Zaida Hernández

INTERVIEW: NASA’s Zaida Hernández on Building a Path to Space for Latinas & ‘The Marvels’

Zaida Hernández

Zaida Hernández might not be an actual superhero in the MCU definition of the word, but the multifaceted spacecraft engineer, children’s book author, STEM program mentor, and content creator is probably as close as we will get in real life to one.

Hernández, the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants and the first to graduate from college, talked to Remezcla about her valuable experience working at NASA and how exciting it is for her to see so much new content out there centered around women in STEM.

“When I was little, my first passion in school was reading and writing,” Hernández shared, adding that as she got older, she became more interested in STEM, so she wanted to “use both of the things I liked and help inspire the next generation.” And the way to do it for her was through children’s books, which she worked with Lil’ Libros on.

“These books are STEM-based, but they have the passion that is the reading and the writing,” she told us, a marriage of two things she found really important, because “little girls are becoming less interested in these fields, but it’s mostly because they think it’s not cool, not because they’re not interested.”

So, for Hernández, it was really important that girls had the “resources where they can feel inspired and that they can continue to follow those interests if it’s something that they want.”

It’s one of the reasons why Hernández discussed her excitement for movies like The Marvels, which center around women in STEM – and “when you start to see three powerful superheroes that are doing STEM activities” then you think “oh that’s really cool, I’m interested in technology, I want to build machines, I want to do things in space, I want to be part of the design of a new space station.” 

Latinas belong in space. Back in 1993, Ellen Ochoa was the first Latina in space – she’s now in the US Astronaut Hall of Fame. Katya Echazarreta was recently the first Mexican-born woman set to travel to space. And Hernández continues to pave the way. But the general consciousness is a very complicated thing to change, and for another little girl to try, they have to believe they can.

But it’s not a straight path, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. “A lot of times you don’t really know what’s coming in the future and we don’t all have to have the same path to get to the same place,” Hernández also told us, as she discussed NASA and what the journey might look like for others. “There’s a lot of people working in the space field, from a lot of different places, some come straight from college, others go and work in other industries and then come back. There’s not one right way.”

This is why the books, the fictional superheroes in STEM, and space Latinas like Zaida Hernández matter. They help build a path to the stars for all in our communities.

The Marvels hits theaters on November 10, 2023.