Immigration Series

Immigration Series: The 5 Things My Immigrant Parents Taught Me About Leadership

We recently celebrated America’s Independence Day. I’ve always loved the fourth. Growing up it meant beaches; BBQ and much-needed bonding time with the familia. Now as a full-fledged adult I am reminded of the moments in my life that have taught me what it truly means to live in this country. One of the things I love most about America is its willingness to open its doors to others.  That is why I love Leviticus 19:33-34, which says  “When a stranger remains with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who remains with you as a brother, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” My parents were immigrants to the US in the late 1960's when they arrived here from the Dominican Republic. My stepfather came to the US from his home land of Nicaragua. 

That’s why the recent issues at the border with separating children from their parents have many immigrants and their families outraged. Katie Annad wrote an article for Vox Media about the emotional impact this treatment has had on children. When I think of these families I can’t help but think of my parents and all the sacrifices they made for their kids to carve out una buena vida (a good life). It is foolish to assume that their sacrifices didn’t come at a great cost. However, their sacrifices came with many lessons that have greatly impacted my career and that of my siblings.

Here are five ways being the daughter of immigrants helped me grow as a leader: 

1.    Stay Motivated.

 Papi and I, 2015

Papi and I, 2015

Nothing screams motivation more than leaving everything you hold dear to move to a new country, experience language barriers, racial and cultural discrimination, all to have opportunities for a better life. I feel fortunate to have been there to see my parents struggle in real ways to achieve their dreams. I am so blessed that I lived every risk they took with them.  When your parents are immigrant’s motivation is the driving force behind what they have risked and given up in exchange for our success. I could never repay my parents for what they gave up but they have in turn become my motivation to continue to grow and develop. I believe what influenced me to stay motivated in my career is that my dad taught me to dream and dream big! He taught me that no matter what obstacles I faced I could reach for the stars and shine brightly. My mom taught me the value of bringing excellence to everything I do. Because of her, I have learned to work hard and learn form my mistakes.

2. Speak Your Truth.

 Mom and I, 2016

Mom and I, 2016

Proving yourself to others and defending your actions is another consequence of being an immigrant in a new nation. Often time’s immigrants live their lives on the defense. Regularly having to explain who they are as if they owe others an explanation was frustrating for me to see as a child. I frequently experienced this when mom went to my school demanding that I be given not just the education that was available but the one I deserved. What I learned from this and many other experiences that I witnessed was the value of finding my voice. As I grew it made me work hard to make sure others less fortunate than me had a voice too. Speaking my truth taught me to have empathy for others.  That explains why I dedicated my career to the field of social work.  I found my voice and now I make sure others find their voice too.

3. Integrity Builds Connections.

 Mom and Alex, my (step) Dad

Mom and Alex, my (step) Dad

Immigrants work and they work hard. My mother was always busy. If she wasn't learning English (her native tongue was Spanish), she was working two jobs, attending college or strengthening ties to her new community by attending church, visiting inmates or caring for the sick. Did I mention she welcomed immigrants into our home while they began their life here in the US? She made every moment count.

My step-father still gets up every morning at 4 am to go to work managing a parking garage in the city. Is it because he loves it? Not necessarily. He knows that he made a promise to his family and to his employer. He has always said “ Hay que trabajar (we must work).” This philosophy has stayed with me. Recently, he asked me how my new job was going. As I shared my list of struggles he listened quietly and then said “ Are they still paying you?... Then keep doing good work.”  He reminded me that at the end of the day in our career all we have is our word. Integrity builds trust and can take you far. 

4. Pay it Forward.

My parents' story would have been very different without the opportunities that others created for them. My mother and Father continued to pay it back their entire lives. I can’t tell you the number of relatives and friends that lived with us as they arrived in America. Back then I didn’t understand why I had to give up my room and privacy. Now I know that my parents were doing exactly what was done for them. They both worked in factories often working 2-3 jobs to bring the rest of his family to this country. It’s easy for us to sit on our porch and think, “ wow I made it…or look how far I’ve come.” My immigrant parents taught me that you never do this alone. I was taught to remember where I came from, honor those that paved a way for me and remember to reach out and pay it forward. Paying it forward is important not just for our career but also for our community to thrive. I'm a firm believer that we all need to support each other. We need to make time for coffee, lunch, and networking with those coming up and those that hold our hands along the way. When was the last time you took your mentor out for Café?

