Remembering Selena, The Queen of Tejano Music

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March 31st marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. Called “The Queen of Tejano Music,” Quintanilla-Pérez was shot dead by her friend and former employee Yolanda Saldívar in Corpus Christi, after confronting Saldívar over embezzling funds from her boutiques.

Stephanie Bergara is the lead singer for a 10-piece Selena tribute band called Bidi Bidi Banda, named after one of Quintanilla-Pérez’s most famous songs. Bergara says that ever since she was little, she’s looked up to the artist for her fashion, beauty and talent.

“I always wanted to be Selena,” Bergara says. “I wanted to look like her, I wanted to dress like her, I wanted to dance like her.”

The 23 year-old’s music broke record and barriers for Latin music in the U.S., especially for the popularity of Tejano music. For many, including Bergara, her death still resonates just as loudly as it did 20 years ago.

“My mom was picking me up from school, she had my little brother with me and I remember seeing him run down the sidewalk from my elementary school,” Bergara says. “I remember he runs up to me and he says, ‘Selena’s been killed.'”

“There was a grey cloud over everything for a while there.”

The Fiesta de la Flor annual music festival is a two day celebration of the life of Quintanilla-Pérez, held in downtown Corpus Christi. On April 17 and 18, Tejano musicians and admirers will congregate in North Bayfront Park to pay tribute to Quintanilla-Pérez’s contributions to Tejano music.

“It is sad, it’s bittersweet that all of the artists that Selena loved and of her fans will be there and she won’t,” Bergara says. “It is really bittersweet, but it’s a true testament to who she was and how impactful she was on peoples lives.”

Tortillas: The Hot Food Trend 500 Years in the Making

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When Chef Jorge Rojo learned that Food And Wine Magazine had named homemade tortillas a trend to watch in 2015, he scoffed.

“Tortilla? A Trend? Really? Well in Mexico the Trend has been for hundred for years, and it hasn’t been a trend,” Rojo says.

Aztec women were already making tortillas in 1515 – before Cortez even arrived.

Turns out – in 2015 — store-bought tortillas are more popular than ever. The Tortilla Industry Council reported 12 billion dollars in sales in 2012. And the flour versions edged out corn by about 120 million.

Alma Ramirez understands why tortillas are so popular in stores. I caught her on her shift at the Del Rio Tortilla factory in south San Antonio. She says that even though she spends all day making tortillas, when she cooks at home, she uses store-bought.

“You get home late from work and you’re tired, you go get your kids and you stop by the store to get your tortillitas,” Ramirez says.

You see-even though they look simple, tortillas are really hard to make.

Chef Jorge Rojo’s restaurant is attached to the Sanitary Tortilla Company in San Antonio. The corn grinding and the masa-making start way before sundown every day. By noon most days, they’re all sold out.

“It’s a long process that you have to make every day, so we grind our own mixtamal, which is the cooked corn,” Rojo says, “so they make them in several ways, we make corn chips, tostadas, taco shells, tortillas, all you can do with corn.”

But Rojo says there’s a big difference between the hand made tortilla versus the machine made version at the supermarket.

“When you do those by hand it’s considerably different, it’s more fluffy, they cook at the same time, it’s more convenient to reheat them, because they’re more soft, and it has a longer shelf life,” Rojo says.

So maybe it’s not that homemade tortillas are a “trend,” it’s that the American consumer is becoming more discerning.

Natalie Boites says if a restaurant “didn’t have homemade flour of corn tortillas I wouldn’t go back.”

Alma Ramirez agrees. She says store-bought tortillas are fine when you’re making yourself a late-night quesadilla. But if you’re going to buy your meal, even if it’s from a side-of-the-road taco cart, you want those tortillas to be fresh.

A  note here to Food and Wine editors:  calling something a trend, implies it’s a fad. Here today, gone tomorrow.  In Texas,  tortillas aren’t a trend, they’re a tradition.

Is America Ready To Fall In Love With The Telenovela?

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Most reviews of the CW’s Jane The Virgin mention that it was loosely adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela calledJuana La Virgen. Then they predictably misrepresent atelenovela as a Latin American soap opera.

