Art Lift - Oct 09 2020
WWhen Joel’s second grade teacher told his mom, “Your son is a leader,” he burst into tears. “I don’t want to be a leader!” he replied. His shoulders were plenty burdened already. Joel was given far more responsibilities than a typical child. Strangely, these challenges were never enough to satisfy him; he constantly learns new skills and takes on new projects that have led to personal and professional success. Happily, he isn’t crying about being a leader now.
Both his Guatemalan father and Mexican mother had to help support their families from a young age, and neither had the luxury of finishing school. They met in Los Angeles working in a textile factory and started a family in East LA before they were 21.
Though he didn’t speak English until he was 7, Joel immediately became the family translator, attending his parents’ medical appointments and talking on the phone to insurance companies. He also kept busy washing the cars, tending the garden, cleaning the house, and working in construction alongside his father when he wasn’t in school.
His dad quickly became a successful carpenter for wealthy and famous people in the Hollywood hills, and his mother forged a career as a fashion pattern maker with a six-figure salary. This dream team had no tolerance for sloth and expected nothing but the best from their first-born.
The walls of his childhood bedroom are covered with hanging medals, framed awards, original artwork (drawings, paintings and mixed-media) and shelves displaying trophies and ceramic sculptures. During his high school years, he participated in nearly every sport that was offered, excelled in art classes, built sets for the theater department, starred in a play, made short films that were used at school rallies and was voted Senior Class President. He also worked at a grocery store and volunteered as a peer college counselor.
He was accepted at the University of California at Berkeley, but their film department was too conceptual. Joel’s dream was to become a television producer, making Spanish language programs that would educate and inspire Latinos. So, he chose San Francisco State University, where he doubled-majored in Latino Studies and Broadcasting Arts. During his final semester, he interned for CBS, a major television station in the national market. He had no idea that within the next two years, his life would completely change course.
Not content to fetch coffee and make photocopies, at CBS he ran cameras, did interviews, helped with Spanish to English translation, edited footage––put his hand on everything that would push or demonstrate his skills. They liked him so much they gave him full-time job as a video news editor, but the pay ceiling was low, and the work was unsatisfying. He had to rethink his future.
“I didn’t have a specific job in mind, but I knew that I wanted to work with my hands, build things and solve problems.” Even though he respected his father’s work, he wanted something that would flex his creative and critical mind.
He enrolled in a machining certificate program. One day, Joel and his classmate Mike had to walk through a job fair to get to class. He thought Mike was joking when he said, “The woman at the NASA table is checking you out,” but then he saw that she was. In English, checking someone out has a few meanings. The most common two are
1) inspecting someone or something to obtain information and
2) looking up and down a person to whom the viewer is physically attracted. Either or both could have been correct.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge this nonessential fact: Joel Hernandez is, unfairly, as handsome as he is talented. He approached the table and learned that NASA was offering internships for students enrolled in machining programs.