Sunday, August 23, 2009

NASA Astronaut: A Child of Migrant Workers

NASA Astronaut Marcia Dunn writes for the San Francisco Chronicle:

He toiled in the farm fields of California's Central Valley alongside his Mexican migrant worker parents and didn't learn English until he was 12. Now Jose Hernandez, NASA astronaut, is about to rocket into orbit.

His parents will be in Florida next week for space shuttle Discovery's launch, as will his two older brothers and sister, who also worked the cucumber, sugar beet and tomato fields back in the 1960s and 1970s.

"A lot of kids loved summer vacation," Hernandez said in a recent interview. "We dreaded it because we knew what that meant. That meant we were going to be working seven days a week in the fields."

Hernandez, 47, vividly recalls being dusty, sweaty and tired in the back seat of the family's car after a hard day of labor. Before starting the engine, his father would look back at his children and tell them, "Remember this feeling because if you guys don't do well in school, this is your future."

"That was pretty powerful," Hernandez recalled.

All four took it to heart. Each graduated from high school, "a moral victory" for third-grade-educated Salvador and Julia Hernandez, now 71 and 67 years old, respectively. Each went to college, "the icing on the cake," according to their youngest child.

"And of course now being an astronaut, to them that's just unbelievable," said the soon-to-be spaceman. "I think they're higher in orbit than we're going to be in."

Discovery is scheduled to blast off in the wee hours of Tuesday on a supply run to the international space station.

Those who deal with migrant farm workers also are soaring.

"When we see an example like Jose, we are so happy," said Matthew Sheaff, a spokesman for the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs in Washington. "It's an example that anybody can break the cycle of poverty that they live in." Click here for the rest of the story.

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