Fierce

This Mexicano Went From Campesino to Astronaut, Now His Daughter and Netflix are Telling His Story

Vanessa Hernández is using social media platforms to tell the world what it’s like to be the daughter of the first Mexican-American astronaut to go from working in the fields to being launched into outer space as an astronaut in hopes of leaving a positive impact and inspire future generations.

“Something that I really admire about my father that I’m trying to practice every day is to have that fearlessness of you should take risks [to achieve] what you want to do,” the Loyola Marymount University graduate tells FIERCE.

On August 28th, 2009, astronaut José Hernández became NASA’s first first-generation Mexican American and the first migrant farmworker astronaut in space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on Space Shuttle mission STS-128.

José Zero G Training on the KC-135 Vomit Comet, photo courtesy of José Hernández

An engineer who co-developed the very first full-field digital mammography imaging system for early detection of breast cancer, hard work, perseverance, and grit were nothing new to him even if he had to create his own path.

His journey to space only came after being rejected from NASA 11 times.

“I always tell Vanessa and the kids that you can’t give up on your dream. I know I wanted to give up after six times of being rejected and my wife was the one that actually convinced me not to, because she said, ‘you’re always going to have that worm of curiosity inside of you wondering what if you didn’t quit? NASA is not telling you don’t apply, you’re just quitting. And I started thinking about it and I said, you know, she’s right,” says the father of five.

Looking to the first Latino astronaut in space, Costa Rican Chang Diaz, Hernández knew this too was possible for him.

“I got excited because I said, well, it’s not just for the white Caucasians anymore. They’re actually letting people of color into the ranks of NASA. Maybe I could come back behind him and pave a way to make it even easier for other people.”

Besides co-developing the first mammography machine, and having both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, José became a certified scuba driver, obtained his pilot’s license, and learned Russian amongst many other qualities, to ensure he was as qualified for NASA as he could possibly be.

On the 12th time Hernández applied to NASA, he was accepted into the class of astronauts. This had been a dream of his since he was 10 years old when he saw the Apollo 17 mission live on television.

Photo courtesy of José Hernández

“That’s when the dream was conceived, December of 1972 in Stockton, California in the evening. Picture a 10-year-old kid, holding up a rabbit ear antenna on a big console type TV, vacuum tube technology, watching the black-and-white images, as astronaut Eugene Cernan walked on the moon,” says Hernández.

“It was those images that basically allowed me to conceive the dream of saying, ‘Hey, I want to be just like this guy.’ And so that’s from day one as a 10-year-old boy in the fifth grade, I knew I wanted to be an astronaut,” he adds.

Born to two Mexican migrant farmworkers from Michoacán, Jose Hernández and his family moved constantly to follow the harvest in order to survive financially. Due to the frequent change of schools, Hernández didn’t learn English until he was 12 years old.

“While a lot of my friends loved summer vacation, we hated it because we knew it was the peak of harvest there,” recalls Hernández.

Photo courtesy of José Hernandez

“We knew we were going to be spending seven days a week, with my siblings, with my mom, and with my dad in the fields working,” says Hernández.

While adapting to the English language proved to be a struggle in an English-speaking American school, in the end, this language barrier may have lead him to achieve his dream.

“I think that allowed me to focus on math because two plus three is five in any language. That’s why I think I went into engineering because of the fact that math and science were more universal than the other subjects in class,” says Hernández.

Vanessa’s childhood, while very different from her father’s as a second-generation Mexican-American, still possessed the same grit as her dad.

Hernández family (Vanessa bottom left), photo courtesy of José Hernández

Growing up in predominantly non-Latino neighborhoods and schools, Vanessa felt pressured to assimilate more. “I have an older sister who is disabled. She has a learning disability, so it was really difficult for us as a family to learn both languages at the same time. So we had to really make a decision for a family and pick one language which was English,” Vanessa tells FIERCE.

Nevertheless, she took strides or gave it ganas, as she says, to embrace her Mexican identity. She communicated with her grandparents in Spanish and lived in Mexico for a semester.

“I understand Spanish, I love speaking it with my family. So, it’s just a little bit of a different upbringing where I’m learning Spanish, and my dad was learning English. I want to speak Spanish and connect to my culture and heritage more.”

“When you get into second and third generations, everyone has different experiences but that doesn’t make you any less Mexican, that doesn’t make you any less Latino,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa and José, photo courtesy of Vanessa Hernández

Vanessa’s close relationship with her dad has enabled her to explore her own purpose in life even though it has not been easy, she says.

“Unlike my dad, I didn’t know at 10 years old, what I wanted to do a hundred percent. So I spent a lot of my youth and young adulthood figuring it out and, you know, went to school, graduated and still was figuring it out.”