True, telenovelas and soap operas are daily shows targeted toward child-bearing women. They also tend to rely on amnesia and other questionable plots. But their formats and their roles in popular culture are completely different. To understand why Jane The Virgin feels so refreshing, you have to understand why telenovelas are unlike anything else on American TV.

Don’t Call It A Soap Opera

To start, telenovelas are miniseries. Writers always have an ending in sight, and that ending is almost entirely predictable. The viewer’s delight lies in watching the clueless characters’ twists and turns before arriving at their predetermined fate. If a telenovelais getting particularly good ratings, writers will add a few dozen episodes to prolong the series’ eventual ending, which is usually an over-the-top wedding between the two leads. In contrast, Days of Our Lives has been on the air since 1965 and nobody knows what it’s actually about.

The other big difference is airtime. Though daytime telenovelas exist, the big TV networks run their marquee telenovelas on prime time, finishing just early enough that your mamá can monopolize the phone dissecting them with her friends. Some countries have even exploited the cultural obsession to address public health topicslike domestic violence.

Lastly, telenovelas are much more popular than soap operas. Long-running soaps likeGuiding Light are getting canceled and Disney’s SOAPNet channel is no more. Nielsen estimates there are 2.9 million soap opera viewers, while more than 5.6 million peopletune in to their nightly telenovela — and that’s just in the U.S.

Are You A Ranchera Or Poor-Girl-Meets-Rich-Man?

To truly understand the spirit of telenovelas you have to understand the two types: the first being the ranchera. The ranchera takes place on a large hacienda, and its pretty ingenue is usually a rich orphan. There are beautiful horses, a farmhand with cut abs and a Vincente Fernandez song in the opening credits. This is why Latinos love Dallas.

The second type of telenovela is the working-class-girl-meets-a-rich-man story. In this case the winsome protagonist is pretty, but not too pretty, and the rich guy falls for her first. In fact, she’s not even interested in him for his money; she’s just a good-natured girl looking for true love. Think J-Lo in Maid In Manhattan, which is probably running on TBS right now.

Jane The Virgin falls squarely in the second category. Though Jane doesn’t actually meet Rafael (of course his name is Rafael) — rather, his sperm meets her uterus in a medical accident. That’s right. Jane got artificially inseminated with a rich man’s sperm. A rich man who happens to be her boss. By a doctor who happens to be that rich man’s lesbian sister. Caught up?

There’s more.

Rafael can’t have any more babies because he had cancer and Jane was inseminated with his only sample (because why would they have multiple samples?). His golddigger wife, Petra, is cheating on him with his best friend, who is mysteriously murdered in Episode 2. Jane’s fiance is the detective on the case. Her long-lost father is a telenovela star named El Presidente.

Jane’s life wasn’t always this way. Before getting pregnant, Jane was an everywoman living with her flamboyant mother and puritanical grandmother in Miami. Now her life has turned into one of the soap operas they watch together, so explains the all-seeing narrator who uses text-speak with an accent.

A Telenovela For The Modern Age

Despite its telenovela heart, Jane the Virgin is an unmistakably modern show. It’s shot in HD, dialogue happens between characters via text bubble a la House of Cardsand there are plenty of pop culture references.

Our heroine is modern as well: She’s sweet but she always speaks her mind. As the narrator likes to remind us, she may be a virgin, but she’s not a saint. When Jane mentions that she dreams of being a writer, we have a feeling that she is writing this story for herself.

Jane the Virgin satirizes telenovelas, particularly with Jane’s vain but lovable dad who always appears in a lavender military uniform. When he tells Jane’s mom that he wants his daughter “to have the pleasure of knowing” him, the line is delivered with such sweetness that you want to give him a hug. The fact that even secondary characters are written and performed with such depth lies at the heart of the show’s success.

But the writers also rely on telenovela tropes. There’s a distinct classical guitar melody every time Rafael gets near Jane. There are hints that everyone around Jane is hiding secrets. There are fireflies and flower metaphors.

Telenovelas are literally television novels. The future-knowing narrator seems torn from the pages of a Gabriel García Marquéz book. Each episode is named after a chapter and ends with “To be continued…” in typewriter font.

