“Lo siento, pero su hija no puede practicar ballet porque tiene el pie plano.”
“I’m sorry, but your daughter cannot practice ballet because she has flat feet.”
The teacher and all of her ballet students in the class were white. Yamay “La Fina” Mejías Hernández and her mother were the only Black people in the room. This initial rejection was heartbreaking for Hernández. Her dream was to be a dancer and a singer.
Growing up in Cuba during the ‘90s, an era known as the Special Period, was difficult for Hernández. The Special Period was a time characterized by economic collapse, widespread poverty and scarce resources, due to the fall of Cuba’s largest supporter, the Soviet Union.
“I was a poor girl. My mom was a nurse, and my dad was a soldier*. I lived with the minimum my parents could provide. Food was scarce. There were power outages every day, and there was much sadness in Cuba, among members of the lower class, like me [during this time].”
Despite the many challenges she faced, Hernández did not let go of her passion. During her college years, she took modern and folklore dance classes while she finished her bachelor of science in computer science and programming. Hernández worked as an elementary school teacher for years, making sure children had access to opportunities. Although she enjoyed teaching, she believed she would have a more significant impact as an artist. That’s when she found hip-hop.
Hernández joined the Cuban Hip-Hop Movement that swept the nation in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. During this time, she was one of few women in the movement. With a heart for increasing access to opportunities for others due to her early experiences of racial discrimination, Hernández founded a female artist collective known internationally as Somos Mucho Más.
Somos Mucho Más provides spaces for women in the arts to express themselves and present their work to artists from around the world. Hernández has organized events, concerts, conferences, workshops and community outreach events benefitting the Afro-Cuban community.
La Fina (pictured in center with white shirt) and artists near the Somos Mucho Más mural in Havana, Cuba. Photo courtesy La Fina.
Hernández shares why the work means so much to her saying, “It is important to help the Afro-Latin community in Cuba because we are the most marginalized and discriminated against. My mission is to empower women. We are the most powerful, beautiful and strong. When we unite, we cannot be stopped.”
Although, Hernández received a “no” early in life, it didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion and achieving her dream. Her dream became bigger than she imagined: to include the dreams of other Afro-Cuban women and girls and helping them to reach the goals they set for their lives. Today, she hosts events for women in the arts to share their work and bring awareness to social issues. She plans to continue this work and create opportunities for Afro-Cuban women who may have also faced rejection.
To find out more about Hernández and to keep up with Somos Mucho Más events, follow Somos Mucho Más on Facebook.
*Nurses and soldiers were state employees during the Special Period and made a monthly salary ranging from $7 to $15 a month.