Hispanic Heritage Month | What it Means to "Bring My Whole Self" to WorkJanet Reyes Sep 18, 2023 10:00 AM
National Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of the culture, history, and contributions of Hispanic Americans—those with roots in the Caribbean, Spain, Mexico, and Central and South America. It’s a time in the Hispanic community when we celebrate heroes, remember important cultural figures, educate others, and advocate on behalf of all members of the community.
My Hispanic heritage goes back to the farmlands and countryside of Puerto Rico. And when my grandparents chose to come to the continental United States in the 1960s and settle in Jersey City, NJ, it was for the same reasons so many others are drawn here: to find better opportunities for themselves and their children. For that, I’m proud to celebrate my heritage.
Some Puerto Rican heroes of mine include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who have each made huge impacts in their respective fields and have given Puerto Rican children (and adults like me!) the chance to see themselves represented in prominent roles.
Bringing my cultural pride to the workplace
In the past, my cultural pride was something that only really surfaced during family get-togethers or in the safe space of my home. Unfortunately, over the years, my academic and professional careers have taught me that not every space is a safe one.
And for BIPOC individuals navigating the politics, biases, and unspoken assumptions that are often a part of workplace culture, there can be unfair and untrue assumptions that are quietly (and at times, unconsciously) assigned to us the moment we submit our resume and walk through the door.
What not to ask a new co-worker
And then, there’s always “the question.” You may know the one I’m talking about. When chatting with a new colleague or professional contact, I’ll often hear “No, where are you really from?” Most of the time, this invasive and uncomfortable question comes as a follow-up to the standard get-to-know-you question, “Where are you from?” My answer is always “New Jersey” because, well, that’s where I’m from—plain and simple!
This question stings no matter where it’s being asked, but in the workplace, it gives me the sense that I’m already an outsider, regardless of my professional accomplishments, education, or personality.
Here’s my personal breakdown of “the question” and its effects:
“No, where are you really from?”
In my experience with this type of microaggression, I’ve been left to feel like I couldn’t be myself at work (as many other Hispanic people may have also felt at some point). It can cause you to feel that there should be some separation between your culture and the workplace, and it quickly becomes clear that one of the most important pieces of who you are may not be so welcome.
Here’s what you can ask instead
It’s actually okay to ask about a person’s cultural background; it’s an important part of who we are! But there are ways to get to know people without making them feel alienated.
Here are some tips for getting to know a new colleague or professional contact, without the uncomfortable questions:
Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month
Try out these lighthearted and fun ideas to celebrate your own Hispanic Heritage or explore what National Hispanic Heritage Month is all about.
Since we’re at the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I hope these simple activities will spark some meaningful conversation among your friends, family members, and co-workers.
We at Idealist would also love to hear how you or your organization lifted up the cultures and contributions of neighbors, friends, co-workers, and heroes who identify as Hispanic. Join us on our Idealists of the World Facebook page to share your stories!