Since graduating Loyola Marymount University in 2019, Vanessa has taken to TikTok — a place she oftentimes tells pieces of her dad’s story. And her TikTok audience of 64k loves it.

@thevanessahernandez

This was so much fun to film 😂 comment below what you’d like to see with my dad ! #nevergiveup #rolemodel #sisepuede #josehernandez #astronaut

♬ Roses – Imanbek Remix – SAINt JHN

“I graduated in 2019. It took me a full year to really take a step back and be like, ‘I’ve heard my dad’s stories so much in my own life that I haven’t actually really been listening.’ I think when I started to really think about it is when we started making TikToks together and seeing how much it really connected with other people and how much he was an inspiration to others. And I just thought to myself, he can inspire all of these people and get such a positive response to his story. If he can do it, I can do it.”

José and Vanessa are very different yet one of the same. “He’s very STEM-oriented. I’m very creative,” says Vanessa. José tells FIERCE that Vanessa’s entrepreneurial spirit really helps bring to life her messages of body positivity and Latina pride. “I’m looking at learning a lot from her from that perspective,” adds José. “As a matter of fact, I’m already tapping her for some advice on stuff that I want to do.”

In the same way, José inspires his daughter.

“I can’t be selfish with having him as a dad and keep his story to myself. I almost see it as like I have so many platforms that I can use to share his story, to inspire others too, no matter what it is, whatever they want to pursue, that they can do it regardless of what background they come from,” says Vanessa.

Vanessa on far right with José, photo courtesy of Vanessa Hernández

The risks Hernández took that transported him from farm fields to outer space will be depicted in an upcoming Netflix film based on his inspirational life journey and he and his daughter Vanessa will be very involved in the process.

Photo courtesy of José Hernández
Photo courtesy of José Hernández

A man born in Stockton, California to two Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers from Michoacán, the movie is based on Hernández’s autobiographies Reaching for the Stars and From Farmworker To Astronaut. These books are also written in his mother tongue, Spanish, titled El cosechador de estrellas and De campesino a astronauta respectively.

The Netflix original titled A Million Miles Away is set to be directed by Mexicana director Alejandra Abella Márquez.

Márquez directed the critically-acclaimed Niñas Bien and has helped lead Mexico’s Ya Es Hora movement (similar to the #MeToo movement) condemning gender violence and empowering stories told by women.

The film is set to film in summer 2021 on José’s story, a man who achieved many firsts.

José is an inspiration to not just his generation but his daughter’s as well, and Vanessa’s personal life may also resonate with her own generation.

“I feel really called to also share those experiences with people because I see people relating to me as well, you know, not knowing what they want to do, being a young adult in today’s age, where you’re supposed to have everything figured out, but no one really does. And that’s okay. And if you’re single, that’s okay. If you want to take a break from school and pursue a passion project, start a business, all of these things. That’s okay.

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that anything is possible.

And I feel called to really do my part and share not only my dad’s story, but my story too, and work together and just start all of these different things.”

Besides viral TikToks, now, this father-daughter duo mix both their passions and personalities for future enterprises.

Some of these projects includes an upcoming wine label, Tierra Luna Cellars, that the two will be promoting together — José with his idea, and Vanessa with her social media savviness. In the same way, José hopes he can have his daughter get involved in the social media promotion of the Netflix movie.

Both José and Vanessa hope that this movie will be able to communicate José’s story to many more of those who need to see a Mexican man, son of migrant farmworkers, make it to outer space.

Photo courtesy of José Hernández
Photo courtesy of José Hernández

José fuels this passion with other programs he creates. In order to “increase the STEM pipeline of underrepresented groups like African-Americans and Latinos,” as José would say, he created the non-profit Reaching for the Stars Foundation in his home community of Central Valley California to encourage youth “to find passion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

The non-profit includes a five week STEM academy for 7th-12th graders, summer camp hands-on Exploratorium experiences, and a scholarship fund for graduating high school seniors.

“There’s a power of empowerment when they see someone that looks like them, talks like them, and comes from very similar backgrounds. [The non-profit] shows that other people besides their parents and immediate family believe in them, other people are investing in them. And I think that’s important because now they say, ‘wow, people believe in me,’ and they get pumped up and off they go to college and they do well. That’s what we try to do,” says José.

Now, everything seems to be coming full circle as José reminisces on his experiences in space which will also be featured in the film.

Photo courtesy of José Hernández

“Once you crawl into the shuttle, you crawl in about three hours before launch. So you’ve got plenty of time to make peace with your maker.” He refers to how the life of an astronaut can be fatally dangerous. A tragic example in history is the Columbia Space Shuttle that blew up during launch in 2003, killing all seven crew members instantly. His daughter Vanessa says, “I think if he went now as an adult, I would beg him not to because it’s, it’s so much more dangerous than people think. I had a classmate whose dad was in the shuttle.”

