Meet Melanie Hernandez: Afro- Boricua Changing the Conversation Around Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence (DV) affects all regardless of race, religion, gender, and socio-economic groups.

Domestic Abuse or intimate partner violence can be described as a pattern of behavior in a relationship that is used to gain control over an intimate partner.

This could be in form of sexual, physical, economical, and or psychological actions that dehumanize another individual.

October commerates National Domestic Violence Awareness month, which sheds light on survivors and victims of domestic violence abuse.

This month amplifies the narrative and stories of many who experienced trauma in hopes of spreading the right awareness and resources for anyone in need of support.

This is a conversation that needs to receive attentiveness as there are so many people involved in a DV situation and no one knows and the victim does not recognize the signs themselves. DV education is essential and communitities coming together to combat domestic abuse is imperative.

An Afro-Borcia DV advocate Melanie Hernandez is doing the work in the Chicago community. With so many communities affected by the cause, Black and Latinx women are highly impacted because of the lack of access and support.

As a survivor herself, she uses her platform and space to provide a safe space for women for victims and survivors to feel represented and most of all supported. DV activists like Melanie, play a significant role as this cause can result in unfortunate circumstances like death and or long-term mental disorders.

Melanie’s work is saving so many lives and as we close out this month, we celebrate her efforts and strength in her community to raise consciousness on DV education.

If you or anyone you know is currently in a harmful or DV situation, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1800.799.SAFE (7233) and/or call 911.

Who is Melanie and who does she encompass?

I would say Melanie is a juxtaposition of advocacy and a Black woman who is unapologetically herself. 

How do you embrace your Afro-Latina identity?

I embrace it in how I dress, how I speak, I thank my ancestors every day, I honor our Afro music just about every day. 

Have you ever struggled with not feeling Latina or Black enough? 

As a kid, I didn’t understand how I looked like my Black friends but was told I wasn’t like them so it was confusing. I struggled with liking my nose as a kid because people around me made comments about wider noses. Sounds silly but it really does stay engraved in your mind.

How was your upbringing growing up Afro-Puerto Rican? If so how did you handle feeling like you had to choose?

I didn’t know I was Afro Puerto Rican until I was a teen. It wasn’t talked about much even though it was in our food, especially my grandmother’s. I always was under the impression that we had to be super proud to be Puerto Rican but they often left the Afro side out.

How did you begin your work in domestic violence advocacy?

I lived in a DV shelter for 4 months after escaping an abusive relationship. That was where I met some of the most selfless women and knew that when I got out I would want to help in some way as well.

How do you use your social media platform to spread awareness?

I use my platform by sharing resources, I also make videos speaking on different issues surrounding DV, amplifying the voices of other advocates doing the work, I also started a clothing brand that focuses on spreading a healthy word on relationships.

How has domestic violence affected Black and Latinx communities?

Black and Latinx communities suffer the most because of a lack of resources. They often are forgotten. There is a big mistrust of law enforcement so a lot of Black/Latinx women don’t feel comfortable reporting abuse. They often feel like there is no way out because of this. That’s why it’s important to see women who look like them, who come from where they come from encouraging them and doing the work.

What are ways one can recognize early signs of abuse?

Recognize when someone is being controlled. It can start off small but will usually escalate. Pay attention to how they speak to you when annoyed or angry, listen to your gut. Are you afraid to say or move a certain way because it feels like walking on eggshells? 

What are some useful tools one can use to leave/heal from an abusive relationship?

Always have some type of safety plan if you plan on leaving. Making sure you leave in the safest way possible is crucial. Tell someone you trust that you plan ongoing. If you have nobody to tell you can always call the DV hotline 1(800)799-SAFE and explain your situation and they will share resources

What are some words of advice you can give a victim wanting to leave but has nowhere to go?

That you are not doing anything the “wrong” way. It’s not easy leaving a potentially dangerous situation. But that it is absolutely possible to leave. There is always a resource.

How does your mission help service the Chicago community?

I’ve met some incredible folks in this city who help my mission and I’m grateful to be able to share those resources with my people in this city who need them. The goal is to make the women in this city safer and I plan on continuing to try my best at that.


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