UP alum Walter Thompson-Hernandez to talk at Latinx heritage month occasion Oct. 8

The moment after Walter Thompson-Hernández got the call that he was going to work for the New York Times, he hung up and cried with excitement because he knew how this would change his life forever, but had no idea what was in store for him in the future.

“Getting hired by a place like the New York Times I knew it would change my life forever, and it did,” said Hernández. “It has led to many incredible opportunities and enormously incredible experiences that I could only imagine, because at the end of the day, I’m still the Southeast LA kid who lived under the flight path and who looked up at the planes as they went over flew my house and landed in nearby LAX. I am still the kid. So it obviously seemed unreal. “

Hernández, a 2009 University of Portland alum, will be holding a Zoom presentation in honor of Latinx Heritage Month on October 8th from 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm PST, jointly hosted by Diversity and Inclusion and Portland Magazine. There, Hernández will answer questions from students who identify within the LGBTQ + and / or BIPOC (black, indigenous and colored) community, as well as answer questions from those who attend the event themselves.

While working at the NYT, Hernández mainly focused on getting perspectives from cultures that are often underrepresented in the media. The story, which began as a play for the NYT about a group of African American men and women who founded a horse ranch in Compton that was closely linked to the legacy of black cowboys in American culture, was later published as a book called The Compton Cowboys.

In his book, Hernández focuses on showing the other narrative that Compton holds, rather than what the media has made sensational in the first place. The ability to share these stories fascinates him because he can understand how other societies understand racial identity and can spread that narrative in a positive way.

Walter Thompson-Hernández is a reporter, writer, and podcaster for the New York Times. In 2009 he graduated from the University of Portland with a degree in political science.

Photo courtesy Walter Thompson-Hernandez

Along with the success of his book, Hernández has his own NPR podcast called California Love (available on Spotify and Apple Podcast) in which he invites his listeners into his own life, shows his love for Los Angeles, and walks you through his own community .

Hernández recently retired from journalism and began exploring other avenues such as directing and producing in the television and film industries after his book signed a feature film deal.

When Hernández received recognition, he was thrilled that people were enjoying the stories he was telling about his community.

“It was really enjoyable because I grew up five minutes away from Compton and most of my family still lives in the same community,” said Hernández. “I essentially wrote a story about people who look and sound like me, who are essentially the people I grew up with. It was something special for all of us to experience this at the same time. And for me it was an amazing experience to write a story about the Compton Cowboys that led to a book shop and a feature film business that changed our lives forever. “

Hernández studied political science while at UP and wasn’t always out to become a writer. He was a member of the men’s basketball team and ended up playing professionally for a team in Latin America for a few years. It wasn’t until he was injured that he really began to focus on writing.

“I’ve always been a reader since I was a kid,” said Hernández. “I think my introduction to writing really came from reading, and my mother did a PhD. I completed a literature program at UCLA and grew up in this environment. “

After college, Hernández became more curious about topics that affect the way we perceive other people and began writing about what he saw while traveling or asking people about the communities they encountered connect.

Hernández began asking questions of people in his community when he started writing or talking to his family members.

“I was very interested in questions about our culture and questions about race and identity,” said Hernández. “So I just started exploring this through reading and writing and photography.”

Eduardo Contreras, Deputy Provost for International Education, Diversity and Inclusion, was very excited to have Hernández as a guest speaker, as he recognizes the importance of stories from the LGBTQ + and / or BIPOC community being shared and heard from the Latinx- Community itself.

“This is a special opportunity to bring along someone who is not only a member of our expanded community, but also the most prominent emerging voices in writing,” said Contreras. “His stories, which appear in the New York Times, are really poignant and thoughtful, and what I love about his writing, and what he wrote a little about in Portland Magazine, is that he tries to make connections with other cultures. He himself is half Mexican, half African American, but he would like to connect to other cultures in other ways that are not exploitative but rather narratives that are told in his stories. ”

Hernández tries to be as respectful as possible when learning a new culture and to ask questions that relate to the people involved.

“I think we have to have a certain amount of respect for one another, and that comes before we become a writer, that comes before we become a journalist.” Said Hernández.

Diversity and Inclusion Program Coordinator Yuri Hernández-Osorio and Portland Magazine Editor Jessica Murphy Moo saw the potential that Hernández had in both his storytelling and personality as he approached him for the event .

While Hernández is an accomplished writer, he wants students to see that he is a real person and that this presentation is not like your average lecture. He wishes this presentation to be an informal conversation and looks forward to interacting with students and sharing his stories and experiences at UP.

“I don’t like teaching people, I think it’s weird,” said Hernández. “I don’t think I know more than anyone, we’re all very smart and we all have so much to share. For me, the highlight is always the Q&A, where we can really speak honestly. “

Thompson-Hernandez has traveled the world, written stories and captured pictures on almost every continent and in the United States. He focuses on the portrayal of “historically marginalized voices”.

Photo courtesy Walter Thompson-Hernandez

Moo would like the students to come to this event and read more of his work. She describes him first as a listener and then as a journalist and praises this quality.

“I think one of my hopes is that people will read his work and want to talk to him,” said Moo. “I’ll admit that because he’s a great writer. I’ve read his book and there is a sensitivity to his writing and style that you can hear in his voice and how he portrays people with a lot of depth that you also hear on his podcast. “

Osorio enjoyed conversations about culture and identity too, and worked with students over the summer to bring Hernández. She asked student leaders from LGBQT + and / or BIPOC-related clubs to collect questions that Hernández will answer in his presentation.

“With students there are more authentic questions,” said Osorio. “Just to give you a sneak peek, there are a lot of questions about his experience at UP, like, ‘What does he think UP can do better? ‘or more about his own identity. He is Afro Latino and they (students) want to know more about this experience and advice on getting started in these industries. “

Through events with speakers like Hernández, Osorio wants to remind students that they are part of a larger community outside of the UP campus.

“We don’t just live in a bubble, we live in a church in northern Portland and we’re part of a church and that was historically a black church,” Osorio said. “So how do we make sure our campus doesn’t feel like this elite institution that I (all) can’t step on?”

The topics of culture and identity will most likely be covered in this presentation. Contreras urges students to view this as a valuable educational opportunity.

“One of the most important aspects of college education is that you learn about others, not that you are exploiting them or taking their culture away from them, but that you really understand who these people are because they express themselves how they want to be understood. “Contreras said,” And for me this is the truly unique opportunity this event offers you. ”

Brienna Haro is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at [email protected]

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