5. Be True to Yourself.

 I didn’t always appreciate it when my parents were unapologetically themselves. Like when I saw my stepfather iron his work uniform with such pride. He never pretended to be anyone other than who he was. And, almost to a fault, he is a truth teller. My parents (on both sides) are known as people who are respected, honest and trustworthy. This is because they are and have always been true to themselves.

Being true to yourself is critical for business leaders as well. You need to establish trust if you want people to buy into you, your vision and support your team. I learned from my parents that I'm much more relatable and trustworthy if I bring my authentic self to work. Being genuine in the workplace helps to establish strong ties that can last a lifetime.  As a leader, I want to be approachable, share my interests, and develop my team.  When mistakes are made I keep it real and give grace. The best way of building rapport is to be transparent and genuine.

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My parents may not be seen as great leaders to many but to me they are. It is because of them that I have grown into the woman you see today. As we raise our son I hope to pass down the importance of staying motivated, speaking his truth, having integrity while paying it forward and being true to himself. If he can learn those values he will be doing just fine. 

Afro-Latina: Who gets to Claim Afro-Latinidad?

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Who gets to claim Afro-Latinidad? That's the question I posed to my niece Ashley, 23. Her response was quite shocking. Ashley shared that when she was younger she would tell her fellow classmates that she was half Black and half Dominican. There was always that one person that would say “no you are fully black, you’re not Dominican.” Why? Because she doesn’t speak Spanish. She struggled with owning her Afro-Latinidad because others wanted to define her narrative. The idea that being Latina is only about language is ludicrous. 

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This question has been asked for far too long in the Latino community. Afro-Latinos like me grow up with questions like will I ever be black or Latina enough? How do I chose?  As an Afro-Latina you are often taking off one coat and putting on another depending on who you are with. We get to navigate two worlds that aren't always welcoming of our story.  In my post Parenting in the Hyphen: My Life as an Afro-Latina Mom, I touch on this a bit. This conversation with Ashley sent me on a mission to find her some answers. In my search I had the opportunity to hear a great round table discussion on just that. Who gets to claim Afro-Latinidad? Does Ashley? 

 My niece Ashley with her natural hair loud and proud 2017

My niece Ashley with her natural hair loud and proud 2017

Maria Hinojosa facilitated a great Latino roundtable with Amilcar Priestley, co-director of the Afro-Latino Festival and director of the Afro-Latino Project; Marjua Estevez, senior editor of Vibe.com; M. Tony Peralta, contemporary artist and owner of the Peralta Project; and Jamila Brown, owner of HUE, for an honest and open conversation on Afro-Latinidad.

Hear how her guests respond to questions like: What's it like being both Black and Latino in the United States? Who gets to claim Afro-Latinadad?

I’m glad I asked Ashley the question because it gave us a chance to talk about our heritage, who we are as a people and the importance of never ever letting someone else tell you who you are. Princess, you are Latina and Black, own it all because it’s what makes you shine! 

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Shine bright princess!

Striding: The 5 things I learned at Harvard

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I had the honor to be given a sponsorship by Harvard Latina's to attend their Latinas Unida LEAD Conference. It was not only my 1st time at the conference but my first time at Harvard and needless to say I was extremely excited!! As an added bonus one of my dearest amiga, Melissa, joined me on this amazing journey. This experience changed my life and influenced my career forever. 

I wanted to take some time to share the top five things I learned while at Harvard. 

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Eliana Murillo delivering the Keynote

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I was impressed by the large representation of Latina's and their supporters in the room. 