A Telenovela Heart

Right, this show sounds completely over the top. But it’s completely aware of its campiness. Every detail in the show is thought out, particularly because it relates to at least two separate plot lines.

Jane The Virgin is a compelling show because it doesn’t feel ridiculous — while also being totally ridiculous. When you’re completely immersed in its world, it doesn’t feel as tedious as it should. The plot points are implausible, but the characters are heartfelt. That’s the sign of a great telenovela. It makes you think — against your better judgment — “If it could happen to Jane, it could happen to me.”

It’s clear that it’s possible to capture the spirit of a telenovela for an American audience, but will that audience respond? It follows in the footsteps of Ugly Betty,another show adapted from a Latin American soap by executive producer Ben Silverman. But while Ugly Betty shied away from its telenovela roots, Jane The Virgincrashes into them head-on.

Despite the DNA running through its veins, Jane The Virgin differs from a propertelenovela in key ways: It runs only once a week and it’s already been renewed for a new season. If it were a true telenovela, the story arc would be perfectly contained in just one.

Watching an addictive telenovela requires less patience than a sitcom but more than a Netflix binge. You just have to wait until tomorrow to see what happens next. But many telenovelas fall into a similar trap: The plot twists are so complicated that half of each episode is devoted to recapping the last episode. So you can actually watch every other episode and stay afloat. By Chapter 4, Jane The Virgin seems to be teetering toward this territory.

Perhaps the show’s writers would be better off creating one addictive season and unlocking an episode every 24 hours. That way they could introduce Americans to binge-watching television, Latin American style.

Latinos Pledge Allegiance To More Than One Soccer Team

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I would never have imagined that my immigrant mom, a Spanish teacher, a proudmexicana, would be cheering for Team USA in the World Cup. A few days ago I overheard her talking to my tía on the phone. She told her sister, “Isn’t it great that the American team is playing so well? Now we have two teams to root for!”

Until then, I didn’t realize cheering for two teams was an option. As a Latina living in the U.S., deciding whom to root for was like answering the question “where are you really from?”

At the start of the World Cup, I was a die-hard Mexico supporter. Two weeks into the 2014 tournament, I feel strangely patriotic about American soccer.

Shifting Allegiances

In the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, I thought of the U.S. team as an opening act and nothing else. They just weren’t fun to root for. Even when they performed relatively well, my American friends hardly seemed to care. In the eyes of a Mexican immigrant, American fútbol fever was disappointingly lukewarm.

When people say soccer is a religion in Mexico, they’re not kidding. If you don’t have an opinion about the state of El Trí, I guarantee that you won’t have anything to talk about for the whole month. Office managers have started throwing World Cup viewing parties in break rooms because they know that if they don’t, everyone will just call in sick anyway. This year, Mexican senators proposed holding off any legislation until after the tournament. Soccer is our special kind of government shutdown.

I believe that history will remember 2014 as the year the United States finally started caring about soccer. I was impressed during the first tournament win against Ghana, but I was hesitant to watch the next game. I was certain that Portugal would knock Team USA out of contention, but I was happy that my American friends were following the game,along with 25 million other Americans. As the game progressed, I tensed up into a tight little ball, stress-eating tortilla chips on the couch. After his first mistake, keeper Tim Howard made save after incredible save. Before the referee called overtime, it looked like Team USA was going to escape the “Group of Death.”

And then, the heartbreaking last minute. That the American team had just broken my heart meant that my allegiance was truly split down the middle. What did this mean about my Mexican-ness? Could I be a part of la raza and cheer for both teams?

I retreated to my bed, scrolling Twitter for other people’s reactions to understand what had just happened. Everybody in my network was in a state of total disbelief. It’s that kind of emotion that makes me love soccer, no matter how it makes me feel.

‘El Equipo De Todos’

My mom’s enthusiasm for the American team makes me think my die-hard Mexico approach has been all wrong. She cheers for whomever she wants to win without worrying about the identity politics. Then again, she has a much simpler answer to “but where are you really from?”

There’s no Latino/Chicano/Tejano/Immigrant team for me to identify with, so who am I really for? It’s a question that I’ve been asking since my family moved to this country in 1996. Back then, I told everyone that one day I would plant the Mexican flag on the moon, but before that, I was going to represent the U.S. as an Olympic rhythmic gymnast. By the 2012 Olympics, I found myself identifying with the independent athletes, competing without a country’s flag.

