Community Spotlight: Hispanic Heritage Month

Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world, and here at Hearts, we use stories to build community.

This is one of many posts in our Community Spotlight Series, where we feature Hearts who identify with a group and have important conversations about how we can support one another.

Throughout the series, we will work closely with these individuals to create an experience where they can share their culture with fellow Hearts. We’ll hear directly from them about their lives, the safe spaces they’ve created to live their truth, and how we can be better allies.

And then we listen.

Because more than ever, stories that celebrate our differences need to be heard.

Recognizing the contributions of Hispanic Americans

Starting on September 15, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to honor the history of many Latin American countries. The day celebrates the anniversary of independence from Spain for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua—followed shortly by Belize, Chile and Mexico.

Hispanic Heritage Month is also a time to celebrate the cultures and contributions of Americans with Latin American and Spanish ancestry. From music and gastronomy to politics and beyond, there is a lot to explore.

Beating in time with Hispanic Heritage Month at Hearts & Science

From tours of historic locations to high-energy dance workouts, the Hearts & Science team is celebrating all facets of Hispanic culture this month! Hearts employees, check your inboxes for specific dates and details for the following events.

  • The Saez Velez Family Story at the Tenement Museum
    Hear the story of Saez Velezes, who migrated from Puerto Rico to the Lower East Side of New York in 1955.
  • GrillzandGranola – Buenas Vibras Flow Yoga
    Join us for an evening of yoga set to traditional Hispanic music to relax at the end of your workday.
  • Hispanic Identity in Advertising Panel
    A conversation exploring Hispanic and Latinx identity and how to authentically message to the community, which is a large sector of the US population.
  • The Community & Experience of Latinx in America Panel
    Hearts & Science employees discuss their backgrounds and unique family immigration stories, as well as the broader challenges and triumphs of the Latinx community.
  • Virtual Hispanic Heritage Arts Paint & Sip with the US Latinx Art Forum
    Enjoy some sips while attending this virtual event celebrating the vitality of Latinx art.
  • GrillzandGranola ¡Muévelo! Movement Series Dance Workout
    Join us for a high-energy workout led by Afro-Latina dance instructor Lanoa Curry. It will include rhythmic movements inspired by reggaeton, salsa and merengue.

Safe spaces to share

How Irene’s education was a family affair

Growing up in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles, Irene Garcia was born into a supportive Mexican community and surrounded by family and familiar faces. Her father was from Nayarit, and her mother was from Michoacán; both came to the US in their teens. Her father was a mechanic, and her mother worked various jobs, including caretaking, until her retirement.

“I grew up in such a close-knit community that we didn’t see any differences.”

Even her early years of schooling were an overwhelmingly positive experience. It wasn’t until the start of middle school that she encountered the ugliness of racism from classmates firsthand.

High school also brought new challenges as she saw friends stop attending classes. Some became pregnant or joined gangs. Irene herself started her family early, but she was always strongly motivated with her own schooling. She graduated from high school and started taking classes at college. The reality of funding her education and balancing that with work and taking care of a baby, however, became too much, and she could not finish her degree.

Later, when Irene’s four children were young, their teachers worked hard to instill the value of higher education. It was very important to Irene as well that they go on to college and have the opportunities that she didn’t. One day, her daughter came home from kindergarten to flip the script on her, asking, “Did you go to college, Mom?”

This conversation ended up being her motivation to make the sacrifices needed to return to school.

In a tough time, when Irene’s father’s health was failing, she again questioned whether she could finish her education. The overwhelming grief over his illness and wanting to take care of him gave her real pause. But he cheered her on and wouldn’t let her give up. “Don’t stop because of me,” he said. “You go all the way!” As a result of her hard work and her whole family’s support, Irene earned her MBA.

Another source of support for Irene has been her church.

“I’m really involved in my church community, and it is mostly Latino. That is our safe space. We can be ourselves with the church community.”