  1. Be Rooted in Gratitude - Eliana Murillo does amazing work in fostering diversity in communities and business as the founder of Multicultural Marketing at Google. She uses her platform to advocate for minorities in the work place. Her advice was simple, "Always be rooted in gratitude." She shared that many of us in the room were the daughters of immigrants. Our parents gave up everything to give us the life we have here in America. We need to be grateful for the life and opportunities we have been afforded. She talked about how having a spirit of gratitude has kept her humble and reminded her that being thankful meant that we had to also fulfill ourselves outside of work. Being grateful means that we remember what all the sacrifice and hard work is for. To feel fulfilled in and out of work. 

  2. Network Across Not Just Up - I had the honor to meet Roxanna Sarimento the COO of We All Grow Latina Network. She was probably my favorite speaker of the entire event. A Dominicana of humble upbringing, her advice was powerful. She mentioned that often times professional Latinas are eager to network up believing that this will move them up the corporate ladder missing the benefit of networking across. When you network across, says Roxanna, people are more willing to work with and for you. Her palabras inspired particularly when she noted that those 'across networks' usually share in your vision which can take you further than you imagined. 

  3. Be Ambicultural - Roxanna shared that a big part of being successful in today's world is being Ambicultural. The word ambicultural is defined as “the ability to functionally transit between Latino cultures and the American, giving them a unique position in the consumer landscape." Roxanna mentioned that if 85% of Latinos identify as Latino-American, that means we naturally have developed the skill of navigating 2 worlds. To navigate today's professional landscape modern Latinos need to utilize this skill to their advantage. 

  4. Instead of Getting Mad Get Strategic - Susana G. Baumann was exceptional as she shared her insight. She not only shared her thoughts on branding, event launching and having a strong Latina circle she also shared that making mistakes is necessary to being successful. Susanna believes that instead of getting mad when you make a mistake, you should get strategic. She discussed how making mistakes is what builds your grit. She challenged us to explore if we were resilient or fearful. Her best quote was "learn to manage your fear...life is not linear."

  5. Be Diverse with your Network - I told you Roxanna was my favorite because her words reached my soul! Roxanna emphasized the importance of building a strong network that was broad. In other words, we need people in our network that not only believe in our vision and  inspire our growth but also that don't  look like.  Its important that our network come from many different backgrounds. Roxanna shared that although there is value in having other Latina's in your network, branching out and making real life long connections with those that don't look like us will help us grow into the leaders we are meant to be. 

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Melissa and I ready to for a night of good food and networking.

It was an honor to be in a room of women such as these. Above all, the focus was on finding what we are passionate about, knowing that our worth is not determined by our work and that standing in our purpose is just as important and helping others. My greatest take away is that the more I learn and grow in my craft, the more I pave the way for the Latinas that come after me. 

 

Afro-Latina: Black History is American History

I recently had a mother write to me. Being an adoption professional, I thought it was about her struggles with adoption. That was simply not the case. She was a white mom from the Midwest who shared that at the age of 36 she was reading the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the first time. I literally had to read that line a few times. Let that soak in. For the first time.  She contacted me realizing that she had been deprived of our full American history growing up. She also had realized that Black history is American history. Her hope was that I somehow could help her discover what to learn so that she, in turn, could change the narrative for her children.   

 Peralta Project, NYC  

Peralta Project, NYC  

Black history points us to a truth we have often been denied in the classroom. I remember in school learning that the Black American narrative is a lineage of suffering, survival and sacrifice.  It is a story of how a people survived the Ku Klux Klan, domestic terror, and Jim Crow then and now. What I wasn’t taught is that in the midst of that suffering, we see a heritage of grit, resilience, and a purpose to reject the falsehood that Black Americans are insignificant to our American story. Isn’t that what makes the story of America a wonderful tale? We defied the odds by creating a nation whose people had grit, were resilient and had purpose.

The Black American influence on our history is important and is profoundly imprinted in the fabric of America. This cannot be denied.  This is why we cannot simply talk about American history and black history as if they are two separate entities. They are interwoven and forever bonded. But we haven’t gotten that right in our schools, in our homes, in our county. That is why we celebrate and honor Black History Month.  We are tired of our complete American history being tainted and glazed over for far too long. We must do better for ourselves and for children.

