San Diego, California — Migrant farmworker-turned-astronaut José Hernández is running for Congress as a Democrat in the 10th district of California on a very simple platform: “Jobs, jobs, jobs and education,” he told NewsTaco recently at the California Democratic convention here. The agriculture-fueled district is east of Silicon Valley and Hernández is adamant that he will be able to take his personal and educational experiences combine them with his professional work as an engineer and astronaut to bring development and jobs to this part of California.
Hernández told NewsTaco that, upon leaving NASA, he began visiting to the schools he attended as a child in the district. It was during these visits meeting children and their parents that he says he began to consider congress. “What I saw scared me: I saw that parents were losing faith in the fact that their kids will be able to reach that American Dream,” he told us. “If the parents lose faith, they are not there to motivate their kids, then our community is doomed — and that’s what motivated me.”
As far as running in this particular district, Hernández says “we’ve got our work cut out for us.” The district is slightly more Democratic than Republican, but has a large independent voter base that tends to lean conservative, he said. While 40% of the district is Latino, only 25% of Latinos are of voting age there. Thus, his strategy in the district that includes the city of Modesto and Stanislaus County, is to mobilize voters, work at the grassroots level to register more Democrats and continue to work with the community.
Just last year Hernández left NASA, was working as an executive at an aerospace firm, and admitted to being “comfortable.” So why did he leave his career to pursue politics?
In a sense he told us this congressional bid is the next step in what he feels is his “calling” as someone who was able to work his way from being the child of migrant farmworkers to being selected as a NASA astronaut. It’s feasible to create high tech jobs in the district working with state and local governments, instead of sending them overseas, thus addressing both the jobs and education component, he said.
When it comes to education, Hernández supports the DREAM Act for what he characterizes as very economically sensible reasons. College graduates are likely to earn more than $1 million in salary over their lifetimes; not only does this create an educated workforce, but taxable income that more than compensates for any financial aid students may receive, he said. Plus, helping those who want to help themselves makes sense generally, he added.
But perhaps one of the biggest motivators for Hernández is the fact that he feels Congress should be a place for normal people, that it shouldn’t be a “millionaires’ club.” For example, as a father of five, Hernández can tell you the mental calculus involved in figuring out how to make the co-pay on three sets of braces at $4,000 a pop; he sees himself as someone from this district who made it and wants to work for others like him.
“We need to get citizens out there to go and represent us in Congress — folks that know what the cost of a gallon of milk is,” he told NewsTaco.
We asked Hernández what it felt like to be one of several young Latino candidates with quintessentially American success stories currently running for office (Dr. Raúl Ruiz and Joaquín Castro for example), and he said it was exciting to be on the cusp of change that would make Congress more representative of America.
“It’s the beginning of change and we’re very happy, very blessed to be the catalysts of that change,” he said. “You do a cross-section of Congress and you say, ‘Does that represent America?’ Now, I’d have to argue it’s ‘No.’ If you do that after we start getting into office, then we start getting closer to that goal.”
Check out these videos of Herández talking about his family:
[Video By NewsTaco and NewsTaco; Photo By NASA]