Virgin Orbit Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

As we wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month here at Virgin Orbit, we want to take a moment to highlight and honor our hardworking and talented Hispanic and Latin teammates. They are key players in our organization and are making invaluable contributions to our rocket program. 

We truly believe that the unique experiences and perspectives of the individuals on our team is one of our greatest strengths, and we’re very serious about cultivating an equitable, diverse, inclusive environment for everyone in our workspace. That said, we, like many other aerospace companies, have much work to do in this arena and are determined to do so. We believe we have a responsibility to effect positive change wherever we can and encourage others to do so as well. 

Read on to learn more about the Hispanic and Latin teammates making a difference at Virgin Orbit:

Melissa Tafolla, Lead Composite Structures Technician 

Melissa Tafolla is a lead composite structures technician and says Hispanic Heritage Month is the core of her values and what defines and drives her. She mentions that to her, Hispanic heritage is about family, faith, pride, and love. 

“This month provides us the opportunity to showcase the pride we have for our culture and celebrate the many accomplishments and contributions made by those who came before us,” Melissa says. “Although in my experience Hispanics radiate pride and honor every day of the year, this month allows us to share with others the beauty of our culture, through art, music, food and history.” 

Melissa says that being Hispanic in the aerospace industry validates that minorities are being accepted and acknowledged, and that they’re carving a great path for future Hispanic generations. 

She says that others can show support during Hispanic Heritage month by identifying Hispanic organizations for outreach and programming and supporting community events as well as local Hispanic businesses and cultural centers. She also encourages people to get acquainted with Hispanic literature and the history of Hispanic contributions to the United States.

Nicho Villalobos, Vehicle Project Engineer

Nicho Villalobos is a vehicle project engineer and says that Hispanic Heritage Month gives us a chance to recognize and honor cultures that have been part of this country’s history for centuries. 

“It’s a time of reflection and recognition of the contributions and struggles of the Hispanic community,” Nicho says. “For me personally, I’m reminded to be appreciative of the sacrifices that my grandparents made to provide my family access to better opportunities in this country.” 

Nicho’s grandfather built integrated circuits for the Apollo Guidance Computers produced for the Apollo Command Modules and Lunar Modules.  

“His stories as one of the few Mexican-American people on the program have resonated with me, and I carry the lessons he’s taught me through those stories in my work every day,” Nicho says. “I’m grateful for the path that he’s paved for me and many others not only in the aerospace industry but in the nation at large.” 

When asked how others can show support during Hispanic Heritage Month, Nicho expresses that in the last few years, harmful policies have fueled an anti-Latino and anti-immigrant climate. He says, “While I believe this month is about celebrating and honoring Hispanic heritage and the rich cultural influence it’s had on this country, I believe that what’s more important is that we take it as an opportunity for growth. This year in particular I’d like people to take the opportunity to understand the struggles surrounding immigration policies that have separated millions of people from their families and homes in the United States.”

Gilbert Jimenez, Principal Aerospace Engineer 

Gilbert Jimenez is a principal aerospace engineer and expresses that Hispanic Heritage Month is a month-long reminder of colonial trauma that defines the experience of people in the United States with roots in the global south.  

“The word “Hispanic” explicitly elevates white over Indigenous, Afro-Latino, or other racial identities and any insinuation that this is my defining “heritage” is at best a misunderstanding,” Gilbert says. “I do get a kick out of the irony that the month is synchronized around the independence days of many Latin American countries, most of which became independent of Spain and other European aggressors.”  

When asked how being Latin/Hispanic has impacted his experience in the aerospace industry, Gilbert talked about the need for diverse perspectives. He notes that cisgender white male faces dominate the leadership boards of aerospace companies, and, as a result, he’s often felt like an outsider. He’s motivated to shake up that history. “I believe that for the industry to truly do all the good it can, it will need a significant increase in diversity of perspectives,” Gilbert explains. 

Gilbert says that others can show support during Hispanic Heritage Month in the following ways: “Abolish ICE, stop putting kids in cages, and treat others the way you would have wanted to be treated.” 

Azusena JimenezPropulsion Components Test Engineer

Azusena Jimenez is a propulsion components test engineer and says that Hispanic Heritage Month is a time for her to embrace and celebrate her Mexican-American culture and admire the resilience that the Latino community exhibits. 

“More specifically, it is a time for me to appreciate the struggles that my parents endured, and the many sacrifices that they made when they left everything behind to start a new life in this country,” Azusena says. “Hispanic families do this day by day with the hope to open doors and opportunities for their children. This month serves as a reminder to honor their selflessness by carrying on their traditions and strong work ethic.” 

Azusena explains that growing up in a predominantly Latino community, it was less common to see peers go off to universities, and even more rare to see them go into the aerospace field.  

“I myself was questioned by my own family, teachers, and peers on why I wanted to study aerospace engineering,” she says. “There is no question that Latina women are a minority in the industry, and this poses a wide set of challenges and insecurities. However, growing up Hispanic has taught me discipline, drive, and dedication that fuels my work and motivation today.” 

Azusena says people can support the Latino community by becoming educated and interested in the many cultures and traditions. She continues by saying, “You can participate in community outreach to minority educational programs, which help the youth uncover their full realm of possibilities.” 

Giovanny GuancheSenior Materials & Process Engineer

Giovanny Guanche is a senior materials & process engineer who says this month is a great time to celebrate the different cultures in Hispanic heritage. There is so much they have to offer in terms of culture, food, music and arts. 

“I’ve always had a positive experience in the aerospace industry,” Giovanny says regarding how being Latin/Hispanic has impacted his experience in this industry. “We understand what it means to be successful in this country and move forward to be the best version of ourselves.” 

Giovanny says people can show support during Hispanic Heritage Month by supporting local Hispanic businesses and staying up to date about what’s happening around the world, especially in Hispanic countries. “Many people are still fighting for freedom of speech, resources, and fundamental human rights,” he adds.