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Joe Hernandez-Kolski discusses identity, loneliness and failure during Hispanic Heritage Month show


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Joe Hernandez-Kolski dances to the song, "Single Ladies," during his Hispanic Heritage Month show Oct. 3 in Bovee University Center Auditorium.

Despite the fact that his subject matter was deeply emotional, personal and at times sad, Bovee University Center Auditorium was filled with laughter the entire hour Joe Hernandez-Kolski was on stage Thursday night. 

The actor, poet and comedian visited Central Michigan University as part of the university's Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. 

Hernandez-Kolski described his struggles with identity and provided some words of wisdom through personal stories, poetry, music and dance. 

Growing up, Hernandez-Kolski struggled with his identity. 

"Being half-Mexican and half-Polish, means (I have) white privilege with a side of street-cred," he joked.

When he was 12, he visited Mexico to discover his culture. 

"The thing about being half-Latino," Hernandez-Kolski said, "you very often feel like you're not Latino enough."

 When he got to college, he saw other people who were half-Latino – people who were just like him – that were also struggling to find their place. That's when he learned that his struggle with identity is something everybody deals with at some point.

Grand Rapids sophomore Sam Racalla said Hernandez-Kolski's stories were relatable. He enjoyed hearing about Hernandez-Kolski's experiences in college, learning to fit in and advice for talking to girls. It struck a chord with everyone in the room, Racalla said.

Beside the humor, Hernandez-Kolski shared moments of vulnerability with the audience. His poem, "Dear Future Wife," started out humorous, describing what he imagines his future bride will be like. However, the poem takes a more somber turn as he reflects on the loneliness he feels without his mother, who died years earlier.

Grand Haven sophomore Ayebah Wilson, said that poem her favorite part of the show. She liked that it was funny, but also had emotional moments that captured the audience's attention.

Hernandez-Kolski's provided some tips for the audience. He stressed the importance of being patient with yourself, not being afraid because everyone else is too, drinking lots of coffee and most importantly, learning how to fail.

"Fail, and when you're done failing, fail even more." said Hernandez-Kolski. "If you're not good enough yet, you're not at the end of your road." 

He said the only way to move forward is by taking a leap of faith and being willing to fail. To prove his point, he dared a student in the audience to take a chance and ask someone on a date in front of the entire auditorium. A young man stood up and took that chance. He asked the girl next to him, who had been hanging out with him for a while, if she wanted to go on a date. When she said yes, the entire auditorium erupted into applause.

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