Our history is hard. It is often difficult to deny the appalling legacy of slavery and how white supremacy that has been embedded in life in the United States. We can’t deny that it is all around us to this day. All we need to do is turn on the television to see disproportionate mass incarcerations, police violence in Black communities, and even in our nation's acceptance of poverty and poor educational opportunities for families of color. 

Why is Black History Month not enough?

Black Americans have left an incredible imprint on literaturetheologymathematicsscienceart, and music, to name a few. To me, celebrating Black History Month is not just about pointing out the systemic woes of our Black brothers and sisters, it can also be about pride, compassion, and understanding the significance of difference. 

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President Obama

Taken by : Kehindle Wiley

It’s great that we celebrate Black History Month every year. However, like the mom who was brave enough to write me and ask for guidance, we need to be stretched in this country. We need to be brave and lean into our true narrative. Celebrating or acknowledging Black history during the shortest month of the year doesn’t let us off the hook. Anyone who turns on the news knows we have a long way to go. My hope is that we will be challenged to dig deeper and embrace a new narrative of inclusivity in the history we make each day. 

What can we do?

I have found that education and connection are the key to embracing the narrative about our complex American history. I spend a great deal of time writing and educating others about my own multicultural experience in America.  In a recent blog post entitled , The New South, I address challenges I have experienced while raising our multiracial family in the South. It’s time that we, Americans, embrace that just like my family our history is multiracial too.

There are tons of sites that are dedicated to America’s true history. I recently discovered a wonderful website known as  Teaching Tolerance. This is a good resource dedicated to “reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and support equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.” What I love about this site is that they offer a quarterly themed magazine with titles like, “The School to Prison Pipeline, “Once Upon a Time in America,” and The Dream Deferred, America After the King Years.” Having the tools to have hard conversations about our rich history is critical and Teaching Tolerance does a great job of providing resources and tools that can be used in the home and school.

Our history is hard, beautiful and tells the story of a resilient people who never gave up and continue to make history every single day. Michelle Obama said it best, “Though the month of February is set aside to celebrate Black history by remembering the lives of our forebearers who relentlessly sacrificed their lives as martyrs for liberation and the advancement of the Black community, we must not forget that every day in America, Black history is being made. African-Americans have struggled through decades of injustice, and still carry on in that legacy today; yet with persistent resolve and unwavering grit, we continue to shatter the glass ceiling. We must not be confined to a month in telling our stories, but our stories must be told each and every day. “

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Michelle Obama

Taken by Amy Sherald

Afro- Latina: Parenting in the Hyphen; My life as an Afro-Latina Mom

I was born in the Bronx, NY to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. Growing up in the states meant that I was taught about American history. However, I started to learn about my Dominican history at the age of 34, when tasked to write a paper for grad school. At that moment I confirmed what I’ve always known…I exist at an obscure junction between being African and Latina. I live in the hyphen of Afro-Latina. In his book,The Future of the Latino Church, Daniel Rodriguez states living in the hyphen is the space “between multiple influences that affect our identity.” The harsh reality of my youth is that I belonged to two completely different worlds that might never truly accept me completely.

 

Being raised by immigrant parents meant that walking through our apartment door, I was literally entering the Dominican Republic (DR). Taking the elevator down 30 flights to ground level entered me back into America. In his book Mi Casa Uptown, my dear friend Rich Perez describes this stark contrast as living the remezcla. He goes on to say that the remezcla is “living in a tension that has the power to either devastate us or help us harness great power and influence of how we’ve been created.” My remezcla moments are layered and complex. My younger years were filled with devastating tension but as I grew in understanding, I have harnessed the power of being an Afro-Latina.

