Jonathan Ryan Hernandez celebrated his latest election to the Santa Ana Metropolis Council by getting a tattoo.
The picture, on his proper bicep, depicts the pale “La Raza” mural close to El Salvador Park. The mural is a part of Santa Ana’s Artesia Pilar neighborhood the place, rising up, Hernandez was uncovered to crime on the streets and inside his own residence.
The tattoo, Hernandez defined, pays homage to “the neighborhood that made me who I’m.”
Hernandez, 28, mentioned he’s the primary man in his household on his father’s aspect to not go to jail or jail. And he’s nonetheless deeply linked to Artesia Pilar. A father since he was 17, Hernandez is elevating his daughter in the identical house the place he and his mom grew up, in an space the place it was routine for Hernandez to witness gang violence and drug use.
However he’s damaged the cycle of trauma that has trapped his household for generations.
Final week, Hernandez was sworn into workplace by his 10-year-old daughter, Evoni. And on Tuesday, Dec. 15, he attended his first common assembly as councilman.
His aim is to be a voice for individuals like him in Santa Ana.
“I set myself on a mission to assist individuals who have backgrounds like mine. I need to inform their tales.”
His neighborhood, he mentioned, “was at all times counted out.” As he put it on Fb: “We had been the youngsters who had been too tough, too robust, too poor, not educated sufficient. I grew uninterested in being counted out and sooner or later determined to combat again.”
“I’m not your typical council member. I’m a bit completely different.”
On Raitt Avenue, the place Hernandez grew up, gang life was pervasive.
“All of the dads had been gang banging,” he mentioned.
“I bear in mind coming house after I was a bit boy and seeing my uncle within the yard. And he was with a teen who overdosed.”
Police arrived and arrested the uncle. Hernandez, then in second grade at Freemont Elementary, wasn’t positive find out how to really feel.
“My uncle wasn’t a superb man,” Hernandez mentioned. “However he was my uncle. I beloved him.”
The subsequent day, the police officer got here round to check out Hernandez and introduced Pokemon playing cards.
“I by no means forgot that.”
However such kindness was uncommon. Extra widespread, Hernandez mentioned, was bullying in school and violence within the streets. Hernandez mentioned he as soon as was crushed for “strolling down the unsuitable avenue.” When he fought again, he added, he drew a suspension from Willard Intermediate.
“What does a child who comes with a background like mine imagined to do? I defended myself.”
He was raised by a single mother and rejected by an absent father, who Hernandez describes as a neighborhood gang chief who claimed Hernandez was not his son.
“I look identical to him,” Hernandez mentioned. “I bear in mind being a bit boy and understanding about my dad and pondering ‘Dang, how do I not change into him?’”
Then, when he was a senior at Santa Ana Excessive Faculty, Hernandez and his girlfriend grew to become dad and mom. It was a recreation changer; a troublesome transition that ended with him falling in love along with his child. For many of her life, Hernandez has been her major caregiver.
“I needed to increase my daughter whereas additionally elevating myself and offering a roof over each of our heads.”
That meant getting a job after highschool commencement as a substitute of going to school. It additionally meant educating himself find out how to be a father, when he had no function mannequin.
“I needed to change into a person in a short time.”
‘ROSES FROM CONCRETE’
Hernandez has labored as an organizer, an insurance coverage firm agent, a public relations marketing consultant, an assistant with the Orange County Labor Federation. He’s been a case supervisor or social employee with organizations that present companies to individuals who had been beforehand incarcerated. Since February, he’s been working with foster youth by a psychological well being company.
A few of his most pivotal work was with Santa Ana Unidos, a non-profit he created in 2015 to supply neighborhood children arts and leisure sports activities, together with a boxing membership. In 2018, the group hosted a music pageant – “The Roses that Grew from Concrete,” which introduced collectively hip hop artists, educators, and others with a deal with protecting youth from the jail system. The group closed that yr after a grant ran out.
The symbolism of “roses that grew from concrete” was — and stays — vital to Hernandez. Impressed by a Tupac Shakur poem of the identical identify, Hernandez mentioned the phrase is “a reminder that good issues can come from troublesome foundations, and that’s one thing I’ve at all times tried to remind individuals.”
Alan Woo, who served because the Santa Ana Unidos’ deputy director and lives in Artesia Pilar, predicted Hernandez will likely be a distinct type of councilman.
“The individuals who grew up right here have a ache and a trauma. They share that with one another,” mentioned Woo, whose spouse Ruby grew up in Artesia Pilar and is a long-time neighborhood advocate.
Each mentioned that Hernandez will symbolize the Ward 5 district by listening to what residents need, versus telling them what they want.
“He asks: ‘What do you assume? What do you need to do?’ That’s an incredible distinction,” Woo mentioned.
“There are some politicians who need to be king. He desires to raise up the voices in our neighborhoods.”
Hernandez mentioned he was lucky to have a mentor. Mark Muñoz, a now retired skilled combined martial arts fighter from Mission Viejo, provided Hernandez a free spot in his Lake Forest coaching gymnasium beginning when Hernandez was nonetheless a senior in highschool.
“He took me below his wing. And he put me within the gymnasium with the perfect fighters on this planet and he didn’t cost me a greenback. I used to be within the room with guys I watched on TV.”
“I used to be additionally a fan,” Hernandez added. “He confirmed me you might have standing, have energy, be influential – and nonetheless sit aspect by aspect with an individual like me. He made me really feel like I used to be any person.”
Figuring out with the celebrities he admired, Hernandez discovered that they weren’t reaping their fair proportion from profitable ticket gross sales and promotions, nor had been they protected when harm. So he helped arrange them. In 2016, a Congressional bill was launched that prolonged to combined martial arts fighters the identical rights afforded to boxers below a federal legislation named after boxer Muhammad Ali. The bill was reintroduced in 2017, when the variety of sponsors grew from 7 to 58. It was final referred to a Congressional subcommittee.
“That was an enormous a part of my journey that led me to need to run for workplace,” Hernandez mentioned.
One other affect, and motivation, was fatherhood.
“I might not have run for Metropolis Council if I wasn’t a dad, (and) to know that I’m going to depart this place higher than I discovered it.”
His targets on the council are many. Large image, he desires to handle the basis causes of inequality. He desires Santa Ana to supply a free WiFi program and an early schooling program, extra funding for parks and recreation, and implement hire management together with further inexpensive housing, amongst different issues.
Hernandez believes individuals are not outlined by their adversities, however how they reply to them.
“I’m about redefining our narrative,” he mentioned.
And as a councilman, he desires to share the tales of his neighborhood and others prefer it in Santa Ana.
Hernandez additionally wears his tales. They’re imprinted on his proper arm.
He has three tattoos. The primary one celebrates being honored by La Opinion newspaper, which in 2017 named him considered one of 30 individuals below the age of 30 making a distinction. That depicts a rose rising from concrete. “It’s a reminder that common individuals like myself are simply as worthwhile.”
The second tattoo, a lion, celebrates the success of his 2018 Santa Ana Unidos’ live performance. Hernandez mentioned it’s a reminder that “it’s vital to be resilient…good issues do come, however they don’t come straightforward. You need to work onerous for that.”
And the final, he mentioned remaining tattoo – the one he obtained after profitable his seat on the council – depicts his neighborhood’s La Raza mural.
“Males in my household would get tattoos to glorify their gang life. My tattoos inform tales about redemption, perserverance, tradition. They’re my journey.”
The tales, he mentioned, that he desires to share.