Farmworker turned astronaut visits West Athens school to inspire students

Eric Resendiz Image
Thursday, November 30, 2023
Farmworker turned astronaut makes surprise visit to West Athens school
Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez made a surprise visit and spoke to students at a West Athens school.

WEST ATHENS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As a boy, Jose Hernández would pick cucumbers and cherries in the fields of California.

As a man, he made history, becoming the first farmworker to travel into space as a NASA astronaut.

Hernández surprised a group of students in West Athens with a visit to Animo Legacy Middle School on Wednesday.

A Mexican-American born in California, Hernández shared his story to inspire students - many of whom are learning English as a second language.

His talk made an impression.

"What impacted us, like for me, I am still learning English. And I know I can be someone better in the world like him," said student Jaqueline Salucio.

"I feel proud and like happy and inspired because I feel like I can be an astronaut, too," said student Martiza Lemus. "One of my first dreams in elementary was to be an astronaut."

'A Million Miles Away' follows journey of CA migrant farmworker turned NASA astronaut

California's Jose Hernandez was the first migrant farmworker to become an American astronaut. Now, you can watch his inspiring journey in the new film "A Million Miles Away."

His story isn't just about aiming big, but about perserverance.

He dreamed of going to space when he was younger. But he was rejected 11 times when he applied to be an astronaut. The 12th try worked and in 2009, Hernández made his dream come true aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

"I was an ESL student. Our language was Spanish at home," said Hernández. "I thought it was important that they see someone that looks like them, speaks like them and perhaps comes from similar socioeconomic background like them. In a sense that, if they hear my story and they walk away empowered believing that if he did it why can't I?"

This year, a film came out about his extraordinary journey from the fields to the International Space Station. Actor Michael Peña stars as Hernández in "A Million Miles Away."

Left: Astronaut José Hernández is seen in Cape Canaveral in 2009. Right: Actor Michael Peña is seen in "A Million Miles Away."
AP | Daniel Daza/Prime

Hernández encourages kids who want to be an astronaut to study STEM subjects. He also shared his life motto.

"You can dream big. Just don't be afraid to put the work in to convert it into reality," said Hernández.

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