David Hernandez Legacy: his fingerprints will continue to imprint on people and communities


David Hernandez during Street Sounds 40th Anniversary*

David Hernandez a poet, inspirer, teacher, man of the neighborhoods, man of the city and a man never lacking for words will continue to speak on through his writings, poems, videos and the many people that he inspired, taught, worked and played with. 

Born in Cidra, Puerto Rico, he spent most of his life in Chicago. He grew up in Wrigleyville and attended Lake View High School, beginning his writing at age 11. He was a man of the people of the ilk of Studs Terkel. The cadence of their spoken words were similar, so were their subjects. 

As his friend Achy Obejas said, “Sure, he talked about Puerto Ricans and about people of color. But mostly, he talked about working people, regardless of color. He talked about the beauty of ordinary people, which is why ordinary people loved him.”

"David captured the Puerto Rican culture and connected culture with urban life and the struggles and the blending of the two," explains Miguel Del Valle, former City Clerk, State Senator and Executive Director of Association House of Chicago. "His 'Armitage Street' immediately brings back all kinds of sights, sounds and smells. It stirs the soul. That is what poetry does. 

"As in 'Armitage Street,' I remember hearing my parents  talking about moving because the rent went up. That meant transferring schools as we moved. I went to schools east of Wicker Park then Wicker Park then Talcott." ["Armitage Street" was performed with the Street Sounds group that Hernandez started with childhood friend Dean Karabatsos in 1971.] 

"It is a mystery to some why Hernandez never had a wider or higher profile. Many believe he deserved to be elevated to the city-chronicler status of Nelson Algren or Studs Terkel," commented Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune

Unofficial Poet Laureate of Chicago, Hernandez died Mon., Feb. 25, at the age of 66 from a heart attack. "Sad loss for Chicago. He was too young to die," said Laura Weathered, Executive Director of the Near NorthWest Arts Council, artist and neighbor. 

"He taught a creative writing course at the Humboldt Park Library, which an elderly Russian woman and a young Latino teen attended. Two very different people with very different experiences. They discovered a common interest in trains in their personal stories. David inspired both to explore their creativity. He was a good teacher," she commented. 

"I was 15-years-old in the 80's," says long time Logan Square resident, Rey Colon, 35th Ward Alderman. "David, Laura Weathered and others targeted under privileged kids with arts projects. They got us doing ceramics, painting on canvas and working with words in poetry. This was before there were hipsters. They were our hipsters. 

"David got me into a mural project on Milwaukee Ave. through the Boy's and Girl's Club. It was inspirational. It made me feel responsible. It kept me interested in all kinds of stuff and out of doing bad activities.  

"I was so very fortunate. I wasn't rich but I was surrounded by people who gave me ideas and supported and encouraged me. David had a tremendous impact on my life. He was so talented. 

"It is as though David left his fingerprints on me. That's why I have done so many different arts projects in the area. That is important in strengthening Logan Square and the quality of life in the area. I feel it is my responsibility to carry cultural development forward. My daughter is in London. She just had her first book of poetry published. She works as a writer," explained Colon who was speaking from his heart about a man that was pivotal in his life and influential on his own future generations. 

"'Whatever is in your heart, write it.' That is what David always said to the kids at Pritzker School," according to Sylvia Ramos, longtime Wicker Park resident who is on the Local School Council and has been involved with the school for decades. "Those park benches in the halls are covered in writings from David's students. There was just a new contract signed with David to continue working with students through the rest of the year. A school-wide memorial tribute to him is tentatively scheduled for March 18th."  

Hernandez was generous as well as a talent and an inspiration. He donated time to many groups such as the Young Chicago Authors. 

"David's death is a tremendous loss to the Wicker Park's arts community. I enjoyed visiting him in his home with his lovely family and listening to his work," commented 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno. 

Hernandez wrote and read poems for the inauguration of Mayor Harold Washington and former 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores as well as the funeral of Washington. "David Hernandez will be missed by many," says Flores, Director of Banking for the Illinois Dept of Financial and Professional Regulation. "He was a kind and thoughtful member of our community. And while we have lost someone very special, we can take solace knowing that David's work and legacy will not be forgotten." 

Hernandez is survived by his wife Batya; daughter, Matea Flora Hernandez; a stepdaughter, Chana Goldman; a stepson, Jeff Goldman; two brothers, Samuel Hernandez and Eliud Hernandez; a sister, Alma Wells; and a granddaughter, Benita Goldman.

Photo by: Elaine A. Coorens



David Hernandez

Thanks you for this article. Glad to now know of David's work, even though I was oblivious while growing up on Schubert and Kimball. How Inspiring! Thanks also to WZRD 88.3 FM, that great voice of the city, now back on the air, that has been playing a tribute to David this evening. My condolences to the Hernandez family.

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