 Mami and I, 2015

Mami and I, 2015

 Papi and I at Central Park, NYC  

Papi and I at Central Park, NYC  

Although I was named after my Mami, I’m the spitting image of my Papi. Like my dad, I am often catergorized as being a black American and yet that’s only partially correct. In America, we are obsessed with putting people in a box. We want to clump people into the same category because it makes us feel safe. Here is the challenge…my color may be black, but my history is not black American. Internally, I identify as Latina. This complex way of viewing myself is often hard for people to understand especially due to my skin color. Being born to Dominican parents gave me a rich, flourishing culture, and beautiful language embedded in my DNA. To identify only as black would be to deny a large part of myself. Something I simply cannot do. This is why living in this hyphen is so isolating. To identify as Latina does not require denying my African descent. In fact, according to scholar Silvio Saillant, “blacks and mulatos make up nearly 90% of the Dominican population.” This solidifies my African roots which I love and am extremely proud of.

The challenge is that for far too long light-skinned Latinos have been the poster child for our people around the world. Our Latino media is often riddled by colorism. Colorism is defined as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically of people of the same ethnic or racial group.” That false narrative has created a sad ideology. Dominicans often refer to themselves as “indios” (indigenous) rather than black because of their colorism ideologies. It’s actually more complex than that. What’s amazing about 2018 is that Afro-Latinos everywhere are breaking free of this narrative. Exhausted of having to constantly fight for our remezcla moment, we challenge that narrative and communicate who we truly are to the world. The folks at Remezcla Entertainment have an outstanding clip that challenges the ideas of race and culture in Latin America.

Parenting from the hyphen hasn’t always been an easy practice to maneuver. I often take for granted that my son lives his life in a different hyphen than I do. This means I have to be intentional about making space for him to educate me about his own narrative. I am deliberate about asking him questions like, “what does it feel like to be biracial and live in a small rural community in the South?” I will never understand what it feels like for him and I lean on him often to guide me. He in turn shows me the best way to advocate and protect him. On the same note, I too want to teach him three things I have learned from my Afro-Latina experience so far.

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1. Stand up for yourself, even if that means standing alone. I want him to be brave as he faces adversity. In order for him to do that, it is important that he understands that racism is not his fault. He will need to know that standing up for himself may look different depending on the situation. For example, giving him practical tools about how to handle potential dangerous situations like police stops. Teaching him that in such an instant, standing up for himself is tied to knowing his rights and not resisting.

2. Always be willing to educate others. It’s easy to walk away when you have been offended, but its brave to stay and educate. A great example on this is when I speak. Typically, people assume I am not Latina by my appearance but when I speak they immediately ask me “where are you from?” This is a great time to educate them on being Afro-Latina. Another time I was asked “Hey! How did you learn to speak Mexican?” Taking the time to educate someone can be just as rewarding for him as it is for the person asking the question.

3. Don’t let anyone else dictate your narrative. I am still discovering what it means to be living in his hyphen. With that being said, my experience is my own. No one should attempt to tell me who I am or what box I belong in. My son is not just an adopted kid. His story is bigger than his adoption and his race but that doesn’t mean the two don’t matter. One of my favorite authors, Brene’ Brown puts it like this, “Owning your story and loving ourselves through that process is one of the bravest things that we’ll ever do.” As parents of multiracial children we have to be intentional about learning from them about their story, respecting who they are, and discovering what they need to thrive. By doing this, we will teach them that their story has value. When they know their narrative matters, they will never let anyone tell them who they think they are. May I never lose sight that although my son and I share our love of things like church, marvel movies, and travel we are also different and that’s ok.

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Although living in the hyphen has not always been easy, I believe it has made me a better parent. My hyphen experiences prepared me to understand of what it feels like to be prejudged by others and to own my own story. My son has experienced prejudgments regarding his adoption story, ethnicity and race.  We have experienced many hyphen moments together like the first time he read his DNA results or the first time he was called a racial slur.  Both moments impacted us deeply. One was meant to devastate and the other helped him harness his power. What we have learned is that our hyphen moments may make us laugh, cry or call us to be brave. I am blessed to know we will experience them together.

 He and I last weekend, 1-2018

He and I last weekend, 1-2018