This year, Hispanic Heritage Month takes on a whole new meaning with everything going on in the world. It has put a spotlight on my identity, prompting me to dissect what it really means to be Latinx. As a queer Afro-Dominican, that exercise has been energizing and empowering. Latinx people come in all shapes and colors and we need to do a better job at embracing that. More than ever, I’m feeling all the different ways I connect to our diverse community.
Throughout my life, I’ve found myself in many different environments that continuously expose me to things that make me Latinx. The Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York where I was born and raised was a cultural melting pot—primarily Latinx, Polish, and Jewish families. At home with my mother and brother, I was immersed in the richness of my own heritage-the expressive Spanish language, the rhythmic music, and, of course, my grandmother’s delicious arroz con habichuela.
When I was 14 my family relocated to Columbus, Ohio, and that’s when I first realized that not all places in the US are as diverse as where I grew up in New York City. I went from being a young Dominican who was not Latino enough in a city rich of Caribbean Latinx culture, to a place where I was mainly seen as Black and then too Latino when people came across my family and clearly noticed English was our second language. It was a culture shock. Living in these two very different environments brought me closer to feeling and understanding the different parts of my identity, my intersectionality, and what that means for me. This laid the foundation for one of my philosophies that I live by day-in and day-out: being unapologetically me.
This strong sense of self, and my background, is who and what I bring to my work. For example, my family experienced firsthand how difficult it was to navigate a complicated healthcare system because of language barriers and limited access to culturally competent providers. These experiences fueled my passion for making healthcare more equitable for everyone. So, when I joined Microsoft, I set out to figure out how to do a better job of intersecting technology and healthcare, and accounting for how it impacts all populations. I use my experience and my voice to push the envelope around diversity and inclusion, ensuring that everyone is being mindful of how our work impacts certain populations, not just Latinx people. I feel these conversations build new levels of empathy and compassion that allow us to work much better together.
At Microsoft there are multiple employee resource groups (ERGs) where I have found even more space to be me-whether that’s me in a Latinx sense, me in a queer sense, or me in a Black sense-I have the space here to feel comfortable to be me. Recent events, such as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, have connected me to fellow Black colleagues. We naturally open up and have conversations that I once thought were too uncomfortable to have in the workplace. Once again, it’s all about the theme of being confident in yourself. I tell people, “I am Afro-Latino. I have Black heritage, but I am full-on Latinx too.”
This Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to celebrate how different we Latinos are and yet how connected we are at the same time. I want my Latinx community to recognize that when we start embracing each other for who we are, we are then able to embrace others for who they are. I believe all individuals, no matter the color of their skin or language they speak, should support each other. You have your own different identities and your own different culture, and we love it, let’s invite it in. I’ll show you my culture, you show me your culture, and let’s celebrate it together.