Sitting in an armchair, artist Lennon Michelle Wolcott-Hernandez presented one of her paintings to the audience, depicting a sign that read “I Got This” in bold script. Small vials of water lined the bottom of the piece, each blooming with wildflowers; she explained that each vial only held enough water to nourish the plants for one day, the daily ritual of refilling them a reminder of her control over her life and identity.
In celebration of Latine Legacy Month, the board of Alianza Latina invited Wolcott-Hernandez to speak about her journey to represent and reclaim her culture through art on September 30. Recurring themes throughout her work include the loss and reclamation of culture, family, and community.
Born to an Indigenous Mexican mother and a white father, Wolcott-Hernandez spoke about her experience with biculturalism and the exploration of her identity in tandem with her artistic journey. She described facing accusations of cultural appropriation, dealing with double consciousness, and having assumptions made about herself that ignore her Indigenous Mexican heritage.
“They said, well, you’re white, you’re [part of] this dominant, American, normative culture. And I said, well, yes, but hold up; my mom is Mexican and Indigenous. I’m not quite that…. When I made an [ofrenda with a cake and Jolly Rancher flowers], I was told that I was appropriating culture. I was told that this was not really Mexican… I had to take a step back and [go] to my family. My uncle said, ‘Lennon, Mexicans will use whatever the heck we need to get the job done,’ so I [began] questioning, who gets to tell me what culture is? Why can I be a Wolcott, but I can’t be a Hernandez?” said Wolcott-Hernandez.
Wolcott-Hernandez identified these questions as the driving force behind her motivation to delve deeper into her identity and heritage. Challenging traditional norms of art, her work broadly features various elements of her multicultural background.
“I said, if I transferred [cultural practices] to other mediums, how does it become art and not craft?… Everyone thought [the cultural-inspired artworks were] ‘pretty.’ [People asked,] ‘Can I wear it, can I have it?’ I said, ‘this isn’t pretty, this is culture, this is important,’” said Wolcott-Hernandez.
Realizing the importance of accessibility in her goal to create spaces for conversations about culture and identity, Wolcott-Hernandez began to recognize the artistic potential of everyday materials such as office supplies, coffee filters, and flowers.
Wolcott-Hernandez said, “My kids at the Boys and Girls Club were [leaving] art classes left and right… [and] I wanted them to understand the materials. I wanted them to think about what they were seeing and say ‘I understand what that is’…. They understand paper flowers. We can all make paper flowers.”
Many students attended the event for various reasons. Star Nunez ’26 said she decided to go to the event because she was intrigued by the Latine representation the event offered.
“[I attended this event] because I was interested to find a Hispanic artist being represented at Andover. She inspired me to realize that… society will always have standards, but you can’t allow them to [tell you who you are],” said Nunez.
Cris Ramnath ’23 sympathized with Wolcott-Hernandez’s experiences regarding double consciousness and having other people attempt to limit his identity. Her presentation also inspired him in terms of his own aspirations.
“Especially growing up wanting to pursue writing, or something that’s not exactly money-oriented. You have to deal with the fact that you will probably have to work other jobs or work harder to sustain yourself…. But I think she reaffirmed my belief that there are other ways to succeed in the arts and humanities,” said Ramnath.
To younger individuals struggling with the stigmas associated with their mixed identity, Wolcott-Hernandez offers the following piece of advice. She acknowledges that self-discovery is not always a smooth process, but emphasizes the importance of defining one’s identity on their own terms.
“I think the best thing about youth is you’re not as scared as you are when you get older. You go through mistakes when you are learning your identity, and you have this fear that because you [could] say the wrong thing, you shouldn’t say it. I knew that people would always try to tell me what was right and wrong for myself… I had to realize that no one [could] tell me who I [was] except for myself. Don’t be afraid of those boundaries, don’t be afraid of being told you’re wrong. If it’s yours, take it,” said Wolcott-Hernandez.