Fort Worth

Azle man to sit with first lady at State of the Union address

Oscar Vasquez works at BNSF Railways in Fort Worth.
Oscar Vasquez works at BNSF Railways in Fort Worth. Handout

U.S. Army veteran Oscar Vazquez, who came to the United States as an undocumented Mexican immigrant, will sit in Michelle Obama’s viewing box Tuesday when her husband delivers his State of the Union address.

“It’s an honor,” said Vazquez, a business analyst with Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway who lives in Azle. “I’m ecstatic. I’m very happy.”

Vazquez, whose experiences as a high school student in Arizona were detailed in the films Underwater Dreams and Spare Parts, received the invite from the White House last week.

“Of course, I said, ‘Yes,’ ” he said, adding that his 7-year-old daughter has been humming Hail to the Chief.

Vazquez said he will be sitting alongside 22 other guests who have amazing experiences to share. Among guests also invited to President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union is Refaai Hamo, a Syrian refugee from Michigan; Lisa Jaster, the first female Army Reserve officer to graduate from the Ranger School; and Vietnam veteran Earl Smith from Austin.

A vacant seat has been set aside for the victims of gun violence.

Vazquez was a mechanical foreman for BNSF Railway in Glendive, Mont., before moving to the Fort Worth area in August with his wife and two children. He had previously visited the Fort Worth area as a featured speaker at BNSF’s annual Technology Awareness Day, which showcases how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) affect everyday life.

Vazquez’s co-workers at BNSF will be watching the State of the Union to see their colleague, said Zak Andersen, vice president of corporate relations at the company.

“Oscar is an amazing individual,” Andersen said. “The BSNF community is extremely proud of his personal and professional accomplishments.”

Before he started working for BNSF Railway, he was in the Army and served in Afghanistan.

Vazquez, who spoke Monday after arriving in Washington, said he wants his appearance at the State of the Union to show immigrant families and students that, with hard work and hope, they too can achieve their dreams.

At age 12, Vazquez left Mexico and moved to the United States with his parents. Vazquez describes himself as “Dreamer” — a term coined by young immigrants like himself who have lived most of their childhoods in the United States without a legal status.

“There are a lot of people who have similar stories,” Vazquez said. “There is more to immigrants than the negative stuff they see on television.”

Vazquez was able to gain citizenship while serving in the military. His biography is well-known in Washington, where it has been shared on the Senate floor by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., while enlisting support for immigration reform.

Vazquez said many Dreamers want to show their love and commit to this country through military service.

Education is also important for Vazquez, whose math skills helped him graduated from Arizona State University.

As a child, Vazquez liked taking things apart and putting them back together. He excelled in math.

During his senior year at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Vazquez got involved in robotics. Vazquez said he was influenced by great teachers and armed with determination. Those resources helped Vazquez and his teammates beat high-powered university teams — including MIT and Cornell — in a national underwater robotics event in 2004.

Carl Hayden’s story inspired the documentary Underwater Dreams and later the movie Spare Parts.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

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