Josh Fernandez’s Fascinating New Memoir “The Hands that Crafted the Bomb” Why diversity training has it wrong, the benefits of being a straight-edge kid, and an excerpt

By: Laura Moreno

Josh Fernandez is a multi-talented man with an artist’s eye. His first book, “The Hands That Crafted the Bomb,” was released this week by PM Press. It is perhaps the most fascinating memoir since Errol Flynn’s 1959 autobiography “My Wicked, Wicked Ways,” documenting his own string of extraordinary experiences.

Like Flynn, Fernandez has written a memoir powered by raw honesty and the intellectual ability to step back and view his life ironically. It takes a real man to be honest about oneself.

Satan worshipers sometimes confuse him as one of them, but he is not. He wears his tattoos ironically, the way some used to wear the flag back before 9-11. “Sometimes I forget that I’m covered in Satanic tattoos,” he writes “It makes me laugh when I see them reflected at me… On the first day of class, my students always gasp. They’re horrified… What does that tattoo mean?… It means nothing, I think. None of this does.”

At the community college where he is a professor, students consider him nothing short of a lifesaver, and “one of the only LGBTQ community allies on campus.” Fernandez even launched a GoFundMe campaign for a student who didn’t have a computer. And soon he was able to present her with a new Apple laptop. He writes, “Lakeisha started crying, and I cried too. We stood in the faculty lounge crying together for a second.”

Fernandez speaks for many talented public school students when he enumerates the harm of being stuck with less than inspiring teachers. “The idea of education was poisoning my mind until I had to remove myself as a form of self-preservation. There’s nothing here for me, I thought. I’m not meant for this. I was traumatized by my education.”

Many young people in California have a particularly difficult time as compared with the rest of the country, constantly sabotaged by endless things, including drugs. Our education system has no respect for the needs or even the dignity of students.
Much of this memoir covers the pernicious racism that manifests as street violence even as it ignores, as Fernandez writes, that Africans sold their own into slavery, actually, and many free Blacks and Native Americans and others owned slaves too.

“The Hands That Crafted the Bomb” details the year Fernandez found himself under investigation for “soliciting students for potentially dangerous activities” as part of an antifa club he founded on-campus, an accusation he stood firm against and eventually beat.

Hernandez spoke with Adelante Magazine about a few relevant topics.

Laura Moreno: Diversity training — truly a twisted way of putting “whites” at the top of hierarchy; the most subtle, yet total condescension possible. Is that what you see, too?
Josh Fernandez: I thought I was crazy when I started calling into question the diversity-hungry administration at my school, because, at its core, it sounds good. Who doesn’t want more diversity?

But once I realized that the institution only wants the buzzwords, disassociated from any action, then the mandatory diversity and equity trainings began to feel like punishment.

Imagine me, a Mexican, sitting through a diversity training with a bunch of crying white people, atoning for all their racial sins. It’s horrifying.

When the option to skip these trainings is taken away, then a punitive process begins. This punitive process mirrors the police state in which we live, in which the institution criticizes with all its buzzwords. They don’t seem to understand the irony. They do, however, take all the money the state gives them for diversity initiatives.

Were you a straight-edge kid? What did that mean to you?
For me, straight-edge was the ultimate rebellion. I was a rebel because I was a punk, but within the punk scene, I was a rebel because I was straight-edge. Little did I know, being straight-edge helped me in my quest to remove Nazi skinheads from the scene.

Physical confrontation works better when you have a clear head. It wasn’t until I stopped being straight-edge and I fell off my path of principles that I began to long for sobriety almost like you’d long for a dead family member. When I got sober, I once again declared myself straight-edge. I think that’s against the rules, but I don’t follow rules anyway.

I love the photo of you with the crucifix in the background. And you quote the best part of Song of Solomon, “Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth, your love is better than wine.” So I gotta ask. What is your spirituality now, if any?
I have no God, no spirituality. My students who are locked away at the prison are often surprised by this fact. They wonder how a man who spends his time voluntarily teaching murderers and junkies in a prison can be without a God.

I don’t have a good answer. Maybe it’s that I find my spirituality in things that aren’t spiritual: Running, fighting, sparring, writing … Or maybe it’s that those things are inherently spiritual.

Maybe the church has it all wrong. There is no deity. There is only the movement of the body and the intimate connection between human beings.
Excerpt on the birth of Fernandez’s first-born son:
“When our son, Ezra, is born, I stand in the hospital, the morning light splitting the room into abrupt angles, a clear delineation of light and dark, weeping at the sight of our baby boy resting like a tiny bear on Crystal’s breasts while she kisses his tiny head.

He makes an easy exit. He’s an easy boy. He probably won’t make trouble for anyone.

I don’t know if I’m crying because he’s so cute, like a fuzzy bear cub, or because he was born to an unworthy father—an addict, a thief, a liar, a thug, a loser. It’s probably a little of both. I’m still crying when the nurse offers me the scissors.

I look at the jagged scar on my palm from when I sliced my hand open trying to cut a bagel, the knife sliding easily into my palm, blood pouring out of the gash. I had no insurance or any money, so I chugged the rest of a bottle of Jack Daniels, heated a needle until it glowed orange, and sewed the bloody flaps of skin with black thread, tears of pain rolling down my cheeks. When I finished sewing, I held my hand up to the light, and a wave of drunken pride ripped through my body. I gave myself stitches. I fixed myself without the help of a hospital.”

“The Hands that Crafted the Bomb” by Josh Fernandez, PM Press, $22.95. pmpress.org