Mixed Media on Canvas
24" x 72"
Collection of the Latino Living Center, Cornell University,
When there is everything to fear, be unafraid
When surrounded by dangers fear none of them
When without resources, depend on resourcefulness
When surprised, take the enemy by surprise
Quien Se Queda is a work that was inspired by my participation
in the 1993 student occupation of Day Hall, the administration building
at Cornell University. I created it for an exhibit I did at Willard Straight
Hall's Gallery on Cornell's campus, which coincided with the 10 year anniversary
of the takeover. I was 18 at the time, and it was my first experience
participating in such a protest. We were threatened with being expelled
from the University. Hours after the sit-in turned into an occupation,
the university cut off the phone service from the building and positioned
campus police on nearby rooftops to watch the activities in and outside
of the building. By that evening we had other students and Ithaca residents
smuggling food and supplies into the building for over 200 of us. As the
four-day occupation progressed, and especially after the administration
threatened to expel us, students began to sneak out of the building. We
had been locked in by the police to prevent any traffic in or out of the
building. At one point our numbers fell down to about 75 and we began
to fear that they could take us out by force. We had to figure out how
to get our numbers back up, but more importantly how to allow any students
who doubted their commitment to the occupation, the opportunity to leave.
The result was that we had all the participants line up on a third floor
hallway in Day Hall, which was the center of activity during the occupation.
Everyone closed their eyes to allow those students who wanted to leave
the ability to do so without feeling pressured by their peers. This became
one of the most tense moments during that takeover. With our eyes closed,
those of us who chose to stay had to conjure the strength to do so and
risk being expelled for the purpose of asserting our presence on that
campus and to improve resources for Latino students to follow. (For more
info on what strategies we used later to get our numbers back up, the
causes and results of the occupation, email
The painting depicts that scene in the hallway and its title “¿Quien
se queda?” or “Who stays?” has a double meaning. Not
only does it reference those who stayed during the Day Hall Takeover in
1993, but also those who after receiving their degrees stay true to activism.
My observation has been that campuses become hotbeds for political activism.
Access to information, and our history coupled with the isolation of being
away from our communities usually breeds political activism. We must remember
however that the university, the institution, is a microcosm of the greater
system/ society we live in. The purpose of such universities is to breed
folks who can work to continue perpetuating the state of this system.
The competition that we find as students is only indicative of the individualism
that is characteristic of the capitalism that makes the US tick. So it’s
not uncommon to find a student activist forget his/her mission once a
degree has been received and a high salary has been achieved.
There were many factors that contributed to the actual occupation. One
particular catalyst however was an installation of Chicano artist Daniel
J. Martinez. His work, designed to question privilege and its place on
an Ivy-League campus was successful is disrupting the usual flow that
privileged people take for granted. As a result, his piece and the entire
campus became a forum for ethnic slurs such as “Kill the Illegals”
and “Bean Eaters Go Home”. The red text across my painting
(and listed before these paragraphs) is taken from a fax that Daniel J.
sent us in support of our efforts during the takeover. He had also sent
out press releases to the media. The collage around the image are all
press clippings from around the country, on the Day Hall Takeover. In
November of 2004, I gave the piece as a gift to the Latino Living Center
at Cornell University. The LLC, as the center of the Latino community
at Cornell was one of the resources that came about as a result of the
Takeover, or in other words it was on our list of demands, one that was
met by the University. The piece is hanging in its community lounge as
a reminder of what students have done to secure fair access to resources
on that campus.
© Copyright 2003
-15, Yasmin Hernandez. Under no circumstances should any of the images
or content of this site be downloaded, printed or reproduced without direct
permission from the artist.