By Andrea Lopez, Associate, Golin Chicago
Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of a group of individuals who are proud of adapting and overcoming the obstacles placed before them to find their sense of belonging.
Growing up Latino, I, along with many others, constantly straddle two worlds: the one where our families came from and where we’ve chosen to live. When I’m in my parents’ native countries of Guatemala or Mexico, I’m American. When I’m in the United States, someone will ask me where I’m from in a way that suggests I’m an outsider. Newsflash to them, I was born in Los Angeles, California, and if you’re wondering why I have an accent, it’s because my first language is Spanish.
No one prepares you for the moment when someone makes you feel like you don’t belong because of how you speak or what you look like. As a woman of color, I’ve had to learn how and when to respond to such microaggressions.
As an example, I recently moved into an affluent neighborhood and have been interrupted twice at my community pool. On one occasion, an elderly woman walking her dog stopped by to say, “The pool is for residents only.” In another instance, when I had an asada (cookout) with my friends and family, a woman walked up to us and asked the same question twice: “Whose party is this? Do you own here, or do you rent?”
*Takes a deep breath*
Let me point out the elephant in the room. Yes, both women were white, and if I looked like them, it probably would not have prompted those questions. People can continue to make us feel uncomfortable, but I know I belong here just as much as they do, regardless of how different we look.
With that being said, I want Hispanic Heritage Month to be a celebration and an acknowledgment of the strength it has taken us just to exist and to have a seat at the table. A celebration of how Latinos have been able to fill spaces and confidently own them despite being in a place where the majority don’t actively create space for our culture and expression. As a community, it is our job to continue engaging in honest conversations about race and ethnicity, justice, diversity, equality and inclusion. This will pave the way for leaders within and outside of organizations to confront their privilege.