Nonetheless, José’s time in space was life-changing.

“When the countdown goes to zero, you hear the three engines come to life. You go from zero to 17,500 miles an hour in eight and a half minutes. That’s the best ride Disneyland could ever hope for,” José tells FIERCE.

Lift-off of Discovery STS-128 Mission, photo courtesy of José Hernández

He adds, “It feels like three people that weigh exactly as much as you do are stepping on your chest,” says José. The space journey was a 14-day mission to finish building the International Space Station. After being rejected from NASA numerous times, and learning Russian, José realized “this was the same space station I read that we were going to build with the Russians there, and I am participating in the second to last mission to finish this construction.”

Vanessa was only 13 when her dad went on the space mission. “We had the best seats in the house. It was just like watching like the biggest shooting star. It took about eight to 10 minutes for it to completely disappear. At that point you have like this like sinking feeling of like, Oh, like my dad’s not on this planet.”

Vanessa recalled her dad Skyping with them in space showing them tricks like spinning in mid-air fetal position or squeezing water out of pouches between life-saver gummies to look like a floating worm he’d try to drink/eat. José says perhaps the best thing about space was the view.

“You look down at the beauty of our earth and then the opposite window, you have the window to the universe and you see how magnificent it is and how perfect it is that you say, you know, this is too perfect for it to be a coincidence,” says José.

Photo courtesy of José Hernández
Photo courtesy of José Hernández

José even said he was able to see from space the Paris lights, the mountains across the U.S., the beaches of Yucatan, and his motherland of Michoacán, Mexico. Now, this city will get to see one of their own in a Netflix film.

On the way home, José and the rest of the team were supposed to land in Florida, but due to a bad storm they had to land in California at the California Edwards Air Force Base. He says, “I call it poetic justice because Edwards Air Force Base is about 80 miles from where I used to pick strawberries.”

A Million Miles Away film for Netflix is set to film in summer 2021. In the meantime, you can catch more of José and Vanessa Hernández on Tiktok.

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America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

Entertainment

America Ferrera Celebrates 20th Anniversary Of Working On ‘Gotta Kick It Up’ With Sweet IG Post

Charley Gallay / Getty Images for New York Magazine

It has been 20 years since America Ferrera’s dream of becoming an actor back true. She took to Instagram to reflect on the moment that her dream started to come true and it is a sweet reminder that anyone can chase their dreams.

America Ferrera shared a sweet post reflecting on the 20th anniversary of working on “Gotta Kick It Up!”

“Gotta Kick It Up!” was one of the earliest examples of Latino representation so many of us remember. The movie follows a school dance team trying to be the very best they could possibly be. The team was down on their luck but a new teacher introduces them to a different kind of music to get them going again.

After being introduced to Latin beats, the dance team is renewed. It taps into a cultural moment for the Latinas on the team and the authenticity of the music makes their performances some of the best.

While the movie meant so much to Latino children seeing their culture represented for the first time, the work was a major moment for Ferrera. In the Instagram post, she gushes over the celebrities she saw on the lot she was working on. Of course, anyone would be excited to see Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt hanging out. Yet, what stands out the most is Ferrera’s own excitement to realize that she can make money doing what she loves most.

“I wish I could go back and tell this little baby America that the next 20 years of her life will be filled with unbelievable opportunity to express her talent and plenty of challenges that will allow her to grow into a person, actress, producer, director, activist that she is very proud and grateful to be. We did it baby girl. I’m proud of us,” Ferrera reflects.

Watch the trailer for “Gotta Kick It Up!” here.

READ: America Ferrera’s “Superstore” Is Going To Get A Spanish-Language Adaptation In A Win For Inclusion

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This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

Entertainment

This Artist Has Been Breaking Barriers As A Non-Traditional Mariachi

Courtesy of Timothy Pollard

On a recent episode of ABC’s game show To Tell The Truth, three celebrity panelists were tasked to uncover the identity of a real mariachi singer.

Each contender embodied “non-traditional” attributes of mariachi culture either through physical appearance or language barriers, leaving the panelists stumped.

When it came time for the big reveal, with a humble smile 53-year-old Timoteo “El Charro Negro” stood up wowing everyone. Marveled by his talents, Timoteo was asked to perform unveiling his smooth baritone voice.

While not a household name in the U.S., his career spans over 25 years thriving on the catharsis of music.

Timoteo “El Charro Negro” performing “Chiquilla Linda” on Dante Night Show in 2017.

