Lina Fernandez: Young Activism Knows No Age
At seventeen years old, Lina Fernandez has used her voice to spread awareness about voting rights as well as protest anti-feminist policies in the United States. A Key Largo, Florida native of Cuban-American descent, she is currently a high school student in Homestead, FL. She has dedicated her time this year to spreading awareness about the 2018 midterm elections and voting rights. For the past year, she has been part of the Student Fellow with League of Women Voters of Miami Dade as well as the Get Out the Vote Committee Chair of the Upper Keys Action Network, which has allowed her to give presentations to Miami-Dade county citizens on voter awareness and education.
Living in a rural town far from Miami, she was inspired to become a political activist through reading various activist books such as “Women Who Run the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire, and through seeing teenagers her age be politically involved through the Internet. She states, “I, like a lot of young people, got my start writing online, and when I was able to start participating in community organizing work, I jumped at the chance.” Currently, she is interested in the intersection between art and activism, and is inspired by artists that use their craft to inform others about the injustices of society, such as Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and Alexandra Bell.
During the later part of this year and the following one, she will be focusing her effort on spreading awareness about immigration rights via the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FIC). In the future, she hopes to be living in a major city as a curator in a contemporary art institution, where she can use her creative spirit to merge activism and art. Aside from this, her passions still hold strong to civic engagement and activism, and she hopes to work on fixing issues in her community for years to come.
Make Muse was able to interview Lina to discuss her struggles as a young, Hispanic activist that lives far from a metropolitan city and access how she has been able to overcome these obstacles and be a community leader.
Heidi Perez-Moreno: How has your Hispanic heritage shaped your understanding of feminism?
Lina: My Latin heritage and feminism have not always gone hand in hand. In fact, they have often been at odds. So much in my culture is centered around maleness, and catering to the expectations and wishes of men, that I have often felt stifled and devalued. This machismo is toxic and reinforces strict gender roles. I have seen this play out in my tía’s life. She felt confined by the expectations of her family and married very young. In many ways, she was let down by our culture’s understanding of women: while my grandparents encouraged my father to be a doctor, they never pushed the importance of school for her. Despite this, she is one of the wisest, most incredible people I know. She has always instilled in me the importance of being a strong woman and doing what you want to do. She has been a role model for me of what a fun, vivacious, empowered Latina looks like. We are at our best as a culture when we respect the contributions of women and let them lead. My tía has never let me doubt my value to my family and to the world, and I owe so much of my strength to the lessons I learned from watching her.
Heidi Perez-Moreno: What political issues are you most passionate about, and how have you used your resources to fight it?
Lina: This is really hard to answer because, to paraphrase Lilla Watson, I believe that my liberation is bound up with everyone else’s. You cannot truly fight for women’s rights if you are not also addressing class, race, immigration, etc. I’ve learned this first hand from my community, where everyone I know is either an immigrant or the child of one. I’m applying to college right now, and I’ve seen how difficult it is for my friends, first gen and low income students, to navigate the convoluted financial aid process. These are not separate spheres of issues: one often informs the other.
Given this, I think of my work as being in collaboration with and for all marginalized peoples. A few years ago when my best friend came out to me as trans, I got really involved in LGBTQ+ rights work. In recent years, I have been focused mostly on gun violence, immigration, and voting rights. I was the press coordinator and one of the founding organizers of the Young Leaders Summit, a conference on gun violence and youth organizing held at MDC Kendall last April. We will be holding the 2nd annual YLS in the spring. I am also a Student Fellow with the League of Women Voters, where I have been trained to give voter education presentations at churches and community centers around Miami. I have had less opportunity to work on the issue of immigration, but I am looking forward to volunteering with FLIC in the future.
Heidi Perez-Moreno: Do you think our current political climate has given the youth population their opportunity to voice their concerns?
Lina: Young people have always been at the forefront of social movements. I think that our current climate has awakened in many young people what was already there inside of them: a desire for change. This moment in time has become synonymous for many of us with our coming of age. We cannot think of milestones like getting a driver's license or applying to school without also considering our first demonstration, or the first time we voted. I am really encouraged to see how so many young people have made political action a part of their daily lives. There is something powerful in realizing that in all the small actions you take, you are part of a larger force that is working for good.
I think something that has allowed for this increased visibility of youth voices actually comes from adults. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, many adults realized that the best thing they could do was step back and support young people who were already doing the work. It was really inspiring to see a movement led entirely by youth and supported and uplifted by adults in positions of power. I think that this is the capacity adults should act in when it comes to youth activism: using what platform they have to center the voices of young people.
Heidi Perez-Moreno: As an activist, has there ever been a time where you’ve considered your age as a setback? If so, how did you power through it?
Lina: Before I could drive, my activism only played out in an online realm. I would make these long winded instagram posts about everything I was upset about and wanted to change. It was my way of using what little platform I had to say something that I felt, because I did not want to be the kind of person who saw things that were wrong and didn’t speak up. At the same time, I saw the criticism of older, more established activists toward online activism. Much of it was true: there is a tendency of people to make a post online and pat themselves on the back, calling themselves an activist when they have not engaged in the true work of community organizing and political action. However, I think something that is missing from this conversation is the acknowledgement that we do not all have access to the same opportunities for action. I grew up on a small island and in a conservative family; whether you point to my lack of access to transportation, or my family’s lack of enthusiasm for my work, the end result was that my only real tools for making a difference came from the internet.
I got through this by doing everything I could locally, mostly in school, and through continuing to write my instagram posts. I wrote for my school’s newspaper on issues I cared about and joined groups like the Monroe County Youth Advisory Council to address problems facing my school and other schools in the county. Less than a month after I turned 16, I organized my first event, a Women for Syria Vigil that I did through the Upper Keys Action Network, the first group I joined when I became able to drive. I remember how nervous my parents were about me doing this. They weren’t totally on board ideologically, and they thought I was too young to be organizing an event. For them, all of this seemed to come out of nowhere, but really it was the culmination of years of online work that I had been waiting for so long to have realized in the real world, through direct action.
Heidi Perez-Moreno: When was the moment you realized you had the power to provoke change?
Lina: I don’t know that there was ever one specific moment. I think I’ve always known I was powerful. Or maybe, I’ve always known that the best chance I had at making a difference came from speaking up and taking action, and I decided to do that as much as possible because I knew eventually something would come of it. I am constantly mindful of the privilege I have in being able to speak and act freely. This is a gift many people don’t have, and I consider it to be my most powerful tool. This ability to be open and critical is where everything else in my life comes from.
Heidi Perez-Moreno: What are some challenges you’ve faced as a Hispanic female activist in Miami, Florida?
Lina: In the past few years I have been in rooms I couldn’t have imagined and had a seat at tables I didn’t know existed. I have been really fortunate that Miami has an active, engaged community of artists and activists that are doing really incredible things. A lot of the opportunities I have had to be a part of different organizations and projects has come from one person passing my name along to another, on and on. The biggest challenge for me in terms of taking these opportunities when they come my way is distance. Although I go to school and work in Miami, I live in northern Key Largo. It can be difficult to make it to meetings and events because it often takes 3 hours round trip to get downtown and it costs a lot of money in gas. There is no real comprehensive public transportation between the keys and Miami, which makes the situation worse. I feel lucky every time I get to participate in something in Miami because I know how much it takes just to be able to be there.