From LAHT.com, Latin American Herald Tribune, 4 May 2011.
WASHINGTON – Mexican American Jose Hernandez, who went from harvesting fruits and vegetables in California’s San Joaquin Valley to being an astronaut for NASA says that, despite the challenges they face, young Latinos must “pursue their dreams.”
Hernandez on Wednesday was to receive an award from the group Farmworker Justice for his achievements in life and, in an interview with Efe, he said that he wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to encourage young people to fight to attain their goals.
“I’ve received other recognition, but this is very special for me because it comes from our own people and because it recognizes my career, starting with my work as an agricultural laborer,” the 48-year-old shuttle astronaut said.
“I want to tell them the story of my life so they can see that I got where I am not because I’m a genius but because I followed the advice of my parents; they gave me the recipe to keep moving forward in life,” he emphasized.
The ingredients of that recipe are “very simple” – defining your goals, having a plan of action, not being afraid of work and getting a good education, he said.
“If I could achieve my goals, they can also achieve theirs,” Hernandez emphasized, recalling his origins as the son of migrants.
The California native said that it was in the dusty beet fields near Stockton, with a hoe in his hands, that he discovered his “fascination with the stars” and started to dream of being an astronaut.
“I remember when I was 5 or 6 and I went with my parents to the field at dawn. Everything was black, but we were far from the pollution of the city and I could see the stars very clearly,” he said.
Curiosity about space was forever sown in him at age 9, when he watched on a black and white television the last manned mission to the moon.
“When I saw the astronauts walking on the moon, right there I told myself, ‘That’s what I want to be,’ and that’s how my dream was born,” he recalled.
He was selected by NASA for the astronaut program in 2004 on his twelfth attempt. Five years later, he was part of the crew of the 30th shuttle mission to the International Space Station.
“It was an effort that was worth the trouble because I could see our earth from a new perspective that few human beings get,” Hernandez said.
Despite the U.S. economic difficulties at present, he emphasized the importance of investing in space exploration because “for each dollar that the government invests in NASA, it gets back a benefit of $8, and that stimulates the economy, and makes us more competitive in technology.”
Hernandez on Wednesday evening will receive the award bestowed by Farmworker Justice, which is also honoring Janet Murguia, president and chief executive officer for the National Council of La Raza, and Roman Ramos, a paralegal with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
Hernandez announced his retirement from NASA on Jan. 14 and is now executive director of MEI Technologies, Inc.
Now he is devoting part of his time to the Reaching for the Stars Foundation he founded to give scholarships to young people interested in careers in science and engineering.
Hernandez breaks the mold of astronauts who do not usually involve themselves in matters outside their field and, with the same passion with which he explored space, he is asking that the United States implement immigration reform for undocumented foreigners.
“We have to continue demanding, planning and improving so that there is immigration reform. I hope that sooner or later it will come,” he said, smiling.