Alumnus Walter Thompson-Hernández: Multimedia Journalist Explores Identity and Community in LA and the World

Walter Thompson-Hernández (’97) first made headlines with his popular Instagram account Blaxicans of LA. Featured by outlets such as NPR, CNN, BBC, the Los Angeles Times, Remezcla, and UNIVISION, the project explored the intricacies of multiracial identity in Los Angeles. Now he is building on that work as a contributor to the New York Times Travel Section’s new “Surfacing” series, which shines a light on hidden communities around the world as part of a residency for emerging journalists.

“I wanted to find a way to understand my own multiracial identity and what it meant to be biracial in Los Angeles,” Thompson-Hernández said of the inspiration for his research and storytelling.

For his posts, he integrates photography with personal stories about his subjects to represent the evolution of communities and “explore intersections of race, gender, sexuality, music, and popular culture.”

“Photography allows us to engage with a story more deeply,” he said. He noted he is grateful to be able to use that engagement to draw awareness to people who otherwise have “very little voice in the media.” Other examples of his work include 2015-2016 series for Fusion about Latinos who converted to Islam and the Afro-Cuban religion Santería.

Thompson-Hernández earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Government from the University of Portland and a master’s in Latin American Studies from Stanford. In between the two degrees he played professional basketball in Latin America for two and a half years. He recently began work on his Ph.D. in Chicana/o Studies at UCLA.

He traces his deep curiosity and passion for research back to his time at UCLA Lab School, which he says taught him to challenge the conventional way of thinking.

“I learned to think in a critical way. I learned how to always question everything. Always ask that ‘why’ question,” Thompson-Hernández said.

With the school’s mission to reflect the population of California, he said he appreciates that he was exposed to the importance of understanding and respecting diversity from an early age.

“The relationships and the friends I made at the Lab School were remarkable people. I had classmates from all walks of life,” he said.

In addition to his online journalism and his website (www.wthdz.com), Thompson-Hernández’s work has been shown at the Annenberg Space for Photography and LA Plaza De Cultura y Arte in Los Angeles. His first book for publication, a collaboration with renowned street photographer Kemal Cilengir entitled Lost in the Sauce, is available on the MagCloud platform.