The first Latina to ever travel to space is being honored and joining some of the greatest people in astronautics history. Ellen Ochoa broke the barrier of Latinas in space in 1993, just two years after becoming an astronaut. Since becoming an astronaut, Ochoa has logged 978 hours outside of Earth during four different missions to space and is now the Director of the Johnson Space Center.
Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina in space, will soon be part of the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.
CREDIT: NASA Johnson / Flickr
According to a news release by The Kennedy Space Center, Ochoa holds the distinction of being the first Latina in space after boarding a STS-56 in 1993 as a mission specialist.
Ochoa wants to use her platform and experience to encourage young people to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
CREDIT: NASA Johnson / Flickr
“I’m honored to be recognized among generations of astronauts who were at the forefront of exploring our universe for the benefit of humankind,” Ochoa told CBS8. “I hope to continue to inspire our nation’s youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math so they, too, may reach for the stars.”
According to a news release, Ochoa was chosen along former crew mate Michael Foale because of her extraordinary work to advance space exploration.
CREDIT: NASA Johnson / Flickr
“The courage, dedication and passionate spirit exhibited by both Dr.’s Foale and Ochoa is indicative of the extraordinary individuals who have been recognized in this way,” Dan Brandenstein, the board chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, said in a press release. “NASA’s mission is always expanding with a goal to learn more and go further. Our two new U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame inductees have been pivotal in keeping that mission on course.”
Jerry Brown, the governor of California, took a moment to recognize the honorable accomplishment by the California native.
CREDIT: NASA Johnson / Flickr
“These talented individuals with their unique set of accomplishments show the best of California,” Gov. Jerry Brown said, according to Times of San Diego. “Their creativity and perseverance are a real inspiration.”
Ochoa calls La Mesa home and is one of three astronauts who graduated from Grossmount High School in El Cajon, Calif.
We all know by now that is no “one way” to be Latinx. Latinos come in a variety of forms, from Black to white, tall to short, descended from Indigenous, African, and European populations. And while Roman Catholicism may be the dominant religion in most of Latinidad, it goes without saying that Latino culture is not a monolith. Latinos practice a variety of religions, from Islam to Buddhism to, yes, Judaism.
And while most people don’t necessarily think of Judaism when they think of Latin America, there is, in fact, a small but proud population of Jewish Latinos who keep their culture alive through tradition and a strong sense of community. But being a part of such a small community within an already-marginalized community can feel isolating at times. Especially when there are no public role models to see yourself reflected in.
That’s why Tuesday’s news that Disney is debuting a Jewish-Latinx princess sent shock-waves through the internet.
Walt Disney Television Animation News announced via Twitter that an upcoming Elena of Avalon episode in December would be featuring a “visiting princess” from a “Latino Jewish kingdom”.The as-yet-unnamed princess will be voiced by Jamie-Lynn Sigler, the actress famous for her portrayal of Meadow Soprano on HBO’s seminal masterpiece, “The Sopranos”.
The Tweet also revealed that the princess would also make an appearance in Elana’s “royal coronation special” next year. Although we do not know any further details of Sigler’s character or her storyline, “Elena of Avalor” writer Rachel Ruderman gave a small preview of what’s to come. “A little over a year ago, I had the honor of writing an Elena of Avalor episode featuring Disney’s first Jewish princess,” Ruderman said via Twitter. She continued: “Jamie Lynn Sigler knocks the role out of the park (wait ’till you hear her song!) Can’t wait to share this one”.
In a move of conscious-casting on Disney’s part, Jamie Lynn Sigler herself happens to be both Latina and Jewish–a giant step for a media giant that can sometimes miss the mark with casting.
Raised by a Jewish father and a Cuban mother, Sigler grew up in New York City as part of a multicultural family.In the past, Sigler has talked about being raised Jewish–attending Hebrew school, having a Bat Mitzvah, and even going on a Birth Right trip to Israel in 2008.
This episode can serve as an educational experience for many people (including those of Latinx descent) who are unaware that Jewish Latinos even exist. In fact, what some people might not even know, is that the term “Sephardic” (a term used to describe Jewish people of European descent) literally means “of Spain or Portuguese descent” in old Hebrew. In other words, it’s not a stretch to imagine a character of both Latin and Jewish roots on our TV screens. In fact, it’s completely historically plausible!
Naturally, both the Latinx and Jewish Twitter population is super excited at this groundbreaking news.
As we mentioned before, the acknowledgment of Jewish Latinos in popular culture is such a rarity. When the media shines a spotlight on such a marginalized group of people, the advent is worth celebrating. And even though changes are slow in the making, any progress on the representation front is a step in the right direction.