I asked the Latinos in my network whom they’re cheering for, and the results were pretty mixed. Some root for their family’s country; others just cheer for Team USA because they feel completely American.

Many of them unapologetically cheer for both teams, and they’re the happy majority. Univision is tapping into this double patriotism by referring to the U.S. team as “el equipo de todos” — everybody’s team.

Whether their roots are Mexican, Colombian or Chilean, when a Latino chooses to be a Team USA supporter, the chance of “my team” winning goes up 100 percent. And by alternating between two different jerseys, two different patrias, they’re saying, I’m from here AND I’m from there.

‘Columbusing’: The Art Of Discovering Something That Is Not New

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If you’ve danced to an Afrobeat-heavy pop song, dipped hummus, sipped coconut water, participated in a Desi-inspired color run or sported a henna tattoo, then you’ve Columbused something.

Columbusing is when you “discover” something that’s existed forever. Just that it’s existed outside your own culture, nationality, race or even, say, your neighborhood. Bonus points if you tell all your friends about it.

Why not? In our immigrant-rich cities, the whole world is at our doorsteps.

Sometimes, though, Columbusing can feel icky. When is cultural appropriation a healthy byproduct of globalization and when is it a problem?

All The Rage

Buzzfeed Food published an article asking, “Have you heard about the new kind of piethat’s all the rage lately?” It’s a hand pie, a little foldover pie that you can fit in your hand. They have flaky crusts and can be sweet or savory. You know, exactly like an empanada, a Latin American culinary staple.

On face value, it seems stupid to get worked up over an empanada. I mean, it’s just a pastry, right? But “discovering” empanadas on Pinterest and calling them “hand pies” strips empanadas of their cultural context. To all the people who grew up eating empanadas, it can feel like theft.

Feeling Overlooked

When it comes to our culinary traditions, Latinos are used to feeling robbed.

Latino activists spoke out in May when Chipotle announced plans to print original stories by famous writers on its paper goods and failed to include any Mexican-Americans or Latinos on the roster. The American-owned chain can profit from Mexican culture while overlooking the harsh reality of how Latinos have been treated in this country.

On Cinco de Mayo, chef Anthony Bourdain asked why Americans love Mexican food, drugs, alcohol and cheap labor but ignore the violence that happens across the border. “Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration,” writes Bourdain, “we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children.”

It’s frustrating when even the staunchest anti-immigration activists regularly eat Mexican food. It seems like a paradox to relish your fajitas while believing the line cook should get deported.

Admittedly, cultural appropriation is an integral and vital part of American history. And one day, empanadas might become as American as pizza (yes, I appreciate the irony of that statement). But the day when Latinos are considered as American as Italian-Americans, well, that feels further away.

Why It Hurts

The condolence prize for being an outsider is that you can take solace in the cultural traditions that make you unique. When outsiders use tweezers to pick out the discrete parts of your culture that are worthy of their attention, it feels like a violation. Empanadas are trendy, cumbia is trendy, but Latinas are still not trendy.

Code Switch blogger Gene Demby writes, “It’s much harder now to patrol the ramparts of our cultures, to distinguish between the appreciators and appropriators. Just who gets to play in which cultural sandboxes? Who gets to be the bouncer at the velvet rope?”

Playing Explorer

Of course, there is no bouncer, but we can be careful not to Columbus other culture’s traditions. Before you make reservations at the hottest fusion restaurant or book an alternative healing therapy, ask yourself a few questions:

Who is providing this good or service for me?

Am I engaging with them in a thoughtful manner?

Am I learning about this culture?

Are people from this culture benefiting from my spending money here?

Are they being hurt by my spending money here?

It is best to enter a new, ethnic experience with consideration, curiosity and respect. That doesn’t mean you have to act or look the part of a dour-faced anthropologist or an ultra-earnest tourist. You can go outside your comfort zone and learn about the completely different worlds that coexist within your city. If you’re adventurous, you can explore the entire world without leaving the country and without needing a passport.

Just remember, it’s great to love a different culture and its artifacts, as long as you love the people too.

