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Reynaldo Hernandez is a Milwaukee-based artist who has created some of the city’s most recognizable murals during his 50-year career, including the “Mural of Peace” and “Celebrate the Arts.”
In this piece, his daughters Rozalia Hernandez-Singh and Marisa Hernandez-De Windt reflect on their experiences growing up with the renowned artist as a father.
From Rozalia Hernandez-Singh:
When we talk about my father‘s legacy, we need to first give credit to his ancestors.
My great-grandmother migrated to the North looking for a better life. My great-grandfather migrated from Mexico to Chicago and Milwaukee, dying very young. As a single African American mother, what my great-grandmother wanted most was for her children to thrive. Their gifts were in the arts as tap dancers, singers and musicians.
My father’s talent was discovered at the age of 2. His mother, a gifted dancer and trained pianist, encouraged him to draw. My grandmother also made sure that her children knew of their Mexican heritage.
My father grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, and I believe that era shaped my father — racial injustice, riots, the growth of Puerto Rican and Mexican immigrant communities in Milwaukee.
My father grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee and experienced intense racism. His skin was darker in comparison to his brothers and sister, which gave him an awareness and perspective, leading him to develop a love of his Black and Mexican heritage.
Growing up, my father taught us to embrace our culture through music, visual art, history and language. Just as he grew up in a very diverse environment, he wanted to teach his children the same. He taught us facts about our cultural history, which made us proud to be who we are.
My father is the greatest teacher and storyteller. His stories about Bible characters and historical figures would inspire anyone.
Definitely, my favorite gift that I got from my father is the love of learning. So much of his work involves reading and research. I always thought of my father as a walking encyclopedia. He is a bookworm and a sponge for knowledge.
His humility is another quality that I adore. He sees the greatness in others. The simplest and smallest act of creation can spark creativity. He taught us to pick up bugs and view them with a magnifying glass, noticing a pattern of the wings, the iridescence of the two colors and their strong armor — the fascinating details that make it amazing!
As a child, I remember frequenting the United Community Center and Inner City Arts Council with my father. I remember going to UW-Milwaukee for the film festival. I remember being surrounded by many inspiring artists and attending mural dedications on a regular basis.
Art can also be a double-edged sword. There is beauty of expression, but there’s also hardship — the struggles until the next job comes, mental strain to perform and the loneliness that can come with greater awareness of harsh realities.
We were exposed to art in the raw.
It took me some time to make art a full-time career for myself. After years of unfulfilling jobs, and my father in my ear telling me to go for it, I finally took the plunge.
Mentorship from my father has been much like the Karate Kid. He needs perfection, asking me to read deeply about every technique before I put it into practice. I also constantly remind my father that I am just me. When I don’t see or realize my worth, he reminds me, “Yes, you are a woman of color and your struggle is even greater. But you are just as good — if not better. “
My father takes joy in seeing me perform as a visual artist. It took a lot of growth for both of us to get to the point where he can watch me from a distance, nod and say, “That’s good.” That brings me a great sense of satisfaction and joy.
From Marisa Hernandez-De Windt:
When it comes to the legacy of my father, as his daughter, I was surrounded by wisdom, passion, creativity, and sometimes, harsh truth.
My father taught us through conversations that made us think deeply about life from a young age. We listened, taking in every single word — he just has a way of making you get excited to learn more.
I used to sneak into my dad’s art room, the vault of his soul, so I could secretly read his favorite books. He was always working on himself, spiritually and emotionally, which led me to do the same, since I was a little girl.
My father also has a passion about everything he does. He took pride — almost too much — in pushing us to be our best. I can appreciate it now. The passion to give of yourself authentically has helped me to be more effective in my work.
I am a birth worker, an artist, a wellness specialist, a mother and a wife.
When I paint, I want my art to tell a story. My papi is passionate about history. In fact, he worked with a historian to ensure his art elevated Black people with real true dignity and loyalty.
The creativity he instilled in me is powerful — his mind never stops. As an artist you are full of ideas and sometimes can’t sleep. He is a visionary, which is part of why he created such powerful images.
Even now, people share with me how much his murals helped them as a child growing up in the inner city. “The Black Wonder Woman” mural is one example. A friend recently told me that this mural made her look inside herself and see how beautiful she was.
Larger than life murals heal and influence the community. We have shared our father with the community, as that was part of his purpose. He was always working on something creative either alone or in the community.
Always deep in thought, my father shared the harsh truths of life with us. He would worry, as he wanted the best for us children and the world. The frustration and emotions, struggling to live authentically as an artist, can make you go crazy at times. You feel intensely the harsh realities in your face.
I’m sure being Black and Latino, raising six kids on one income and not knowing where your next job is coming from was very stressful. Even so, he encouraged us to work four times as hard, to make sure we could present ourselves in spaces where we normally wouldn’t be allowed.
I am grateful my father pushed me so hard, but as a sensitive child, I didn’t always understand why. Now I know he saw parts of himself in me and wanted me to see me believe in myself and find my gifts.