Meet Octavio Hernandez: A healthy, happy and musical life in the Berkshires
“I like the small print.”
“I like the regulations.”
“I like the rules and restrictions for anything and everything.”
Octavio Hernandez is talking about the, for many people, baffling online health insurance choices available on the Massachusetts Health Connector platform. As a certified applications counselor in the administrative offices of Community Health Programs (CHP) in Great Barrington, Hernandez assists dozens of people with insurance questions a week.
He likes the fine print, rules and restrictions only in the sense that he can decipher them for his clients.
“My skills as an advocate for the uninsured probably come from my legal background,” he says.
Hernandez was born, raised and educated in Mexico City. He earned law degree there and for years practiced corporate law in the banking sector in Mexico and abroad: “I managed assets, worked with financial instruments. That sounds a bit dry, but at the time it was very exciting.”
Now 58, he came to the Berkshires 15 years ago.
“It was for love. I was stationed in Paris and that is where I met my former wife. She happened to be from the Berkshires. We first lived in New York City, but when we decided to raise a family we thought that the Berkshires were the best place for that.”
He and his wife divorced after some 20 years of marriage. Hernandez sounds a bit apologetic when he says that he doesn’t have a dramatic immigrant’s tale to tell: “My transition to America was organic and seamless.”
Recollecting his youth and growing up with his four siblings, Hernandez says, “We had a very harmonious life as kids. Culturally speaking, Mexican individuals from the ‘50s and ‘40s were very conservative. My father was an iron hand when it came to discipline and responsibilities. He was very protective of us, but the punishment was harsh.”
Hernandez mentions proudly that at 86, his father Epifanio still puts on a suit every day to work at his own CPA firm in Mexico.
“Today, my father will say that he was too hard on us and he may even apologize. But I say, ‘Dad, you never have to do that because you were a great dad and you still are a great dad because look at us how we turned out.’”
Moving to the Berkshires meant that Hernandez had to give up his corporate career. He became a certified translator of legal, financial and other technical texts. At Fairview Hospital, he interpreted for Spanish-speaking patients. That’s how he ended up at CHP.
Even though he took a step back financially when he left his career in banking, Hernandez feels he enjoys a better quality of life in Great Barrington.
“I live healthier,” he says. “More money means more indulgences. International banking is very demanding.
“I am a happy man who always likes to mingle with everyone, regardless of their beliefs and points of view. And certainly, the more musical they are the more my friends they are as well.”
Music is his passion. In Mexico, he played in mariachi and other bands. In the Berkshires, with his sons Nico, now 24, and Eric, 18, he had a family band: Mighty Mouse and the Stray Cats — Mighty Mouse being the nickname for young and small Eric behind his large drum kit. YouTube has video of their performance at the Mahaiwe Theater in 2008.
“My kids are very talented musicians,” he says. “They still entertain the community with gigs at various venues in the area.
“And I still think that when I retire, I’m going to go back to music.”
Instead of providing a recipe for Accents, Hernandez brought his guitar to play and sing for the Accents podcast, which you can hear on berkshireeagle.com.
“I don’t really cook,” he says, laughing. “But I survive. My friends feed me.”
Hernandez got his mother, Delia Penaloza, to email him a guacamole recipe from Mexico City.
“With jalapeño peppers. That makes the difference.”
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.