My Multilingual Personalities

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Some linguists hypothesize that multilingual people can have different personalities depending on the language that they are speaking. Latino USA producers Camilo Vargas and Brenda Salinas discuss how growing up bilingual alters their personalities. Camilo learned English at a bilingual school in his native Colombia. His consumption of American media affected the personality he takes on when speaking English. Brenda Salinas immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 6. Growing up in Texas, having light skin meant that she could pass as white, as long as she spoke English.

 

Afro-Latinas and “Good” Hair

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In the 1960’s, natural black hair became a revolutionary political statement in the U.S. Wearing an afro was a physical expression of black pride and beauty. It was polarizing, but exciting. Who could forget Pam Grier’s sexy afro?

 

 

But relaxers, straighteners and weaves are still a 9 billion dollar industry in this country. In 2009, comedian Chris Rock directed a documentary called “Good Hair.”

 

 

In 2012, Olympic Gymnast Gabby Douglas was criticized for her kinky ponytail. Here she is talking to Oprah:

 

 

But in the Afro-Latino community, there really haven’t been that many cultural icons sporting natural hair. That’s were Carolina Contreras comes in. She created the blog Miss Rizos to connect with other Afro-Latinas who wanted to give their natural hair a try.

 

 

PART OF MY HYGIENE

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Contreras started getting her naturally curly hair relaxed every 2 months at the age of 7. She says her family saw the painful process as an important part of their personal hygiene. “I have 3 sisters and I learned how to relax hair,” says Contreras, “I inflicted so much pain on them and I feel like it’s something that I’m still healing from.”

Her kinky hair required a lot of attention, but Contreras says what really led her to relax it was a feeling that her curls weren’t presentable. “If you work for a bank in the Dominican Republic, you’re most likely going to get a weekly stipend to go to the salon,” says Contreras,” they just feel like it’s not professional.”

She says that message trickles all the way down to little girls. “It’s frustrating to have to deal with that today,” says Contreras, “our hair has nothing to do with our productivity, our intelligence or with our knowledge about a particular subject or anything.”

LETTING MY ANCESTORS FREE

Raquel Cepeda is a journalist and author. She says in the Afro-Latina community, natural hair is still a political statement. “As soon as they see the curly hair the say oh she’s a leftist, she’s this, she’s that,” says Cepeda, “to me it’s a badge of honor, to me it’s how I honor my ancestors by letting them live freely in my scalp and in my hair.”

Cepeda says she feels free to wear her hair curly because she knows what it really means. “We really have to un-educate and re-educate ourselves and learn about our histories,” says Cepeda, “When you learn about your history you learn to start being proud of where you come from, and then the curly hair won’t be a thing.”

HAIR IS JUST HAIR

And once everybody understands their heritage, hair can just be hair.

Carolina Contreras says she’s inspired her mom and her sisters to stop relaxing their hair. Every time she goes back to the Dominican Republic she feels more hopeful. “I just get really excited because I see more women in the street wearing natural hair, I start seeing more ads on Tv and everywhere,” says Contreras, “I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction now.”

STAYING TRUE

Beauty can hurt, sure. But grooming and priming is a form of personal expression. It can bee freeing, once you do it because you want to and not because you feel you have to.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Peter Klashorst.

Why Are We Failing Our Black And Latino Students?

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Black and Latino kids perform significantly less well in school than their white counterparts. The factors for this so-called achievement gap are well documented: failing schools, crime-ridden neighborhoods, unequal resources and limited social capital. But despite this research, some advocates say American schools are perpetuating traditional patterns of poverty and inequality. Latino USA guest host Claudio Sanchez talks to researchers Claudia Galindo and Pedro Noguera about community involvement, cultural misunderstandings, and how stereotypes hold children back.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Latinos: The Cosmic Race

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A Mexican philosopher named José Vasconcelos believed one day, a new race of people would be born out of the Americas. His 1925 essay was called “La Raza Cósmica”. Because Latin Americans are Mestizos – a mix of European, African and Asian ancestry, he believed they actually transcend all other races.

Author Marie Arana spoke about Vasconcelos at the Library of Congress.

