José Hernández. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken August 2023.

José Hernández always has one woman on his mind. Like a locket, he keeps a pin of her image adorned to the cap he wears every day; she’s bent forward, flaunting her signature red lips and cartoonish eyes. The first time I saw her, I gasped in delight: Betty Boop.

“I just like her,” Hernández said. “Everything that I see she’s on, I wanted to buy.” 

And, as I’d learn from neighborhood sightings, she’s all over him, much of the time. I first noticed Hernández during a ride on Muni — or rather, I noticed the colossal green eyes of Betty Boop staring at me hauntingly from the back of Hernández’s denim vest. The bus jostled, revealing the 70-year-old and his pin, and his belt had the Depression-era flapper’s portrait framed in a red heart-shaped buckle. 

That’s not all. Betty Boop’s cherubic face and black curls are on his house key, his blankets, and his telephone. Hernández has been stashing merchandise at his daughter’s place, because his house in the eastern Mission can’t contain the depths of his devotion. 

José Hernández in Betty Boop regalia
José Hernández in Betty Boop regalia. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken August, 2023.

“Some people think I’m weird,” Hernández shrugged. “That’s the way I am. Simple as that.” 

Another morning, I found Hernández ambling home from the Walgreens on Potrero Avenue, decked out in his usual Betty Boop attire. He’d just picked up his latest graphic creation; digital design appears to be another passion of his. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Hernández revealed a psychedelic artwork meant to be an optical illusion, or what he calls “3D.” 

For seven years, he’s photographed ordinary objects, like dice or knives, to make his art. (Knives are his specialty; he can distinguish a Japanese knife from a German one, ever since watching his father, a butcher, work.) 

Hernández tried to sell calendars with his “3D” art on them, but no one bit. No matter. Few understood his love for Betty Boop, too. 

“You are you, and I am me,” he said, flashing a gap toothed grin. It’s just another quirk of his that makes “me crazy,” Hernández said. “No one is normal. Or … at least, I think.” 

read more:

Follow Us

REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

Join the Conversation


  1. Jose has been doing his knife collage art for at least a decade or more. We’ve had numerous conversations about how he selects his objects, arranges them, and prints them since at least 2013, when I worked at a cafe in the neighborhood. His approach is one of honoring ancestry with a big dose of curiosity at how everyday objects can transform into meditative mandalas.

    votes. Sign in to vote
Leave a comment
Please keep your comments short and civil. Do not leave multiple comments under multiple names on one article. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *