Let Angel transcend his past mistakes

You may have heard the story of Angel Hernandez. An ex-gang member from Willmar, Minn., he spent close to a year in jail for making terroristic threats to a store manager who had accused him of shoplifting. In a strange twist, instead of serving more jail time, the judge gave him the option to attend college and live with the multicultural fraternity Sigma Lambda Beta. He chose to come to Minneapolis and start a new life. But some won’t let him leave his past behind.
I refuse to start this column by abusing Angel’s name with some bad pun. You’ve heard that too many times by the local media and, may I add, as an aspiring journalist, that I feel let down. Saying, “Angel is really no angel,” requires little creativity.
Instead, I want to present something that has been missing or greatly misrepresented in media stories regarding this kid from Willmar: Angel’s voice. Too many people have been doing the talking for him and, in my opinion, this has created a lot of negativity and untruths about Angel’s character. I firmly believe that if you don’t tell your story, there will be plenty of people who will mistell it for you.
I don’t blame Angel for not speaking to the media — he is probably the shyest person I have ever met. But he does have an opinion about all this attention, and he wants others to hear about the good things he has done — not just the bad.
I was lucky enough to talk with him for a couple of hours. I don’t know why he agreed to the interview. Maybe it’s because I wanted to hear what he had to say. I didn’t pressure him with deadlines and all the reasons why he should talk with me. I didn’t want to talk to his lawyer, his mom or the people who want to send him back to jail. I just wanted to hear about his daily thoughts, and what he is doing now that his life is so different. I didn’t approach him as if he were a thug — I talked to him as a person.
Were you ever the leader of the Latin Kings?
“No, I don’t know where that came from. I saw that in the (court records) and it said that. I wasn’t the leader, I was a soldier.” (Latin Kings members are called soldiers.)
What do you want people to know about you?
“I’m not a violent person. I’ve never been a violent person. I was going to school before this happened. I was going to community college, but nobody knows about that. I don’t know why.”
What goes through your head every day?
“I think more about the consequences now more than before. Now, if I do any little thing, I go back to jail.”
Your new family, in a sense, are the members of Sigma Lamda Beta. How do you feel about these guys?
“They’re cool. Especially the guys I live with. They’re all supporting me. In Willmar, I didn’t have many people supporting me.”
What are your intentions now that you have this opportunity?
“I’m just here to better myself so I can help out my people later on. I want to get a law degree. I know it will be hard, but hopefully I can do it.”
Do you feel like you have to prove anything to anybody?
“There’s no point in doing it for somebody else. Why should I do it for somebody else if I don’t want to do it for myself?”
Angel now has a job, and he is waiting to receive his SAT scores so he can apply to the University. I hope he gets in. Putting Angel in school will benefit him and society in general; in jail he was going nowhere.
I’m also scared for Angel. The way I look at it, Angel is here to start over. He has agreed to cut off all ties with his former friends. He is beginning a new life and attempting to create a positive environment for himself.
But because of all this attention Angel has been getting, I wonder if this opportunity will really be a fresh start. His face has been on television and his name in the paper a number of times. More importantly, the attention he has been getting has been more negative than positive. The words “former leader of the Latin Kings” have been more prevalent than the fact that Angel has graduated from high school. I fear that Angel will be the new “ex-gang member” on campus rather than Angel Hernandez, another Joe trying to better himself.
I first met Angel at a dance last month. While a group of us were talking at the entrance, a girl walked up and said, “Hey! Is that gang kid here?” Angel said nothing. It was an uncomfortable moment, but one of his new brothers played it off and said that Angel wasn’t around.
I hope that if Angel does attend this University next fall, he will not let the gawks and stares get him down. Do him a favor if you do recognize him on campus: Don’t point, just walk by and don’t make a scene. Or introduce yourself — he isn’t a bad person, and he won’t hurt you.
Royale Da’ is a University senior. She welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected].