Welcome Daniel Hernandez (Twitter) and Host Teddy Partridge (FDL)

They Call Me A Hero: A Memoir of My Youth

I’m delighted to host today’s Book Salon with Daniel Hernandez, whose early first response saved Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ life in Tucson more than two years ago. Parts of this book are hard to read, particularly Daniel’s evocative first chapters about the shooting itself.

It’s also amazing to think that this tragedy happened more than two years ago. How far we’ve come since then — and how many other tragedies like this one have occured! And yet, no action’s been taken to mitigate any of the circumstances that allowed it. Reading the first chapters, about the shooting and its immediate aftermath, brings back difficult emotions: I remember vividly that we all had heard that the Congresswoman had died. Besides my feelings for her family, friends, and constituents, I remember thinking that day, “Well, surely now, Congress will do something about these gun massacres.”

Daniel Hernandez evokes that difficult day quite eloquently; he takes you right into the hospital, where he waited for hours simply for word of his friend Gabby’s medical status, where his own family knew only the sketchiest details, and where we learn than when you’re part of a crime scene, you can’t change out of your blood-drenched clothes until you’re told to.

Daniel does a remarkable job of taking us inside that day, which none of us would hope to be inside of, ever. He recalls his specific feelings and frustrations at being at the absolute center of the event, but knowing little about its outcome. And then, in an avalanche of media attention, he describes how he undertook an overwhelming 215 interviews by the day of the memorial service in Tucson. There he met President Obama and the First Lady. There his iconic media status was cemented by that hug from the President, who said to him, moments after announcing to a cheering crowd that he had just come from Gabby Giffords’ hospital bedside, where she’d opened her eyes for the first time: “And, Daniel, I’m sorry, you may deny it, but we’ve decided you are a hero, because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive.”

Thus began the journey of a young man who became an icon for so many: a gay, Hispanic student intern who ran toward danger to save a Congresswoman shot in the line of duty and ended up sitting with the First Lady at the State of the Union. In this book, Daniel Hernandez takes us behind his iconic status, though, and shares with us the joys, and troubles and challenges, of growing up gay and Hispanic, and not-rich, in America.

His isn’t an unusual story, it’s certainly repeated all across America every day, and yet when events intervened, he answered the call. It’s very encouraging to know people will do this, step up when they must, and apply their training to a situation none of us can imagine. Learn more about Daniel Hernandez and his extraordinary but ordinary American life as we chat with him over the next two hours about his Memoir of My Youth.

 

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

53 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Daniel Hernandez, They Call Me A Hero: A Memoir of My Youth”

BevW March 24th, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Daniel, Welcome to the Lake.

Teddy, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

For our new readers/commenters:
To follow along, you will have to refresh your browser:
PC = F5 key, MAC = Command+R keys

If you want to ask a question
– just type it in the Leave Your Response box & Submit Comment.


If you are responding to a comment – use the Reply button under the number, then type your response in the box, Submit Comment.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Good day, and welcome Daniel Hernandez to FDL Book Salon!

To get things started:

When did you realize that your role in the events that morning were going to change your life? At what point during the intense media attention did you know that things weren’t going to settle down for a while?

dakine01 March 24th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Good afternoon Daniel and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Hey Teddy!

Daniel, I have not read your book but do have a question/comment and please forgive me if you address this in the book. Can you recall what your initial thoughts were during the shooting?

I have to say that one of my hopes has always been that if I am confronted with a situation that might require a quick response, that I would respond appropriately. You did. That’s why we consider you a hero.

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Teddy and Bev! Thanks so much for having me I’m very excited to be here for FDL Book Salon.

Elliott March 24th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Welcome to Lake Daniel

It’s a pleasure to have you here. Can’t begin to imagine all you’ve been through. So happy that she survived.

Hard to believe we are still losing the fight on reasonable gun “safety” measures even now, even after the Sandy Hook massacre

cherwell March 24th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

greetings from the ATL, Daniel. what a treat to have you at FDL book salon today with such a timely topic, especially given the recent tragedy in Brunswick, Georgia.

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:01 pm
In response to Teddy Partridge @ 2

The moment that I realized that my life was going to change forever wasn’t that morning or even immediately afterwards. I was hoping that I’d be able to get away with not ever being a public figure. I was hoping that I would be to remain anonymous. I’m someone who has always shied from attention. I always was more comfortable being in the back ground as a staffer. But hours after the shooting happened I was told by C.J. Karamargin then Congresswoman Giffords Communications Director that he had been approached with a request to interview me. The reason he said was because a freelance photographer named Jim Palka had captured a photo of me walking alongside the stretcher with Rep. Giffords into the ambulance. That picture was being shown in an attempt to locate the “Hero” who had been with Rep. Giffords.

By the third day after the shooting I’d done over 200 interviews in English and Spanish on multiple different mediums and it was a week later when I realized that we were going to be having a memorial in the Tucson at the University of Arizona where the president would be speaking. I was also asked if I would be comfortable addressing the crowd and told to expect several hundred press and thousands of people present. It was then that it clicked that this wouldn’t be just a “Tucson” event.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:04 pm

That is an amazing number of interviews, and of course you couldn’t know it was happening, with all of us seeing that single picture of you walking alongside the Congresswoman to the ambulance. Your book really illustrated for me the difference between being outside these type of events, as a “consumer” of the news, and being in the maelstrom itself.

What has been your family’s reaction to the sudden heroism and stardom that hit you after that day in Tucson?

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

Dakine01,

It is addressed in the book in a bit more detail but my immediate thoughts were to remember what had happened that morning. Gabe Zimmerman the community Outreach Director for Rep. Giffords had told me “If you see anything suspicious let me know”. I’d also thought about the fact that Arizona had recently started allowing fireworks to be sold. And for a split second I had thought it might be fireworks. But by the second and third bang I realized it was something so much more serious. And then someone yelled the word “Gun”

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to Elliott @ 5

Elliott,

I wouldn’t necessarily agree that we are losing the debate on Gun Safety. I think right now we are at a pivotal point and we see potentially a big vote happening on background checks in the next couple of weeks. I would urge you all to visit http://www.demandaction.org/ and call your two Senators and Representatives and urge them to support universal background checks.

BearCountry March 24th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Daniel, probably your fast action saved her life. It is wonderful that nobody with a gun came running up to be a hero and “save” her from the obvious attacker who was bending over her.

cherwell March 24th, 2013 at 2:13 pm
In response to Teddy Partridge @ 8

Daniel — you have spent a large part of your short life with a commitment to community service. Do you feel that the lack of connection, participation in our local communities, neighbors not knowing one, people texting vs. engaging in face-to-face activities, etc. is a component to the unrivaled gun violence of our country?

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

It is simply remarkable to me, and it must be even more so for you, that it’s been more than two years since Tucson — and we haven’t seen any completed action yet at the federal level. During the time that day when all of us thought the Congresswoman was gone, I remember thinking to myself, “well, surely this will move Congress to act.” And yet, through all of Gabby’s struggles to heal, her visits to the floor of the House, and subsequent events: we’re only as far as we are.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to BearCountry @ 11

If I recall correctly, there was an armed citizen who was taking aim as he came around the corner in the parking lot, and who came within moments of shooting the person who’d taken the gun from the shooter.

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:14 pm
In response to Teddy Partridge @ 8

At times the reaction of my family has been befuddled amusement at myself and occasionally them being recognized in public and at other times fear. The loss of anonymity and also the kind of negative attention that you start to receive when you become a public figure. From death threats to people protesting me at Gay Pride events.

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:16 pm
In response to cherwell @ 6

It’s awful but the fact is that every day 34 Americans are dying because of Gun Violence. While this book is not exclusively about this I’m saddened to consistently see this become a “timely” thing because of mass shootings. Even just this week at my university there was a report of a gun man and the campus was shut down for hours.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I did like your sisters’ reactions when speaking with the press. I’ll let people discover those in the book. It was a funny commentary on what happens when a family member becomes famous: he’s still our brother.

I’m really sorry about the death threats. I don’t know what people are thinking in America today. I guess we’ve always had a frontier mentality, but how does someone ‘deserve’ death threats for saving a Congresswoman’s life, exactly? I don’t have any comprehension of the mental process involved there.

Which brings me to another question, I guess:

Is it harder to be a role model for young Hispanic men or for young gay men today, in Arizona?

Elliott March 24th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

thanks

cherwell March 24th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

thanks for the reply. tragically, we just had a teenager shoot a 13-month-old baby to death.

Daniel — you have spent a large part of your short life with a commitment to community service. Do you feel that the lack of connection, participation in our local communities, neighbors not knowing one, people texting vs. engaging in face-to-face activities, etc. is a component to the unrivaled gun violence of our country?

Elliott March 24th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

that’s a shame about the negative side
but do you feel empowered to pursue a career in electoral politics?

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

There was indeed an armed person at the scene. It reminds me of the awful and insensitive press conference that was held by Wayne La Pierre of the NRA. He stated that day only a week after the Sandyhook tragedy. He mentioned “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” As we saw in Tucson merely having a gun is not enough. From Columbine, to Fort Hood, and also at Virginia Tech tragedies there was people present with guns.

Kelly Canfield March 24th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Greetings! Glad to see your book on today and Hello Teddy!

Now why on earth would people protest you at Pride events?

Peterr March 24th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Welcome Daniel!

I enjoyed your book a great deal, particularly the personal little notes that never make it into interviews and such. For example, I loved the chapter you called “My Mother’s List” — that being the list of awards and honors you have been given. It struck me as such a “mom” thing! I could imagine her as a proud mother, saying “You can be as humble as you want about all this, but you’re my son and I’m going to keep track of every single one of these.”

Did you know she was keeping track of these all along, or did you learn about it after the list had been going for a while?

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

That’s an interesting questions. I often have that kind of existential crisis of what am I more of? Latino or Gay? But just as I can’t extricate from one identity over an another. I can’t say which is more difficult. But I think the important thing for me is to be a visible presence in both communities. When we look at the most recent polling the old perceived notion of Latinos not being in support of the Equality is no longer the fact. I feel it is important to be visible and proud of both to show that people can be well adjusted and successful members of both communities. That was one of the main reasons that I wrote this book. As I traveled around the country I kept hearing from people about the severe lack of Latino and LGBT Role Models.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

And look how they are attacked! I couldn’t believe the Ricky Martin “Hell’s Ambassador” stuff that came out just last week — here’s a guy who just wants to love his kid, and he gets that kind of crap for it. Not from other Latinos, but from people looking to create division within the communities.

You’re right to stand up for both.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Daniel, your travels must be very exciting nowadays. Does your school board meeting schedule allow you a lot of time for going to meet folks? When you talk to young people about your life, what do they ask you the most?

Phoenix Woman March 24th, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Hello, Daniel! Welcome to the Lake — and thank you for coming here.

I was interested to see you mention in the book that one local reporter wanted to try and turn you into a cringing, mentally-troubled victim in the wake of the shooting. How has the press overall handled this story? Anyone you want to single out for praise or chiding?

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:44 pm
In response to Kelly Canfield @ 22

Kelly one of my funniest stories is being at a pride event as a grand marshall I had group of folks outside of the festival with signs with my face on posters with a big red x saying “God Hates F*gs”. I decided to go up to them and engage them and ask them why they felt it was okay to say things like that. They were so dumbfounded they didn’t know how to react. I’ve never been one to allow bullies of any kind. I’ve always found it helpful to engage them.

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
In response to Peterr @ 23

Peterr,

It is totally a mom thing! My mother thought it best to not tell me about the list until it was “complete” She also wanted to be able to put them up at home once she had all the awards. My mother enjoys showing them to my little nieces and nephews which for me is important because it shows them positive role models and also that regardless of your circumstances you can be empowered to do good things for your community.

BearCountry March 24th, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I think your view is correct: that just having a gun doesn’t guarantee anything, certainly not getting the bad guy before he gets you. IIRC, there were four police officers in Seattle, 3 men and 1 woman, at a donut shop table. They were all killed by one gunman.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 2:50 pm

That is such a great story, Daniel — those people thought of you as a public person they could put up on their posters, and it probably never occurred to them that you were an actual, living, breathing human being who might speak with them and question their choices. You are brave to do that.

I’m sure they were dumbfounded — dumb is their trademark, those “God Hates…” folks.

Kelly Canfield March 24th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Ahh, the WBC gang. Figures.

I’m sincerely glad it wasn’t other gay folk; thought for a moment it might have been.

And Teddy is right saying: “You’re right to stand up for both.” Because it really shouldn’t be an existential question at all, and hey, defying identity politics can be fun.

I could see you thinking about a gay bigot situation “A la v, ellos son tan pinche” and about a latino bigot situation “Snap!”

Trying to divide us, in any way, is just that – trying to divide.

BearCountry March 24th, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Yes, I thought I remembered something along those lines. The “good guy” with a gun may start shooting before determining exactly what is going on. The desire to be a hero with a gun seems to be a strong impulse.

BearCountry March 24th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Good move that we should all keep in mind for many circumstances.

Peterr March 24th, 2013 at 2:59 pm

I’m a pastor, and I’ve had my church picketed by them at various times. My favorite story came from one hot August day when they were out on the sidewalk, and one of the church ushers brought them lemonade. They were dumbfounded — thankful for the lemonade, but bewildered by the gesture. I can imagine them thinking “Is it OK to drink lemonade given to you by the devil?”

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Oh, and I didn’t mention it in my introduction, but you should totally buy this book. It is particularly apt for any young people you know who might be questioning what direction life is going to take for them, not only as to sexual orientation but generally.

I found it to be very inspirational, and I think it would provide a very neat template for a young person casting about for some guidance about ‘what next?’

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Daniel, your travels must be very exciting nowadays. Does your school board meeting schedule allow you a lot of time for going to meet folks? When you talk to young people about your life, what do they ask you the most?

I love being able to be on the school board. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life. But it is the most painful and rewarding thing in my life. Painful because I live in a state that doesn’t value education. That being said the nice thing is a lot of my work can be done remotely but I’m very cautious to avoid scheduling travel on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month which are the days I have my board meetings.

Peterr March 24th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Go Mom!

At the end of that chapter, you mention turning down an invitation to an event in New York, because you had already accepted an invitation from the daughter-in-law of Judge Rolls to speak at the school where she taught. I was pleased to see that, in that with all the attention given to Gabby Giffords, sometimes it seems as if the others are lost to the media.

Did you know Judge Rolls prior to the attack, or is it only through the “framily” that you’ve come to connect with his family?

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:13 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 27

Working with the press has been an interesting experience. I don’t think I’d like to point out anyone out for chiding. But I do think I have helped serve as a reminder that these “stories” are more than just that. They are instead about humans and we oftentimes have to remind reporters in the midst of a tragedy that this not a faceless nameless person this is a human being and they deserve to be treated with compassion and respect.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 3:17 pm

Daniel, do you get to see the Congresswoman and her family? Your vignettes with her in the book are very touching; you two share a very special bond now.

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to Peterr @ 35

I’m always of the mindset of “Kill them with kindness”. Never of course allow yourself to be in a situation where you are in an abusive place. But always be willing to act as a teacher. I’ve found a lot of times people are hateful because they are miss or ill informed.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Not unlike me, though, you have what might be termed a formidable physical presence. Without engaging it in any way, it acts as a barrier for those of us so gifted.

Dearie March 24th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Daniel, thanks for being here to share with us. What are you up to now, and what are your plans for the future? How have your life plans changed since that sad day in Tucson?

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Daniel, do you get to see the Congresswoman and her family? Your vignettes with her in the book are very touching; you two share a very special bond now.

I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like but most of that is my fault. I’m on the school board and I travel often so it’s hard to coordinate schedules but I hope we’ll be able to each other more often in the future!

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:34 pm
In response to Dearie @ 43

Dearie,

I am traveling around the country and speaking to different groups so if you’re ever in the need of a speaker let me know! But my biggest task right now is being on the school board in Tucson.

My plans dramatically changed in some respects and barely in others. On the dramatic side it changed because I never thought I’d be in elected office. I always thought I’d be on the staff side in the back ground so it has been an interesting experience to be the one up in front but I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to serve in a new capacity. And that for me has always been the most important thing. Public service is at the core of who I am.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Daniel, what was it like working with a writing partner? How did you and Susan Goldman Rubin develop the book? Were you in the same place, or did she interview you? We always find authors’ processes interesting here at Book Salon, which is why I ask about your collaboration.

Dearie March 24th, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Daniel, I actually went to college in Tucson and did my student teaching at Tucson High School back in the late 1960s. Everyone seemed to be accepting back in those days. Well rich versus poor, but that was the most I noted. I’ve been dismayed to see how Arizona has gone so anti-immigrant (seemingly anti-Hispanic, actually.) Shocking, really.

Are you well received on the School Board? And has there been any change in the Hispanic studies brouhaha?

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Daniel, what was it like working with a writing partner? How did you and Susan Goldman Rubin develop the book? Were you in the same place, or did she interview you? We always find authors’ processes interesting here at Book Salon, which is why I ask about your collaboration.

Writing this book with Susan was an amazing experience. She is someone who is so well respected that it was an honor to be teamed up with her for this project.

But it was something that took some getting used to for me. I’m used to always just speaking or writing and putting out a final product with no opportunities for editing. So having to write and do multiple drafts was an interesting and at times frustrating experience. I like to be done and having to think about word choice and structure constantly drove me up the wall but allowed me to have a new found respect for authors who do this on a regular basis.

We did three in person interviews that were very prolonged but most of the work was done over the phone and by email. It was before I was on the school board so my travel schedule was even more chaotic than it is now so it would have been impossible for me to do alot of it in person.

I think it was also an interesting and new experience for Susan who had never worked with a living subject. All here other books were about people who had passed away and she had to look back at who they were by talking to their friends and loved ones where as with me she asked me directly. And sometimes we would have funny conversations as she tried to learn more about my voice.

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Are you well received on the School Board? And has there been any change in the Hispanic studies brouhaha?

Being on the school board I think the biggest challenge was not that I was Hispanic but that I was so young. In the book I detail my years of experience on education policy at the state capitol but it is still at times a bit unnerving to have a “21 year old boss”. My district has had many challenges but the biggest as a minority majority district is how do we provide the best services with an ever shrinking budget. We are a state that has reduced education funding by 21.8% more than any other in last 5 years.

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

Well, you two produced a wonderful book together. When you write another one, I hope you’ll consider working with her again, because together you captured something very special. The narrative of The Day made me cry all over again, as I remembered my emotions hearing that Gabby Giffords had died. I cannot imagine going through what you did, not knowing for so many hours what had happened to her.

One thing I might suggest about your speaking schedule — you might consider having a website where you keep track of your upcoming events, that way people can check in to see if you’re coming to their area. Several authors I know do this, and it is really helpful. By the way, do you plan to come to Portland anytime soon? Our Powells bookstore (only a couple of blocks from me!) is wonderful for author events.

BevW March 24th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon discussion,

Daniel, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and your life.

Teddy, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Daniel’s Twiter website and book

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Daniel Hernandez March 24th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

That’s very kind of you to say! I hope to get a chance to work with her again at some point.

I do have website http://www.danielhernandezjr.org we don’t currently have a calendar but I do think it’s a great idea and I’ll work on getting that added. I don’t know of any plans yet but maybe let a local university or community college that you’d like to have me come! I’d love to meet you in person.

Also if people would like to find out about where I am and what I’m working on I would ask that they follow me on twitter! @djblp

Teddy Partridge March 24th, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Daniel, thank you so very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us for two hours! I’ve really enjoyed “meeting” you and hope we’ll hear more about your accomplishments as time goes by.

Folks, do buy this book! It is a wonderfully inspiring story and gives the reader an amazing glimpse inside the media whirlwind of an event like this one. Daniel treats the whole thing very respectfully and seriously, and I think anyone reading this book will understand that great things await him in life.

Thanks to all who came by for our chat today!

Sorry but the comments are closed on this post