BELL GARDENS ( — Former NASA Astronaut Jose Hernandez visited Bell Gardens High School on Tuesday to share his story and encourage students to break down barriers in the pursuit of their dreams.

Hernandez immigrated to the U.S. from humble beginnings and went on to become one of the few Latino astronauts to travel into space, but not without encountering his own challenges along the way.

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“I was too Mexican to be American, and, you know, too American to be Mexican,” Hernandez said. “It wasn’t until I learned that if I grabbed the best things of both cultures, that’s how I identify myself.”

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Student Chris Leon said he was inspired by the accomplishments of a fellow Latino. “I am a Latino too and he made it, so I can achieve as well,” Leon said.

The former astronaut shared his own experience applying to NASA, encouraging students at Bell Gardens to stay determined even in the face of adversity. Hernandez was rejected by NASA 11 times before he was accepted into the space program.

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“I want to make sure that these kids believe that the American dream is alive and well and theirs for the taking, if they’re willing to work hard and get a good education,” Hernandez said.