Jamie Lynn Sigler herself expressed her excitement at the news, calling to attention the novelty of her position:
Yes, it’s exciting that the Jewish Latinx population has finally gotten some princess representation, but it’s still a little bit frustrating that we had to wait until 2019 for a Jewish princess. We have a long way to go.
This Latina Jew was incredibly excited at the prospect of having the chance to see her own unique lifestyle reflected onscreen:
The self-styled “Jewyorican” is one of many New York-based Puerto-Rican Jews who identify fully with both cultures. It’s not as rare as people think.
Some Latinx Jews took to Twitter to give some suggestions on how Disney could go about bringing the new character to life:
This Hispanic Linguistics Professor suggested incorporating the ancient Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino into the show.
This multi-cultural woman celebrated the inclusion of multiple cultures in one character:
Families like hers are the way of the future–at least according to statistics. Although many media outlets still see American families in black and white, the rest of us living our lives know that our identities are increasingly a hodgepodge of cultures. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before Olga E. Custodio became the first Latina Air Force pilot, she faced a slew of rejections in life for being a Puerto Rican woman. Even though she was an enrolled college student at just 16 years old, her application to join ROTC was rejected because she was a woman. She always knew she wanted to become a pilot, and worked in aviation in any capacity she could–even in accounting for Puerto Rico’s International Airline. She applied to the U.S. Air force three times before she was accepted.
When she finally was accepted into the training program, Custodio’s father, a military vet, called the governor of Puerto Rico himself to tell him the news.
Olga E. Custodio’s family moved so often, she went to schools in Taiwan, Iran, and Paraguay.
Her father was a sergeant in the United States Army, which meant that Custodio grew up as a ‘military brat.’ The whole family would relocate as her father was assigned to different military stations around the world. “I started kindergarten and 1st grade in Taiwan,” Custodio told Fox News Latino. “From there we moved to New Jersey, followed by a move to Iran then Paraguay before my father retired. I saw the world before I was 15 years old. I liked the feeling of being in the air.”
Custodio was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and their family returned to the island when she was 15 years old. She graduated high school a year later.
She was immediately accepted into the University of Puerto Rico, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree at a young age. She applied to join the ROTC program at the University but was rejected for being a woman. Only men were admitted into the program at the time.
“Why aren’t the women leading?” Custodio asked herself at every job before entering the military.
She worked a lot of different jobs, and at every one of them, she told the Daily Mail, “I always saw men in the leadership roles. I asked myself: “Why aren’t the women leading? I could lead that!” She met her now-husband, Edward Custodio, and had two children.
Custodio applied to become an Air Force officer three times before she was accepted.
“When my daughter was three years old, I had all the DoD regulations available to me,” Custodio told Fox. “I knew the rules and applied to be an officer for the third time.” Custodio brought her husband and marched into the Headquarters for the Air Force Military Personnel Center to apply to the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School. She was accepted. There, she talked to a sergeant who asked her to name three career choices she would like to have for herself. “I told him I would be a pilot, a pilot and a pilot,” she told Fox.
It took her two years of training to become the first Latina to complete the U.S. Air Force military pilot training program.
She first had to complete the Flight Screening Pilot Officer Training program before she could enter the Officer Training School. There, she was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Finally, that qualified her for Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas. A year later, she graduated, making her the first Latina to complete the U.S. Air Force military pilot training.
Her first assignment was also historic–she was the first female flight instructor at her base.
At that base, she trained others to fly the Northrop T-38 Talon, which is a two-seat supersonic jet trainer. Custodio was actually awarded an Aviation Safety Award during her time as an instructor after she safely landed a plane that had been compromised after a bird flew into the jet’s engine during bad weather.
Custodio served our country for 23 years and 10 months before retiring.
She retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in October 2003, after spending the bulk of her career teaching others how to be effective Air Force pilots. Today, she says she flies for free and for fun. When her friends who own planes ask her to take them for a ride, she happily accepts.
“My mantra is ‘Querer es poder,'” she said.
“I believe everyone has the potential to do it. They just have to believe in themselves enough to actually do it,” she tells Fox. She also said that she “was not out to prove anything.” She didn’t even know she was “the first anything.” She worked hard for herself and her family, and the accolades followed.
Today, she runs a documentary production company in San Antonio, Texas.
She is also the Vice President of the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals (HAAAP). The organization takes young Latinos in the San Antonio area into the cockpit and into control towers to offer more opportunities for growth in the field. Oh, and she also directs a Puerto Rican folk dance group, just for fun.