Black and immigrant moms to address me accordingly during parent-teacher conferences.
Names are what build communities. It is the first thing we utter after meeting someone for the first time. It is our legacy and we get to decide what that means for ourselves. No one can take that away from us. When we discover our names and pronouns, not as things imposed on us, we start building the new world right before our eyes: through every interaction. We can taste the freedom that we’re seeking to envision for everyone right on the other side of the river where the new world exists.
KL: You write “everyone has their place in the revolution / my place is in the liminal / intersectional spaces of belonging / bridging and dismantling.” Speak about the necessity of an intersectional framework in better understanding ourselves and how we relate to others.
fh: When you can see the myriad complexity of your own identity––the intricacies of your experiences, the “good” and “bad,” and all that has informed your understanding of self–– then you can begin the work to deeply understand the myriad complexity in others. Unlearning and relearning who we NEED to be for the betterment of ourselves, the world, and our individual and global communities is what follows this work.
We ALL have intersecting identities. The problem lies in negating the complexity of them and focusing on a narrow framework that seeks to blur us into a mass. Our individuality, our unique experiences are ALL necessary for building the new world. We are not meant to be monolithic beings or live in a monolithic society. Which means we need to SEE difference and stop with niceties.
With all this in mind, the most important questions regarding intersectionality in the context of how we relate to others is: how are we complicit in utilizing our privileged identities to oppress others, consciously or not? How are we turning a blind eye or dismissing the complexities of others because we are UNCOMFORTABLE with acknowledging our own positionality in the context of others’ experiences?
We have become too accustomed to a black and white world. Folks have forgotten what it’s like to experience the full spectrum of existing, of identity, of loving, therefore our empathy is broken. This is the millionth wake up call to check your privileges, acknowledge where you come from, put in the work to make the world a better place by reinventing yourself.
Don’t be a threat to the world by holding on to antiquated beliefs. Don’t cause more harm by being unaware of your positionality. It’s time to centralize intersectionality so that we can make this world better, while we construct the new world.
féi hernandez (b. 1993 Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico) is an Inglewood-raised immigrant trans non-binary visual artist, writer, and healer. féi is an Advisory Board Member of Gender Justice Los Angeles and was one of the artists for Forward Together’s 2019 Trans Day of Resilience Campaign. They are a Co-Founder of ING Fellowship and was a femmetor for the 2019-2020 Seeds of Liberación (SOL) leadership development program for young transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people in Los Angeles.
Kanika Lawton is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and an MA from the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she is the Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a 2018 Pink Door Fellow, and a 2020 BOAAT Writer’s Retreat Poetry Fellow. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, Vagabond City Literary Journal, Longleaf Review, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others. She is the author of four micro-chapbooks, most recently Theories on Wreckage (Ghost City Press, 2020)