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CultureNov 11, 2021

Credera Listens: Exploring Hispanic Identity, Intersectionality, and Culture

Ileana Martinez

On Thursday, October 7, Credera hosted the eighth installment of our Credera Listens panel titled “Exploring Hispanic Identity, Intersectionality, and Culture.” This event was sponsored by CredColor, Credera’s employee resource group for employees who are people of color.

Through a panel led by Christian Buechel, a Manager based out of Dallas, the topics covered the new and the old, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our panelists shared everything from their earliest memories to how they strive to pass on their heritage to their children, and from the vibrance of Latino culture to the tragedy of humanitarian crises that drive families to leave home in search of a new life.

Our esteemed panelists included:

Although the experiences our panelists detailed were as varied as la comunidad Latina itself, there were three key themes that emerged to create important calls to action for allies:

1. We are Not a Monolith: Approach Conversations With a Hunger to Learn and a Curiosity for Nuance

Let’s start with what we are celebrating: Hispanic Heritage Month. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Hispanic Heritage Week bill, and in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Hispanic Heritage Month into law to have dedicated time to praise the contributions of “Hispanic Americans” to U.S. society.

Did you notice that? Hispanic Heritage Month is a U.S. holiday, but “Hispanic” and “Latino/a/x” aren’t always inclusive terms. A study by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of U.S. inhabitants who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries do not fully embrace the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” and often identify with their country of origin. These communities, in the United States and abroad, represent a wealth of cuisines, dialects, music, temperaments, histories, religious identities, and sociocultural and sociopolitical identities. Much of our panel discussion was dedicated to busting the myth that a shared language means a shared identity.

That brings us to our first takeaway: resist the convenience to ignore the nuances that make different Latino communities so unique and diverse. 

While we are on the topic of a “shared language,” let’s start with just one fun example of where things can really get lost in translation, even among Spanish-speaking Latinos. 

Our panelists shared stories of when overgeneralized assumptions were made about them based on their Latino origins. Carolina Herrera, for example, grew up in San Antonio, Texas, whose Latino community was comprised of mostly Mexicans and Mexican Americans. It was easy for her peers, Latino and non-Latino alike, to assume Carolina was Mexican as well, but her parents are both immigrants from Caracas, Venezuela. 

"In the mix of a very predominant Mexican culture, people didn’t really understand why Venezuela would be different," says Carolina, even though the music, cuisines, and household dynamics couldn’t be more different. Carolina shared that people’s tendency to jump to conclusions “made it difficult to discover who I am as a Venezuelan in the midst of all these misunderstandings.” 

I am neither Mexican nor Venezuelan, but I can resonate with having my background discredited because I did not fit into the box of what a Latino is “supposed” to look or act like. I get caught in a spiderweb of quick assumptions while trying to connect with my Salvadoran identity. 

Cristina described her tendency to turn those misunderstandings into “teaching moments” instead of getting offended. She encouraged listeners to ask their friends open-ended questions that assume Latinos are more diverse than homogeneous. The first step to being a good advocate and ally for Latino/a/x folks is, in Jose Briones’ words, to “recognize that there is a whole world of differences.” 

2. Do Your Part in Helping Someone Feel Like Less of an Outsider

We asked our panelists to describe the first time they realized they were “different,” leaving that open to interpretation in the context of each person’s upbringing. Calum Conejo-Watt shared that he grew up in the relatively homogeneous Scotland, where he noticed he was different when other kids made fun of his name. 

Olin Moran, on the other hand, experienced the feeling of otherness in a different way; rather than having grown up in a majority white, non-Latino country, he was born and raised in Mexico City. Here he felt he stood out from his peers because he was white-passing (i.e., when a person of color is often perceived as white by either strangers or their peers), although people were generally still kind and welcoming. Being white-passing came to Olin’s advantage when he first immigrated to New York, but once he started sharing more about his upbringing, racism reared its ugly head. His peers would offhandedly make offensive jokes without stopping first to think that the butt of the jokes actually included him, and then defended them by saying something like, “We’re not talking about your ‘type.’” 

Another anecdote I want to highlight is from Jim Jimenez’s experience of owning a business for 10 years. His clients represented several Spanish-speaking countries, and Jim quickly realized that the Spanish he learned growing up in Texas was not “proper” Spanish. He felt “ill-equipped” to use what he’d grown up with in a business setting. 

I very much relate to this as a native speaker who took Spanish literature courses in college and who always felt two steps behind my peers who had learned Spanish as a second language in an academic setting. The Spanish I’d learned as a child allowed me to connect with family on Nochebuena, but didn’t help me discuss literary concepts in a 400-level course for Spanish majors. The degree to which I struggled to leverage my native Spanish in those settings was humbling, at best, and invalidating, at worst. The through line of these anecdotes is the classic tale of being Latino where it’s not the majority identity: Always being caught between multiple worlds. Olin said it best: “I am always somewhat of an outsider no matter where I go because of the duality that I have to live with.” 

What we can learn from these situations is that in striving toward equity and inclusion, we have to try to meet people where they are and recognize when our intent is misaligned with our impact. In the case of Olin’s adjustment to New York, one could try to argue that the intent behind a message like “not your ‘type’” was to de-escalate the situation and scale back the offensiveness of the joke. However, the impact could not have been further from being inclusive and instead further alienated someone who is deeply proud of the culture and community that are being stereotyped. 

Working to recognize when someone has expressed a feeling of discomfort and asking them how your actions or words may have made an unintentional negative impact allows the opportunity to connect and increase understanding, thus leading to more intentional conversations in the future. 

As for language barriers, meeting people where they are is not only inclusive, but also critical to having productive conversations and strengthening relationships. In the case of my current project, which has stakeholders representing five continents, we have invested time specifically into aligning on common global definitions for important concepts and simplifying our key announcements so they can be understood by English speakers with a working proficiency. In general, overcommunication can be key to staying aligned when connecting with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

3. Have Compassion: Reject Hateful Misinformation and Listen to Stories of Sacrifice

While we had great fun learning about how each Latin American country has its own unique heritage, we also made sure to discuss a harder topic that hits close to home for so many Latino communities: immigration. Five of our six panelists are direct descendants of immigrants or are immigrants themselves, and they emphasized the importance of approaching any conversation on immigration with compassion. 

Before jumping to conclusions, we encouraged the audience to acknowledge the immense sacrifice required to embark on the journey to the border. From leaving behind their family, friends, and homeland, to putting their lives in immense risk, immigrants take on an enormous amount of sacrifice and are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. 

Jose pointed out another harsh reality related to immigrant identities: Immigrants who make ‘mistakes’ (i.e., get in trouble with the law or otherwise), “are immediately called out for being Latino or are called out for their residential status.” In other words, the mistake is intentionally misattributed to the cultural identity or residential status and not to the person doing the harm in order to further the narrative that immigrants pose a danger to our society. That explains our third takeaway: Keep an eye out for misinformation or embellished narratives that overstate the small proportion of a group who aren’t well-intentioned. 

Moving Forward in Action

At the end of our discussion, our panelists shared how allies can best show advocacy to Hispanic and Latino communities. If we leave you with nothing else, let it be these actions:

  • Recognize that there is a whole world of differences between us.

  • Listen to our stories before jumping to conclusions.

  • Support our dreams.

  • Latinos are all around us and are an important part of our community; help them to feel welcome.

  • Be introspective; get to the root of your internal biases and put in real work to unlearn them.

We’re grateful to all the panelists for their vulnerability in sharing their perspectives and experiences.

Thank you also to Rhea Horton, DE&I senior specialist at Credera, for her contributions and perspective in making the takeaways from our panel more actionable.

Join the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Conversation

Credera is listening, and we hope you are as well. If you're interested in connecting on this topic, please feel free to contact us at findoutmore@credera.com and a member of Credera's Diversity & Inclusion team will connect with you.

If you'd like to learn more about the Credera Listens initiative, explore the sessions on this page or navigate to the specific sessions below:

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