Key Takeaways From Our Hispanic Heritage Month Panel.
For Hispanic Heritage Month, members of Clyde Group’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accountability) Working Group hosted an internal Zoom panel as part of their “Presented by IDEA” series. Jonathan M. Prince, VP of Agency Operations at Levitt Group and former resident of Colombia, served as the moderator for the discussion with panelists Fabiana Flores Manning, the Interim Case Manager at Catholic Charities, and Josue Perez, a Launch Operations Engineer at SpaceX. Prince talked first about his strong personal connection to both panelists, having met Perez on a service-related mission to Latin America in 2013 and knowing Manning as a neighbor in Fairfax County. Then, the panel invited Perez and Manning to share their lived experiences in the United States by focusing on three overarching questions touching on their lives and their connection to their Hispanic heritage. What do you wish people understood about your experience as a Latina/Latino living in the United States? Perez, who was born in Mexico and emigrated to the U.S. with his parents six years ago, spoke of how his family’s journey to the U.S. was one of necessity. His parents struggled to start a business in Chihuahua—but the violence there and the lack of security for him and his four siblings made it hard for his family to make any progress. “Many of us in the first generation come to the U.S. for opportunities,” he said. “Sometimes we’re forced to, but we come with great hopes and dreams to do our best to try again here with more chances to succeed.” Conversely, Manning was born and raised in Northern Virginia by a mom and dad who had emigrated separately from El Salvador and Ecuador. For her, one of the most memorable moments of her childhood was the day her family received their green card for residency. But Manning, who was just 7 at the time, was initially confused by what was going on. “We were in the car when they opened the mail, and they were both crying and screaming and saying ‘oh we got our residency’, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about— we’ve lived here our whole lives’,” she recalled. “I didn’t really understand until I got older that my parents had been undocumented and then it all started to make sense...all of the hardships we had gone through that come with being an immigrant to this country.” Though being here as a child had its advantages, Manning also felt a great deal of pressure to succeed as the daughter of Latino immigrants. “It’s like carrying the whole weight of the world on your shoulders,” said Manning. “You don’t really realize it until you get to a certain age and you feel the toll on your mind, body and soul.” As the conversation turned to other pressures and anxieties they both felt as Latinos in the U.S. today, Perez mentioned language. He discussed the challenge of not knowing any English on his first day at college. Though he picked it up quickly, whenever he had to present at school, and later at his job as an engineer, he felt the pressure of whether his accent led people to think that he was incapable of doing his job. For Manning, a similar anxiety surfaced in school—she worried about seeming uneducated or unknowledgeable to others just because she is Latina. She also felt she had to succeed not just for herself but for her community, her people and, most importantly, her parents. “Am I living up to my parents' sacrifice?” she wondered. “Am I truly making it worth it for them? And everything they went through to give me a better life?” Do you feel it’s important to stay connected to your South/Central American roots? For both of them, marrying a partner who spoke Spanish was essential to maintain a connection to their roots. Teaching their children Spanish was important so that their kids can communicate and maintain relationships with their grandparents, whose primary language is not English. They both agreed that efforts to keep their culture are not always easy to maintain here in the U.S., and that it can easily get diluted as the generations go by. “We live in a society where assimilation is really, really pushed upon immigrants,” said Manning. “There’s not much support for you to embrace your culture.” Can you tell us what better allyship looks like to you? When discussing how to be better allies to the Latino community, Perez said that more access to career mentorship would be helpful. He recalled how he was lucky enough to have mentors, most of whom were not Hispanic/Latino, that were kind enough to help him make the necessary connections for his line of work. “If you want to succeed you need to network and have contacts and have mentors, and many of us Hispanics don’t have that,” he said. “Many of us come not knowing anyone. And that’s one of the main disadvantages. Even if there are opportunities, we don’t know about them and no one talks about them.” Manning added to this, saying that Hispanics/Latinos need to be seen by educators and employers as capable and able to achieve anything. She said that children of immigrants have to be self-starters in order to survive, so believing in their potential can make a big difference. In the end, it was a great and enlightening conversation that centered on the importance of their experiences growing up in immigrant families, the challenges of staying connected to their culture, and how we can all be better allies to the Hispanic/Latino community, not just during this month of celebrating their history and heritage but in our day-to-day lives.