Originally from Dallas, Texas, Timoteo, born Timothy Pollard, moved to Long Beach, California with his family when he was eight years old. The move to California exposed Pollard to Latin culture, as the only Black family in a Mexican neighborhood.

As a child, he recalled watching Cantinflas because he reminded him of comedian Jerry Lewis, but musically he “got exposed to the legends by chance.”

“I was bombarded by all the 1960s, ’70s, and ’50s ranchera music,” Timoteo recalls to mitú.

The unequivocal passion mariachi artists like Javier Solis and Vicente Fernandez possessed heavily resonated with him.

“[The neighbors] always played nostalgic music, oldies but goodies, and that’s one thing I noticed about Mexicans,” Timoteo says. “They can be in their 20s but because they’ve grown up listening to the oldies it’s still very dear to them. That’s how they party.”

For as long as he can remember, Pollard “was born with the genetic disposition to love music,” knowing that his future would align with the arts.

After hearing Vicente Fernandez sing “Lástima Que Seas Ajena,” an awakening occurred in Pollard. While genres like hip-hop and rap were on the rise, Pollard’s passion for ranchera music grew. It was a moment when he realized that this genre best suited his big voice.

Enamored, Pollard began to pursue a career as a Spanish-language vocalist.

El Charro Negro
Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

At 28, Timoteo began learning Spanish by listening and singing along to those artists he adored in his youth.

“When I decided that I wanted to be a mariachi, I didn’t think it was fair to exploit the culture and not understand the language,” he says. “If I’m going to sing, I need to be able to communicate with my audience and engage with them. I need to understand what I’m saying because it was about honor and respect.”

Pollard began performing local gigs after picking up the language in a matter of months. He soon attracted the attention of “Big Boy” Radio that adorned him the name Timoteo “El Charro Negro.”

Embellishing his sound to highlight his Black heritage, Pollard included African instruments like congas and bongos in his orchestra. Faintly putting his own spin on a niche genre, Pollard avoided over-saturating the genre’s sound early in his career.

Embraced by his community as a beloved mariachi, “El Charro Negro” still encountered race-related obstacles as a Black man in the genre.

“There are those [in the industry] who are not in the least bit thrilled to this day. They won’t answer my phone calls, my emails, my text messages I’ve sent,” he says. “The public at large hasn’t a problem with it, but a lot of the time it’s those at the helm of decision making who want to keep [the genre] exclusively Mexican.”

“El Charro Negro” persisted, slowly attracting fans worldwide while promoting a message of harmony through his music.

In 2007, 12 years into his career, Pollard received a golden ticket opportunity.

El Charro Negro
Pollard (left) seen with legendary Mexican artist Vicente Fernandez (right) in 2007. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In a by-chance encounter with a stagehand working on Fernandez’s tour, Pollard was offered the chance to perform onstage. The singer was skeptical that the offer was legit. After all, what are the chances?

The next day Pollard went to his day job at the time and said, “a voice in my head, which I believe was God said, ‘wear your blue velvet traje tonight.'”

That evening Pollard went to a sold-out Stockton Area where he met his idol. As he walked on the stage, Pollard recalls Fernandez insisting that he use his personal mic and band to perform “De Que Manera Te Olvido.”

“[Fernandez] said he did not even want to join me,” he recollects about the show. “He just was kind and generous enough to let me sing that song on his stage with his audience.”

The crowd applauded thunderously, which for Pollard was a sign of good things to come.

El Charro Negro
Timoteo “El Charro Negro” with Don Francisco on Don Francisco Presenta in 2011. Photo courtesy of Timothy Pollard.

In 2010, he released his debut album “Me Regalo Contigo.” In perfect Spanish, Pollard sings with great conviction replicating the soft tones of old-school boleros.

Unraveling the rollercoaster of relationships, heart-wrenchingly beautiful ballads like “Me Regalo Contigo” and “Celos” are his most streamed songs. One hidden gem that has caught the listener’s attention is “El Medio Morir.”

As soon as the track begins it is unlike the others. Timoteo delivers a ’90s R&B love ballad in Spanish, singing with gumption as his riffs and belts encapsulate his unique sound and story.

Having appeared on shows like Sabado Gigante, Don Francisco Presenta, and Caso Cerrado in 2011, Timoteo’s career prospered.

Timoteo hasn’t released an album since 2010 but he keeps his passion alive. The singer has continued to perform, even during the Covid pandemic. He has high hopes for future success and original releases, choosing to not slow down from his destined musical journey.

“If God is with me, who can be against me? It may not happen in a quick period of time, but God will make my enemies my footstool,” he said.

“I’ve continued to be successful and do some of the things I want to do; maybe not in a particular way or in particular events, but I live in a very happy and fulfilled existence.”

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