My name is José M. Hernandez. I an NASA Astronaut and I am originally from Stockton, California. I am a first generation Mexican American, my parents are from La Piedad, Michoacán, so I travel quite a bit back to Mexico because we still have relatives, but I grew up in Stockton, California.
I think coming from a migrant farm working background, one of the things that was tough for us was to learn the English language as a kid because we were going from school district to school district, three or four school districts throughout the year, and then we would miss about three or four months of school when we went back to Mexico. So, my refuge was math because one plus one was two in any language, so that is where I took refuge. I developed a natural strength in that area. Even as I mastered the English language, math and science were something I was very fond of, and I gravitated naturally to becoming an engineer.
I think what inspires me today in terms of my work is the fact that there are a lot of kids that get inspired by science, by NASA, by space. Space is such a sexy topic for the kids to engage themselves into the STEM areas: science, technology, engineering and math. The bonus of this is that if we can go out and do outreach with folks like myself, with a diverse set of folks like myself, so the kids can then see, "hey, this guy looks just like me," or when I share my story and it’s very similar to mine, then it empowers them to say, "if he can do it, I can do it." That’s what empowered me. When I was a senior in high school, I heard Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, the first Hispanic-American to get selected by NASA as an astronaut. That’s exactly what inspired me. He became my role model. Later on in life, he became my mentor. And I am hoping that one day someone sits in this chair and says, "it was José Hernandez that inspired me," and I hope that it is more than just one person.
I would say that regardless of where they are--even if they are out of the United States, in say like a Latin American country--no matter where you are at, it is a matter of whether you prepare yourself to be able to get those opportunities. I think the whole key to everything is a formula that my parents gave me--at I abide by--is that you have to prepare yourself. You have to study and get a good education. You have to have a good work ethic and you have to have the support of your family. I think you put all those things together, then you can really achieve or reach any dream. You can really turn a dream into an obtainable goal. You just have to look at my story to see that that is indeed true. I would tell the kids to keep studying and keep persevering, even if it takes longer than it traditionally should take, as long as you are moving forward in the right direction, sooner or later you are going to get there.
What I see as the Latin Diaspora in the U.S.-Latin America cooperation in the space program is the fact that first of all, NASA has done a great job in having a very diverse workforce. We have several Hispanic astronauts representing, from backgrounds in Latin American countries. We have the emerging countries such as Mexico who just passed the law to create a Mexican space agency. It is my expectation that they will probably want to ask for help from NASA; and sooner or later there will be a space act agreement, and we would be free to help them along. There's other countries such as Brazil that have mature space agencies; Costa Rica, and I think NASA--not just NASA, but other more mature space agencies like the Russian Space Federation or the European Space Agency--they all can work together in the space community and help these other countries come along so that they can--not build their own vehicle to go up in space--but develop niche technologies so that they can then commercialize and diversify their own internal economies.