Chameleon, New York City
Who expects a woman to be just one thing anymore? Plenty a' folks unfortunately... When I met Lyana we were sitting around a board room at a training session in the ER asking questions. This woman is tough, I thought, I want to be paired up with her! "Bitches get stuff done", said Tina Fey once. Lots and lots of stuff. Although Lyana and I don't live in the same city, I've been following array of interests and angles to this lady's existence. Corporate cape by day turns into scuba tank on weekends, actors stage on weeknights and spirited activist's pen come out any time of day inspiration for activism hits (which these days plenty). With the latest WOW Woman feature I flick a light on my friend Lyana Fernandez.
2. Where is your hometown?
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
I’m an Executive Assistant by day and an Activist, Actor and Joker (Forum Theatre Facilitator) by night.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (career wise)? When was the mental shift to start the journey?
At some point during the year after I received my Fine Arts degree at NYU, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d likely never reach a point where I could support myself solely as a working actress. I just didn’t have the patience or endurance to scrape by on odd jobs so as to make myself available for recurring cattle calls and auditions. So after graduation I went to work as an office receptionist, then as an assistant at a public relations company, before I decided to take a year and a half off and live abroad in Japan as an English teacher. Japan enchanted me, and living in a culture that was so demonstrably different from my own changed my perspective on how to interact with the world. I could finally embrace how multifaceted I was instead of feeling I had to commit to just one aspect of my life and run with it – but I didn’t have to feel like a sell-out simply for wanting to have a job that could afford me a reasonably comfortable existence, either. Not long after I returned to the U.S., I began working at my current job in the finance industry, where I’ve been for 11 years. It’s been good enough to me that I’ve been able to dedicate my free time to giving back to my community in various ways – and which brought me back full circle, since one of the ways I’ve given back was by returning to acting for a non-profit arts and social justice theatre group, where I now work part time.
5. Biggest accomplishment since making the (physical/mental) move?
Two come to mind: having served as a volunteer Advocate for survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence at Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies (DOVE) at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for four years; and becoming a host and co-director with People’s Theater Project, a Washington Heights-based arts and social justice organization that creates bilingual plays based on their community volunteer actors’ experiences with social justice issues. Both have given me a keen understanding and appreciation for my community, its often limited resources, and the enormous resolve and creativity of my friends and neighbors to help each other and combat the challenges that face them.
6. What was biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
Like most other people I know, I’m deeply disheartened by the current president and his administration, as well as what I see as a rise in nationalist and fascist movements here in the U.S. and parts of Europe. To see so many proposed cuts to healthcare and social services programs, as well attacks on and legal measures against immigrants, is especially difficult in light of the work I’ve done with assault and violence survivors. Sometimes it feels as if for every step forward we take two steps back. But for all its downsides I feel that connectivity on social media is restorative because it reminds me on a daily basis that I’m not alone, and that there are myriad ways in which I can take up the cause of resistance. The sheer number of civic action groups that have popped up in my community is invigorating and gives me plenty of reasons to keep up the struggle for justice and not get caught up in despair.
7. Advice for other women?
Travel as much as you can, by yourself at least some of the time, and make time and room to get to know people from every place you go. It will strengthen your compassion, broaden your understanding, and forge your sense of independence. If you’re young, don’t let other people impose their expectations on you or dictate your personal timeline. You don’t have to have your life figured out by age 18 or your secondary school graduation or any other perceived milestone set upon you by society. As I get older, I’ve found that the goals I’ve felt proudest of achieving are the ones I’ve worked towards at my own instinctive pace.
8. Where in the world do you feel “tallest”?
“Tallest” is an interesting choice of words since I only measure 157 centimeters! The answer would have to be onstage, though. I’m sure most people who know me would tell you that I love a spotlight. Whether it’s singing or acting, nothing is as thrilling to me as performing for an audience or the transformative power of words and music when I’m doing it.
9. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
Right now, I’m proudest of having learned how to scuba dive just last year. It wasn’t anything I’d given a moment’s thought to before I was invited to try it by a cousin of mine on an impulse while I was on holiday in Cuba last May, and I just fell in love with the experience. Now that I have my diving license it’s opened up a whole new lot of travel destinations for me that I hadn’t thought of visiting before. It’s very gratifying to discover something you’re passionate about quite by accident like that. It’s like you’re a house, discovering there is this room that has been left in the dark that you never even knew you contained, and then suddenly flicking on the light switch.
10. What is the future goal/challenge (career and/or life goals in 5-10 years)?
I’d really like to live abroad again, and for a longer period of time. My insatiable wanderlust and the wearying political climate of the U.S. have me longing for saner places to spend my time. In terms of career goals, I think I’d like to continue exploring where acting and activism intersect. Know Your Rights training workshops, civic action teach-ins, and support groups all present an incredible opportunity to use theater as a mechanism for instruction, group therapy, and social change, and I believe there is a demand for a theater company of actors that can create plays for this purpose.
11. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
I’ve never tried my hand at public storytelling or spoken word, which is entirely different from acting. For me, it’s a lot easier to embody other characters, or even to play host, than to simply represent yourself in front of other people but I’d like to give it a shot someday. Apart from that, the prospect of romantic partnership seems overwhelming for me because I’ve been alone for so long. If someone compatible enters my life I’d like to believe I’ll be flexible and accommodating enough to adapt to them but it will be challenging to navigate those changes to my lifestyle.
12. Anything you'd do differently (if you had another go at life)?
I sincerely have no regrets, but if I had to do it all again I’d learn at least one more language and live in another part of the world than I currently do.
13. What inspires you?
Art does. And stories of human resilience. I think that’s why I know and love so many artists, because some of the best art is the product of people’s need to process their own pain or sense of peril in the face of all the world has thrown at them.
14. What are you hopeful about?
The progressive activism and sustained resistance that’s been building around the world in response to totalitarianism. The growing awareness of, pride in, and defense of the heritage, histories, and culture of people of color in the U.S. Despite all the troubling things happening in the world right now, I believe young people growing up today are at an advantage for being exposed to these wonderful movements so prevalent today. I’m very excited for what they will accomplish.
15. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I’m finishing Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and enjoying it very much. As for my favorites, I love historical fiction, travel writing anthologies, and historical biographies. Though lately most of the books I’ve been gifting tend to be baby and preschool reading books for my friends’ children.
16. Who is a “WOW Woman” in your life who inspires you (and why)?
This is such a difficult question to answer as there are so many women I’m continually in awe of, but a woman I’ve become friends with in recent years, Cynthia Cherish Malaran, comes to mind. She is a woman of color who has survived cancer, abuse, and serious injury and has transformed herself into a radio host, motivational speaker, and world-travelling DJ. She’s exceedingly talented and has demonstrated that you can live a life beyond your wildest dreams not in spite, but because of, unimaginable difficulty. I hope to see her profiled on Wow Women one day! You can learn more about her at http://djcherishtheluv.com/.
17. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?
On Facebook, on Tumblr under Lolitapop09, and on Instagram and Twitter under Lolitapop9. Also at the People’s Theatre Project website at www.peoplestheatreproject.org.