For community and country

Published: September 16, 2020

An immigrant son steps up to deliver help and seek justice

Private 2nd Class Josué Hernandez, a third-semester Queensborough student, is on deployment in midtown Manhattan, six months into a nine-month mission with the National Guard, as the Army responds to New York City’s coronavirus response.

“I had a little girl come up to me and hug me and say thank you. It’s a nice feeling – putting yourself out there and helping,” said the third son of Mexican immigrants and beneficiary of College Discovery, a Queensborough enrichment program that provides financial assistance, academic support, counseling, and free one-to-one tutoring services.

“I’ve been posted to and have guarded testing sites and helped distribute food. It’s opened my eyes to the reality of the world. I will have been part of history forever,” said Hernandez, at the end of a 14-hour shift, just about to sit down to do homework online in his barracks, a hotel a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden.

Josué Hernandez army photo

Private 2nd Class Josué Hernandez, a third-semester Queensborough student, is on Covid-19 duty in Manhattan.

“I never saw the city so empty and so quiet. It was a ghost town. There was no one here. It was weird and felt unreal that this could happen to our city,” he said, referring to his initial service in the spring.

On his first day of duty, March 23rd, Hernandez was rushed to Jamaica Hospital with a 103-degree fever. A chest ex-ray picked up early signs of Covid-19 in his lungs, though at the time there were no definitive tests for the deadly virus.

“I recovered at my home with my family – my parents and four brothers. We were all sick and quarantined for a while. I lost my sense of taste and smell. I had no appetite. Thank God, we’re all good now.”

A graduate of Energy Tech in Long Island City -- an Early College Initiative (ECI) and Career and Technical Education (CTE) high school developed in partnership with CUNY, LaGuardia Community College, National Grid, and Con Edison – Hernandez first experienced Queensborough as a visitor and “loved the college, the large campus, the track and sports oval, everything.”

From the start, Queensborough felt right.

“I applied to and was accepted by College Discovery, which helped me acquire textbooks, MetroCards and so much more that really made it possible for me to go to Queensborough.  I am so thankful for the program and my adviser, Cynthia Puca. She’s been a great help and protective of me. I could not have asked for a better counselor,” said the first-generation college student.

Puca, who started working with and counseling Hernandez five weeks before he started college courses, explained that they planned and navigated college together.

“We met often and spoke about his goals. [College Discovery] staff become students’ secondary family members, in a sense. People, like Josué, have everything they need already to succeed. We just offer them extra support on their journey,” Puca said.

“Hernandez studied a year at Queensborough before signing up for the service and undertaking basic training in Oklahoma and Virginia, his first time outside of New York.

“I guess you could say I had ‘senioritis’ at high school. Queensborough has been a good experience. I had to put aside all of that and become self-disciplined.,” he explained.

The army-trained and qualified wheeled-vehicle mechanic is continuing his studies and will graduate from Queensborough in May. He plans to go to John Jay in the fall of 2021 and obtain a Dual Degree in Criminal Justice from both CUNY colleges.

“I want to pursue immigration law. This year, especially, has really opened my eyes. Some areas within the system really need to change. I wonder how an ordinary young person can make a difference to their country, to race relations and equal rights? How can we benefit society?”

Hernandez’s current four-day National Guard rotation is followed by two days off, often-spent back home in Ridgewood, Queens, with his family and his textbooks.

“You know, some people told me community college would be a waste of time. They could not have been more wrong.  Queensborough’s flexibility, help and support has been wonderful. Queensborough really cares about me and the success of its students.”

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Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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