Quilt block 5959, buried under a large bundle of several other quilt blocks, each varying in weight and theme. This quilt block, specifically, was much newer than the rest, the years on the quilt displayed short screenshots of people who lost their battle against HIV/AIDS throughout these last few decades, the meanings behind each carrying a heavy weight and small pieces of a persons life.
MICHAEL HERNANDEZ’s panel was positioned second from the left side on the top of quilt panel 5959. His name stitched in a familiarized Arial font, the date of his birth to the date of his death printed right below it, depicting the short-lived life this man had. A white canvas showing the simplicity of the entire work, perhaps, much like the life Michael Hernandez lead, was the main background of the panel.
On this white sheet, a hand stitched Arbol de los Milagros (the Miracle Tree) covered most of the sheet. An Arbol de los Milagros is a simple, yet impactful tree to those with Mexican roots. It is a tree people use to pray on objects– some made wishes and others made promising projections– for upcoming events that will be made on the tree to benefit those who are decorating it. Here the Arbol de los Milagros is stitched in a rainbow pride pattern, for the fact that Michael Hernandez was a man connected to the LGBTQ+ community. The addition of the pink in the pattern sets an entirely new feel for those who are viewing the quilt panel. It is not a symbol of plain happiness but one of pride for who and what this man stood for.
“Hanging” on this tree is the names of six of Michael’s blood sisters, one adopted brother, and both of his parents’ names. Irene, Janie, Bea, Irma, Sue, Tommie, and Paul—in that specific order running down the quilt from the top, each name placed carefully on a different branch—are already noted for being a big part of Michael’s life, simply by the fact that there aren’t very many decorations littered on his panel. His parents, after seeing they raised all eight of them on their own, were able to root the family down, hence their full names—Miguel and Olivia Hernandez– being placed closest to the bottom of the handcrafted tree.
Under further inspection of Michael Hernandez’s panel, a letter written to him from one of the creators of the quilt came to light. Johnnie Clarke, a friend and co-worker of Michael, left behind a quickly written note to accompany the simple quilt panel, leaving a short but hefty story of Michael Hernandez and the life he leads up until his death in 1995. In a rather sloppy form, Johnnie described Michael’s life and the foundations in which he dedicated his life’s work to.
Michael “Mike” Hernandez thrived in Dallas, Texas, a state predominately known for its majority of conservatives living there. This was an important note to keep, as the location in which he worked at was a center for those under the LGBTQ+ community, more specifically those dealing with HIV/AIDS themselves. Under the title of Foundation of Human Understanding, Michael advocated a change for those suffering the same disease as him. Despite the fact that Michael suffered as the others coming their doors did, he did not refuse to back down from the battle. He was dedicated heavily to his family and his work.
The Foundation of Human Understanding, having since changed its name twice, first to the Dallas Resource Center in 1998—three years after Michael’s death, before officially landing on a deconstructed version, Resource Center in 2013. This significant change in the foundation’s name reveals the amount of changes undergone in Dallas after Hernandez passed away. Another thing the name change reveals is the time period of when the quilt was made for Michael, that being between 1998 and 2013, while it was still known as the Dallas Resource Center.
Within the span of 15 years, Michael Hernandez’s legacy continued to live on through his closest friends and family after his death, his impact touched the lives of many within and throughout the LGBTQ+ community as well.
Michael “Mike” Hernandez’s portion in the AIDS quilt is one of the newer editions to the NAMES Project, an addition for his family, friends, and to those studying the massive quilt could capture insight on small traditions and the life style of a regular man, living in Dallas, Texas fighting through the astigmatism and prejudice of the queer community. Acceptance for both people dealing with AIDS and being queer is not that great, but it has definitely changed a lot since Hernandez last walked this earth. Seeing a man coming from both ends, working to make the difference that long ago makes all the difference as to why it was created. His quilt depicted change for a better, healthier tomorrow.