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DOWNEY - For most people, recalling 50 inspiring women working toward lasting change in their neighborhood would be a difficult feat - not for Claudia D. Hernandez.
"Not at all, women come up to me and tell me, 'I have a story to tell,'" said Hernandez, leaning forward from her chair. "And these stories need to be told so women know they're not alone."
Inspired by the motivational women in her own life, Hernandez, a published poet and photographer, felt a call last October to recognize those women in the community who are making a difference, empowering young women.
"This project was birthed during very difficult times for me," Hernandez said. "I isolated myself from people - it was a dark period of my life. But it was women, amazing women, who helped me get through what I'm going through.
"Usually we wait until artists die to appreciate them, I'm trying to change that now," she said. "We need to highlight them while they're here. I want to know what happened during their lifetime?"
Using her skills as a writer and photographer, Hernandez is working on a photography book and walking art exhibit entitled "Today's Revolutionary Women of Color," which will highlight 50 inspiring women, including activists, poets, engineers, professors, and their stories of resilience.
Since October, Hernandez has already interviewed 40 women for the project. Along with short-film interviews, "Today's Revolutionary Women of Color" will also include photos of each women taken by Hernandez and a collection of songs, essays, paintings, or literature submitted by the women themselves.
"It really is an anthology of art," she said with a smile. "The best part is we're going to have an exhibit in the community. I'm a teacher in southeast LA. Latino students, they don't know about women who are poets, engineers, authors. I'm going to give a book free to any woman who attends the opening night of the exhibit."
Hernandez, who resides in South Gate, looked for three components when it came to the women she choose.
"They had to have a career, be in the community, changing the community, and they had to have a unique story of resilience," said Hernandez. "All of them are so unique and powerful in their own way - I take a part of each one after the interview. They become a part of my life."
From stories of cancer and abortion to tales of prejudice and molestation, Hernandez believes the everyday woman can relate to these stories - like she can.
Born in Guatemala, Hernandez has a story of resilience herself, traveling 21 days by land, bus, and water to come to the United States with her mother and two older sisters.
The 34-year-old mother of one son now holds a bachelor's in Liberal Studies with a minor in Art. She's currently finishing a master's in Multicultural Education in addition to pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing for Young Adults with an emphasis in Poetry.
Hernandez says her goal is simply to inspire women and empower them.
"Some men might feel intimidated. This is not to degrade men, I want women to know that others have been in their shoes...so whatever they're going through, they can overcome," she said. "We go to schools and learn about heroes. How often do we hear about women who are here now?"
Currently, the photography book is scheduled to take a year to complete and Hernandez hopes to release the book and open the exhibit in November.
"The interviews are coming along, I've got 10 more to go then I will be putting the book together," Hernandez said. "When the exhibit opens, I'm going to invite women to come and read poetry and share their stories."
In order to raise money and awareness for her project, Hernandez is hosting a fundraising cyclothon this Saturday, March 30 at 8 a.m.
Cyclists will meet at Hollydale Park in South Gate and take a 30-mile bike ride to Long Beach along the river bed. A $10 entry fee buys participants a raffle ticket. Hernandez is raffling off one of her photography pieces.
All funds will help Hernandez publish the book and make copies available for women on the opening night of the exhibit.
"It's for the betterment of the community - the betterment of human beings, especially women," she said. "This is not just any photography book, this is high art. This is not just putting anything together, this is meant to inspire women to be the best they can be."
From more information or to donate to the book project, visit todaysrevolutionarywomenofcolor.com.
Published: March 28, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 50