“He believed that the experiment that was being conducted in Latin America, of mixing of races, was an important venture,” says Arana. Vasconcelos looked to the leaders of Latin American independence for inspiration, “In an instance of historical crisis they formulated the transcedental mission assigned to our region of the globe, the mission of fusing people ethnically and spiritually,” says Arana.

Vasconcelos believed one day La Raza Cósmica would erect a new civilization, Universópolis, where traditional ideas of race and nationality would be transcended in the name of humanity’s common destiny.

The National Council of La Raza takes its name from this idea.

 

Senator Barrack Obama commented on La Razá Cósmica in a speech to the NCLR in  2008. “That’s big, a term big enough to embrace the rich tapestry of cultures and colors and faith that make up the Hispanic community, “ says Obama in the 2008 speech, “big enough to embrace the notion that we are all a part of a greater community, that we have a stake in each other, that I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, we rise and fall as one people.”

That was before his election, and before his administration deported 2 million people. But if you examine the demographics, the cosmic race seems to be emerging. President Obama himself is biracial, and according the the U.S. census, half of all Americans under 5 are Black, Latino or Asian.

It looks like La Raza Cósmica has indeed arrived.

(Photo by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team via Getty Images)

Latinos In Space!

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Ellen Ochoa was 34 years old when she served in her space mission aboard the shuttle discovery in 1993.

 

Dr. Ochoa went on three more missions and even played her flute in space.

 

 

She told NPR’s Michel Martin that she didn’t really think about herself as the first Latina astronaut until she started receiving thousands of letters from excited Latinos all across the country. “After I was selected I realized that there was a whole dimension that I hadn’t thought about,” says Ochoa, “that was the opportunity to talk about exploration and science and engineering and education to a whole group.”

NASA Astronaut Ellen Ochoa

In 2013, Dr. Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of Nasa’s Johnson Space Center.

 UP IN SPACE…

José Hernandez grew up working in the fields alongside his migrant farmworker parents. Then in 1972, he saw something that would change his life.

He told NPR that he remembers watching the moon landing on TV. “I remember I would sit there and I would go outside and look at the moon, come back in, watch Gene Cernan walking on the moon, go back out, and I was just amazed that we had humans up on the moon a quarter of a million miles away,” says Hernandez.

Hernandez applied to be an astronaut 12 times before getting chosen in 2009. “You go up there and you taste it once, and you want to go back, absolutely,” Hernandez told NPR, “there’s no doubt in my mind, day after I got back I wanted to go back, it’s almost addicting.”

Hernandez didn’t get to go back. That same year, President Obama delivered a budget to congress calling for the end of the shuttle program. Hernandez decided to leave NASA to spend time with his 5 children.

Mexican astronaut Jose Hernandez waves t

“When you train for a shuttle launch, 95 percent of the training is here at Johnson Space Center, so you come home every day,” he told NPR, “The international Space Station, it’s more like a two-and-a-half year training flow, and 80 percent of those two-and-a-half years you’re training abroad.”

Even though the shuttle program is suspended, astronauts continue to inspire us.

…AND ON THE GROUND

It’s not just the astronauts who paved the way for people of color. On the ground, Latinos built equipment, programmed computers and created software to make sure those shuttles took off. Candy Torres was one of those pioneers.

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A self-described “Technorican”, Torres has worked on satellites, the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Torres was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents in 1954. Growing up, she was inspired by the vision of the future depicted in Star Trek. “It was stunning to me to see this diversity out there and exploring and really working towards a better future,” says Torres, “this is a positive vision of the future, this is what we need to work towards. “

 KNOWING WHAT YOU WANT

When she was 14, Torres joined the Civil Air Patrol and learned to fly a plane before she could drive a car. She studied astrophysics at Rutgers, worked on satellite research and developed software for the shuttle program.

“When you’re first starting out you really have to know what you want and it’s not necessarily other people that are going to keep you from doing what you’re going to do, it’s yourself,” says Torres.

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Torres now focuses on encouraging Latinos and Latinas to pursue careers in science and engineering. “You can do it, it’s exciting, its fun,” she Torres, “its understanding the universe and its being connected to the universe and making the world a better place.”

(Photos by NASA via Getty Images/ Courtesy of Candy Torres. )