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From Mexico to Hollywood to D.C. to Fort Worth: Robotics whiz-kid now helping others with technology dreams

🕐 6 min read

Anyone wishing to help the Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School robotics can contact Oscar Vazquez at Oscar.Vazquez@BNSF.com, or go to the team’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Adamas-Robotics-2014903505402227/info/?ref=page_internal.

Oscar Vazquez understands that the combination of hard work, determination and a helping hand can go a long way in life.

Now, at age 30, he’s devoted himself to helping others realize the same dreams he’s enjoyed and also to cope with the challenges that can sometimes come before.

A native of Temosachic, a village in the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua, he is a business analyst for BNSF and, lately, the recipient of much national recognition, including from President Barack Obama, for his inspirational life journey. He was also invited by first lady Michelle Obama to attend the president’s final State of the Union Address last January.

He is the character portrayed by actor Carlos Pena in the 2015 movie Spare Parts, the story of Vazquez and three other Hispanic high school students and their teacher who, despite a lack of financial resources or experience, reached the national spotlight when their team defeated the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s team in an underwater robotics competition.

Vazquez, now a U.S. citizen, also overcame the challenge of being an undocumented immigrant with limited resources. His family had moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when he was 12, and it was there at Carl Hayden High School that he experienced the robotics success that led to a degree from Arizona State University in 2009.

But limited by his undocumented status, he returned to Mexico after graduating from college to undergo a re-immigration process to come into the United States legally. In fact, he left behind his wife, Karla, and their infant daughter, both U.S. citizens, seeing them occasionally when they would visit at the auto parts factory where he worked in the state of Sonora in northwestern Mexico.

He asked the United States to waive its 10-year ban on re-entry for those who originally entered the country illegally and was denied twice. Then, Sen. Dick Durbin, ( D-Ilinois) a supporter of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) got involved, and Vazquez’s third application was approved.

Back in the United States legally, Vasquez got his green card, served in the U.S. Army, including a tour in Afghanistan as a paratrooper, and gained citizenship while he was on active duty. He left the Army in 2013.

Vazquez is now dedicated to helping students in the Fort Worth community, including a robotics team from Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School. And he is sharing his own story with the hope that students facing similar challenges are inspired to believe in the power of their dreams, and that everyone will understand the impact small acts of kindness can have on others.

How close to the details of your own story is the movie Spare Parts? At the heart of it the story is pretty accurate, but they had to change some of the circumstances of the competition setting, for example.

What is your connection to the Diamond Hill-Jarvis Robotics Team and how did that come to be?

I met with Jacinto Ramos (Fort Worth Independent School District board president) at the State of Fort Worth event this year and he introduced me to the team. Up until then I was looking for a place to volunteer and the Diamond Hill team took me in.

Why do you believe in robotics so much?

I think robotics is a good outlet for kids to express themselves. It also prepares kids to work in in-demand fields once they complete their education.

What role do you think robotics will play in society’s future?

I think that robotics will make many tasks easier to accomplish, but it will also create an industry around the design, manufacture and maintenance of said robots.

Why is it important for young people to learn robotics?

When we participate in robotics competitions we don’t only learn about robotics, we also learn computer programming, design, sales, marketing, and most importantly we learn to work with others.

You faced challenges as a teenager, including being undocumented. Do you feel it is important for us to recognize the talent that lies within the immigrant population, documented or not, and work harder toward making them a part of this country?

I think that we need to realize that there is a lot of potential within ALL youth regardless of background. We should be able to look a kid in the eyes and encourage them to succeed without worrying about their skin color or national origin. We should embrace the differences different backgrounds bring and solve problems from all those different points of view.

Why was going back to Mexico and re-entering the country legally so important?

At the time that was the only path to a green card. However, it was a double-edged sword since there was no guarantee of getting your petition approved. Once in Mexico, you had to report to the U.S. consulate office and they would ask you if you had been in the States undocumented before. If the answer was yes, you essentially got a 10-year ban from entering the U.S. Then you had to appeal that decision, and once again there was no guarantee that would get approved.

What is the goal of the DH-J team and what will it take for them to get there, both work-wise and financially?

The main goal of the team is to encourage kids to go to college and continue their educations. We hope that they can achieve a higher college entrance rate. We do this by participating in robotics competitions and community events. In order to enter these competitions we need between $16,000 and $20,000. We have been working with the FWHCC [Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce] to get some funding as well.

Have you or will you work with other school-age robotics teams?

At this point I would love to start working with kids in elementary school so that by the time they get to high school they already have a plan to continue their studies. High school should not be where they first see that they can go to college. I believe that if we set the expectations early we can make a big difference.

How do you feel your story inspires youngsters, not just in robotics, but in life in general? Perhaps adults as well?

I think it’s an honor and a great responsibility to have the ability to inspire anyone. I think it is also my duty to share this story in the hopes that it will change a person’s mind for the better.

Can you tell me about your family? Was or is anyone else involved in engineering?

My dad worked as a farmer when I was in Mexico and then worked in manufacturing once we came to the U.S. My mom was a stay-at-home mom for most of my childhood. No one in my family participated in engineering.

What lies ahead?

I want to continue to get involved in the community and continue to share my story to whomever wants to listen.

Spare Parts film:

www.facebook.com/SparePartsMovie/

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