Astronaut Jose Hernandez Reflects on His Beginnings as a Farmworker

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

At 10 years old, Jose Hernandez remembers wrestling with the antenna so that he could get a clearer picture of astronaut Gene Cernan – the last man to walk on the moon – on his black-and-white TV. In awe, he stepped outside to look at the moon and when he returned indoors, he heard Cernan reporting to mission control. That’s when Hernandez knew he also wanted to work for NASA. People have wondered how a farmworker ever dared to dream this big, but the answer is quite simple – his father always made it seem within reach.

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“My father only has a third grade education,” he told Welcome US. “As soon as he saw and heard that I wanted to be an astronaut, he sent me straight to the kitchen table [and] he sat down with me. He says, ‘You know that same work ethic you put out picking cucumbers, tomatoes, cherries on the weekends and seven days a week during the summer?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ He said, ‘You put that work ethic’ and he pointed to my books ‘to your books. And when you graduate, you put it in your job. Always give more than people expect of you, and I guarantee you will become an astronaut.’”

And that’s all he needed to feel like he could do it, but seeing his parents lead by example likely motivated him too. Born in French Camp, California, Hernandez spent a chunk of his childhood traveling back and forth from Mexico and the United States. His parents spent nine months working in California, and then they’d return to Mexico, with their children in tow. They finally made the permanent move to the U.S. after Hernandez’s second grade teacher persuaded them.

Hernandez’s story is part of Welcome US’ campaign to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month. They kicked off the series with a powerful PSA, where celebrities of all different backgrounds explained why immigration should matter to everyone. Oftentimes, immigration in the US is framed around the Latino community and the US-Mexico border, but Welcome US aims to show that it’s something that affects more than just Latin Americans.