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  WINDY CITY TIMES

ALMA's Manuel Hernandez takes on new executive director role
by Andrew Pirrotta
2023-02-22

This article shared 2510 times since Wed Feb 22, 2023
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ALMA—which stands for Association of Latinos Motivating Action—was established in Chicago in 1989, making it one of the oldest Latinx LGBTQ organizations in the country. After over three decades of operation, the organization last summer hired its first executive director, Manuel Hernandez.

A New York native, Hernandez began as a math educator, then moved into higher-education administration; he has worked on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in a number of different capacities, among them at Hampshire College (Massachusetts) and University of Chicago.

Windy City Times recently spoke with Hernandez regarding his new position at ALMA.

Windy City Times: What's been the biggest difference for you living here in Chicago versus New York?

Manuel Hernandez: I would say the everyday hustle and bustle of New York can be overwhelming, even for a New York native, [and] especially compared to Chicago. I like to say that New York is a lot of everything in a little place, whereas Chicago is a little bit of everything in a lot of space … I love Chicago. I visited Chicago several times before I decided to move. February makes it exactly four years.

WCT: How did you find out about ALMA?

MH: I was actually recommended by several individuals from Chicago. … At the time, I was a little hesitant. I wasn't too sure … I've been doing non-profit work for over a decade. So, I just did it. I thought, I'm only 30 years old. I had the [needed] experience, but still doubted myself slightly. But then I just went for it. I kind of threw my hat in the ring, thinking if something comes out of it, great. If not, then I'm ok. I went through the process and, in the very end, got the offer.

WCT: How is it working with organization members at your age? How has it been being this young leader?

MH: So far it has been pretty good. I haven't had any negative experiences yet in this current role.

I have in the past had assistant director and associate director positions—my very first associate director position was when I was about 25 or 26 years old. That experience was tough, because I was constantly being told that I didn't know what I was talking about when I definitely did know what I was talking about. But in this role, I haven't encountered any issues of any kind with being too young. I've actually been praised for being in the position I am with being so young, because I bring in a new perspective, which I think is great for any organization. To have someone young and kind of vibrant and bringing in new ideas is something that is great for an organization, especially one that has been around for 34 years. … ALMA wants to include the voices of young adults and youth, and I feel with bringing me in I can use that to my advantage and tap into those communities.

WCT: Regarding the intersectionality of the Latinx and LGBTQ communities, could you speak a little bit of your own experiences?

MH: In my experience there is an added layer. I was raised extremely religious. I was raised Pentecostal Christian. So being queer, and Latinx, living in a religious home was extremely difficult. And many times, [when] growing up, even when I left the church, I still battled internal struggles. When I present myself, do I consider myself Latinx and then a gay man, or a gay man and then Latinx? I actually heard an interview not too long ago from a Black, gay reverend. And the question was, how do you identify or present yourself first? And he gave a response that stays with me now. And it is, "I identify with what you experience of me first."

So, if you experience me as a gay man first, then that's how I identify. If you feel that you identify with me as a Latinx man, then that is what I am at the same time. So, I don't have to choose. Because I am all of these things. But that took years for me to process with the baggage of being raised in a religious home.

I always felt that my queerness and my faith were at odds with each other. I may not identify as Christian, but I have faith and I have my own belief, and I'm reconciling my queer identity and my spirituality, just like with my Latinx identity. They can all exist—even though with the Latinx community there is a lot of homophobia. So being able to reconcile those identities and know that I can coexist internally. It took many years, and as a young adult it was a struggle, finding that acceptance of who I am. That's something we grow up with as queer people. How do I accept myself when society demonizes me for being me?

WCT: What are some things that you are really liking that ALMA is doing right now, and what are some of the larger, long-term steps you see for the future?

MH: What I truly like about ALMA is the engagement with the community. An organization that has been around for so long has created a strong relationship with the community. That's something that I value and love, because the community is going to show up. So creating that relationship is something that I truly value about the organization—and the fact that ALMA has almost informally created this environment for leadership development and helping our community leaders take that next step in their lives and careers and ambitions. Thinking about the long term, I want to formalize that, to create a leadership development academy that formalizes the leadership development we do informally. That's the big plan for the future.

See almachicago.org .


This article shared 2510 times since Wed Feb 22, 2023
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