Embracing Latinidad in the Workplace
Hispanic Heritage Month is here! A month long celebration that starts on September 15th by marking the independence of various countries in Latin America - Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. The efforts for this month long celebration are meant to bring visibility to Latinx/a/o folks who embrace our heritage in various industries such as the media, the arts, even in cuisine. There is one discussion that will always grab my attention around this time of the year: How do you embrace your Latinidad in the workplace?
Our Latinx identities are formed by various distinctions: behaviors, beliefs, etc. Although our unique attributes make up our persona, Latinx folks often navigate a career with reservations to keep the "professional" and "personal" aspects of their identities separate. It may sounds like an obvious point - personal and professional is always separate in the workplace - but there is a fine line where these two personas blend in a professional setting to honor your full self. It took me years to find my style of embracing my Latinidad in a professional setting, starting with:
Establishing my name - Names can be quite personal. They are given to us at birth after parents have deliberated what the given name will represent. It can embody the pride of a family legacy, to honor loved ones, or simply rise from inspiration of their surroundings.
My first name, Katie, is an English name that my mother discovered in her first caretaking job in Los Angeles, hence why I got named after her first boss. Unlike my first name, my last names indicate I am of Latinx identity. I have four last names, not uncommon in Latinx culture, but only go by the first of the four. Throughout my childhood I was teased about having a "white name", and others would jeer that my last name (Lopes) was an intentional misspelling. It took years in adulthood for me to embrace my full name and to accept the quirkiness of it.
When I introduce myself in professional settings, I do so with my full preferred name to demonstrate how to pronounce it correctly. It's a small way to establish my narrative, which can be a powerful move for folks who have a more unique name (i.e. the name Xochitl can be intimidating). The same lesson can be applied to others. If you don't know how to pronounce a name, ask and practice how that individual pronounces their name. It's a modest way to show respect to their identity.
Language - Translating content from English into Spanish is a common request I receive, whether it's an office memo or at a baseball game where fans will ask me the meaning of the batter's walkout song. Being bilingual can be a blessing and a curse, and it's important to set limits of what you can tackle in a professional setting.
There are various ways to effectively use a second language in a workplace setting (depending on your audience), such as reading, writing, or speaking the language. If a method of communication is not your strength be careful to not overburden yourself to a commitment that will take more time than you're ready to commit. In my case, my bilingual skills expand into reading, writing, and speaking Spanish, but I have limits for each avenue. Reading in Spanish is quite easy for me, verbally translating what I read can take an extra couple of seconds to find (assuming the dialect I read isn't out of my expertise), but writing a translation takes me the longest. Understanding my strengths in these skills helps me set boundaries when I'm asked to communicate in Spanish in the workplace.
Cuisine - Inviting coworkers to lunch can be a fun experience, if you can agree on the type of food you'll eat. Latinx folks have lots of pride in their traditional dishes (I'm all about hilachas and pupusas), but make sure you're cautious of any restrictions when introducing a newbie to the cuisine. Verify any dietary restrictions and spicy level tolerance before ordering. If you have an adventurous eater in the group, you can share fun food adventures with them or possibly introduce them to a new world with your guidance.
I remember going out to lunch with a group from the office to try Cuban food in Chicago. We arrived to the restaurant, placed our orders, and added some extras to make sure those who were trying it for the first time got to taste a bit of everything. During the meal one of my associates shared she never had Latin food outside of tacos. In fact she never knew Cuban food was a category within Latin food. Dining in a group of friends who can guide her through the menu made it easier for her to be open to the idea of trying something new, and expanded her curiosity to try other cuisines in the future.
Music - Is there anything quite satisfying as sharing a common interest in music with a coworker? You alert each other when your favorite artist is releasing a new album, or share a link to your favorite workout class because the instructor's playlist is fire (reggaeton yoga anyone?). If your workplace allows you to play music in the common area you may play DJ for thirty minutes and play a variety of Latin hits. (Hint: Selena songs never fail to get a fellow colleague singing along.) If your workplace does not have music in the common area, bring up the topic of favorite musicians in discussions with coworkers. There is the classic debate of what is "real music", others are quick to share their go-to karaoke songs, while you'll have music enthusiasts share their experiences attending a live performance.
For this year's Hispanic Heritage Month I challenge you to find a way to teach or learn more about an area of Latinx/Hispanic cultures. Some ideas you can look into:
Browse online at Vive Cosmetics, a Latinx beauty company that represents the diversity of Latinx identity in their products and marketing. How can other companies learn from their example?
Consider hiring a mixologist like Vida Mia to create a cocktail for your next virtual happy hour, where you and your guests can create a fancy cocktail together.
Order food from a Latinx restaurant you've wanted to try out with a colleague. Take the meal outdoors for a socially distanced meal or a virtual lunch date.
Ask a colleague what songs they recommend for your next workout.
Read on topics that affect the Latinx/Hispanic communities. Perhaps you'd like to understand the intention of Latinx (read more here). There are various resources available online, make time to read and join the discussions if you can.