The American Dream
She wasn’t wealthy growing up, and she didn’t go to the best schools. But Tania Hernandez had the one thing that practically guaranteed her success—a family that would do whatever it took to make sure she could go to college.
For some the “American Dream” is more than just an idea or vague concept talked about during election years. To them it is an attainable goal. The “American Dream” is the promise of a better life and upward social mobility through hard work, education and perseverance. It is something that might be out of reach for one generation, but can be handed down to the children of the next. It was this dream Tania Hernandez’s mother gave to her.
Hernandez came from a proud working-class family on the south side of San Antonio. Her parents, both immigrants from an extremely poor region of Mexico, became U.S. citizens in the hopes of giving their children something more. After her parents’ divorce, her mother worked cleaning houses to support Hernandez and her three siblings.
“Growing up I thought I had everything. I had cousins to play with, family was nearby, I wasn’t really worried about anything,” Hernandez said. “It wasn’t until later that my mom told me for a little while we were living off of about $50 a week plus money she had saved. She took on so much, so that I never had to worry.”
Free from fears and concerns at home, Hernandez excelled in school. She participated in sports, student council and other organizations. For her, doing poorly in school simply wasn’t an option.
“I am the first one in my family to go to a university. I had a great support system. My older siblings, my parents, everyone really, pushed me to do good in school,” Hernandez explains.
As she moved closer to graduation, Hernandez set her sights on being a business owner. She wasn’t quite sure what business she wanted to run, but she knew she wanted to be the boss. Her teachers, however, had other plans. They encouraged Hernandez to set her goals on something higher, on something a little more concrete.
“My teachers challenged me to become an engineer. They were also pushing two other guys in my calculus class to do the same. These were the guys I competed with in high school, and I wanted to show them that I could do anything they could do. I had always heard good things about engineers, and I knew they made lots of money, so I said, ‘I can do that.’”
With a goal in mind and her sights set, Hernandez finished high school and went on to study engineering at UT-Dallas. But her time there was short-lived. The college life wasn’t what she expected. She missed her family, and the school didn’t give her a sense of belonging. After her freshman year in Dallas, Hernandez moved back to San Antonio and enrolled at UTSA. Her plan was to continue her mechanical engineering degree at UTSA until she was accepted at UT-Austin. What she never expected was falling in love with her new school.
“I always thought of UTSA as a commuter school. I don’t know why I thought that; I never visited the campus or anything. But when I came here for the first time, I was shocked,” Hernandez recalled. “The campus was huge. After being here for a while, I didn’t want to go to Austin. I saw first-hand how great the education is here. I love it.”
The road toward engineering hasn’t been an easy one, however. Where schoolwork used to come as easy as breathing, Hernandez now had to work at getting good grades. She quickly learned a valuable life lesson—not all education in San Antonio is created equal.
“I thought I had a good education,” she said, “until I got to the university level. I went to inner-city schools growing up, and I now realize kids around other parts of San Antonio are being educated at a much higher level. Here, I’m working to keep up rather than always being at the top of my class.”
With strong support from her family and a desire to learn, Hernandez does more than just keep up. She is currently a mechanical engineering student, the president of the Society of Women Engineers, a fundraising coordinator for Destino (A faith-based Latino support group), has worked at four internships with CPS Energy, and is a role model for young women throughout San Antonio.
“I’m happy I chose to become an engineer. Engineers work with so many different things from managing people to designing things to working with machines—engineers can do it all,” said Hernandez. “Most importantly though, I want to become an engineer so I can help my mom. She’s done so much for me, and I would like to be able to give her as much as she’s given me.”