Mexico to Iowa: Hernandez Finds New Beginnings

For many, success is measured by a list of goals achieved at the end of the road. For Francisco Hernandez, it’s the journey that has meant the most. Taking a path led by Iowa’s plentiful opportunities has created a home for Hernandez. He embodies the true Iowa spirit through his ingenuity and willingness to always offer a helping hand.

“It’s not about my career, it’s about my personal life. To see what I can do to change someone’s life,” said Hernandez. 

From small beginnings growing up in Mexico to exponential career and personal growth with the connections made in Iowa, Hernandez’s life is a true testament of what hard work and a positive mindset can do.

Q. What was your upbringing like?

I grew up with seven women in one house in Mexico. When you are a male in a traditional Mexican household without any men, the oldest brother has to take over to support the family. When I made the move to the United States on my own, it was challenging for me to break that tradition.

At the age of 20, I moved to the states with no car and no knowledge of how to speak English. I was offered a job by an employment agency in Newton, Iowa. Before my arrival, I had no idea of where Iowa was and what it could do for me.
My move twenty-five years ago was a real game-changer for me, from that point my life flourished.

Francisco Hernandez

Q. What was the process of coming to the United States from Mexico? What was your experience of learning English like?

When I arrived in Newton, I wasn’t sure how to immediately connect and get to know the community, so I really focused on working and attending church.

Learning English was a way of survival for me. I was a sponge for everything surrounding me. I learned through conversations at work and social engagements.

The first time I attended Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Newton, I sat in the very back. Following the service, the pastor announced there would be coffee and donuts. Excited for the opportunity to connect with others, I decided to stay and found a table to sit at. Across the room, a tall, handsome man came over to me, shook my hand and said “Hello, my name is Lee. What’s your name?”

That interaction is probably the reason I’m still here today. By the end of the conversation, he invited me to have lunch with him and his wife Mary.

Lee and Mary Zmolek took me to their house and at the end of the evening Lee said, “From now on, every Sunday I’m going to pick you up in the morning before church to spend the day with us and have a warm meal once a week.”

From this point, they became like parents to me. By helping me learn English, showing me the way of the community and eventually convincing me that I was capable of getting a degree, I had the confidence and security I needed to succeed at anything I set my mind to. I got my bachelor’s degree from Central College and later a master’s degree from Iowa State University in international development. Lee and Mary gave me all the tools I needed to succeed and left it up to me to make things happen. 

Francisco Hernandez

I couldn’t have fallen into a better place than Iowa. This state has the nicest people who took me in and helped me find my way.

Q. What is the inspiration behind your career?

Currently, I’m a bilingual dealer support specialist at Vermeer. I serve as a contact for international dealership networks, including locations in Mexico, Central America and the West Coast, and provide solutions to their questions.

I think my inspiration is similar to Lee and Mary’s when I showed up in their life, what can I do to help? Mary told me before passing, “Francisco, I remember when we first met. You could hardly speak the language. Now, you speak so well and you have a master’s degree. You made all these dreams come true for yourself.”

Q. Were you hesitant to make the move? Was it different than you were expecting?

After graduating from Iowa State University, I went to Haiti and spent a year in the Middle East. I traveled to Cambodia, Thailand, India, Europe and lived back in Mexico for two years.
Wherever I go, when people ask me “where is home?”, I always say Iowa. People tend to think the grass is greener somewhere else. Well, I have seen the other side and living in Iowa is not bad at all.

Q. What advice would you give to someone who was considering moving to Iowa?

I would tell them to do it. We need them. Not only your diverse background but your skills, energy and perspective. Just take the leap of faith like I did.

Q. What would you say are Iowa’s unique hidden gems that many people who don’t live in the state should know about?

Number one, the people. True Iowans have an interest in helping. Iowa has a long history of helping immigrants and guiding them to succeed.

Number two, Iowa is a place of opportunity. We have plenty of jobs and you can still enjoy the same things you enjoy in big cities for half of the cost.

Number three, safety. Community members embrace you and make you feel comfortable and safe.

Time to Make Your Move

Francisco Hernandez

Iowa is full of inspiring people that have helped shape the state for the better. Embrace the Iowa spirit by exploring the Make Your Move toolkit to find where home is for you.

Published July 9, 2021

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