Daniel Hernandez, recently elected to the Arizona House of Representatives, visited Stuyvesant on Tuesday, December 6, to give a presentation titled “Strange Journey: My Story as a Young LGBT Latino Who Cares About a Strong Israel.” The lecture, well-publicized through posters hung around the school bearing the talk’s intriguing title, drew approximately 70 students.
Hernandez, a Democrat, works for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and is a member of the Sunnyside Unified School District Governing Board. During his talk, Hernandez explained how he became interested in Israel and the challenges he has faced along the way as a LGBT Latino. He also discussed his experiences volunteering and working on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and the 2008 campaign of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Hernandez is widely credited with saving Giffords’s life during the 2011 Tucson shooting, in which Jared Loughner attempted to assassinate the congresswoman during a public event and also shot 18 others. Hernandez, an intern at the time, was in attendance and provided first aid to Giffords.
When Hernandez first heard gunshots, he said his first thought was to run to Giffords. Hernandez kept Giffords conscious by talking to her and wrapping her head in an Israeli Bandage, a device invented by an Israeli medic used to stop bleeding in emergency situations, until she could be brought to a trauma center. “For me it was really important that in one of the toughest parts of my life […], one of the tools I had that ended up being really special was the Israeli Bandage,” Hernandez said during the lecture.
Hernandez became interested in Israel after learning about the Holocaust in third grade. As a child, he spent a lot of time reading to perfect his English, and often gravitated toward books concerning the state of Israel and the Holocaust. “Reading about a country that only started 50 years before was really interesting,” Hernandez said during the lecture.
While campaigning for Clinton, he worked with many elderly Jewish women, all Holocaust survivors or children of survivors, who educated him on Judaism and the Holocaust. “They taught me about their cultures, they taught me about their families, and they talked to me about […] this place called Israel. Many of them [had] either spent time in Israel after the Second World War or had family that lived there,” Hernandez said during the lecture.
As an Arizona Congressman, Hernandez works to enforce stricter gun control regulations, improve schools, and promote LGBTQ rights. He also works with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and reaches out to groups outside of the Jewish community to raise awareness for problems in Israel.
Hernandez, only 26 years old, became politically active at a very young age. “I remembered being the youngest person at every political event that I had ever been to and sometimes not being taken as seriously because I was the youngest person,” Hernandez said during the lecture.
“It was seriously inspiring,” said senior Rhys Suero in an e-mail interview. “Your youth doesn’t have to be a determining factor in how you involve yourself with resources and connections. If you put yourself out there and just take the opportunities that come your way, you don’t always have to overwork yourself to get to a position of power.”
The event was organized by the Stuyvesant Jewish Student Union and Stuy Spectrum. Senior and co-vice president of the Jewish Student Union Bayle Smith-Salzberg played a major part in organizing the lecture. “I thought Stuyvesant students would be interested in a successful guy who has persevered despite the odds against him,” Smith-Salzberg said.
Furthermore, the lecture encouraged students’ political awareness. “It inspired me to learn more about the local elections. The lecture inspired me, if not to become more involved, at the very least to become more aware,” junior Michela Marchini said. “I can make an impact even if I can’t vote or if people maybe think I am too young, because he’s been able to do it.”