In fact, the church is where Irene’s family recently celebrated a double-quinceañera for her two daughters. The girls really wished their grandfather could have been there for their special day. “He’s here,” says Irene. “We have him in our hearts. He’s here.”

Irene’s family at the double-quinceañera, September 2021. From left: Irene’s husband, Ignacio; son Emanuel; son Martin; Irene; daughter Teresa; daughter Alma. Sitting down: daughter-in-law Nohely and granddaughter Mila.

Pro tip: “Just keep going. There’s nothing impossible. There were moments when I thought it was impossible for me to go back to school after having four kids and not being in school for some time, but I kept going. Don’t stop. Don’t look back. Just look toward the goal, and you’ll get there.”

For Ralph, home is like a totem

For Ralph Pardo, New York has always been home. He grew up on 95th Street as a first-generation American after his parents emigrated from Puerto Rico in the 1950s. It was the romantic West Side Story version, with working-class neighborhoods pocketed by a variety of ethnicities but united in the commonality of wanting a better life for themselves and their children.

It was in this spirit of building a brighter future for Ralph that he got his name. Where his father, grandfather and great-grandfather all shared the name “Rafael,” his mother broke with tradition to give him an assimilated name—a defendente, to defend him in this new world.

Much of Ralph’s childhood was spent enjoying two worlds, celebrating both Christmas and Día de Los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day). His grandmother’s famous pasteles (banana leaf with ground yuca, potato and meat filling) were a pillar of the holiday tradition, requiring multiple stations and hours to make. Add in his stepfather’s Irish heritage, and they enjoyed a true blending of cultures with corned beef and cabbage on one side of the plate and rice and beans on the other.

Today, when Ralph ponders what a safe space means to him, he connects it with a sense of home and belonging that he carries with him wherever he goes. “Home is a safe place. When I was growing up, my casa was my grandma, my mom, my siblings. I didn’t have to repress an aspect of myself or hold something back. At home, I can just be me. I can be bilingual. I can do my thing without worrying about judgment.”

“Home is like your totem. Nothing can hurt me here.”

Like the cultural blending of his childhood, Ralph sees great value in having a multiplicity of voices at Hearts & Science. Ralph firmly believes, “Diversity of background and identity leads to diversity of thought.” Bringing the “serendipitous connection” of unique lenses to the work product, to clients and to the industry is so important for capability. You get the best results from that mix of perspectives.

In his view, “Assimilation is not something we should aspire to today.” Diversity, for him, has a broader scope than race; it includes considerations like gender and international representation, as well. And it’s something that needs to be intentional in recruitment.

“Diversity is not something you preach. It’s got to be something you see across your organization and teams. I am encouraging all of our leaders and anyone in a hiring capacity to make it a priority.”

Ralph makes it a point to go out and actively recruit strong multicultural candidates. Mentorship at the junior level is also a way to invest his time and energy when it is most meaningful so that individuals will have senior-level opportunities in the future.

Pro tip: “One thing we can all do to foster an inclusive community at Hearts & Science is to understand that everyone works in slightly different ways. They have their own communication style, their own approach. We often turn to this notion of conformity because it is quick and easy, but if you’re truly going to be a diverse organization, you have to be open to receiving information differently and adjusting for the individuality of approach.”

Work should be a safe space too

Hearts & Science is dedicated to building a space where its employees are recognized and feel seen. There are many ways we are supporting inclusion efforts.

Here’s how we’re showing support:

  1. Participate in a network. Hearts & Science invites employees to access the OMG Latin & Hispanic Leadership Network and have a voice in how the company supports Hispanic and Latino employees and allies. Don’t have one at your company? Contact your human resources department and be the force for change that starts one.
  2. Attend upcoming company events. Attend every company event that you can. Learn, enjoy, represent your perspective and share feedback on how your company can create truly inclusive programming. If you don’t have any events, start one.
  3. Show your support. We created an email signature and a Zoom background for employees to use. It’s one small gesture you can make to show your support of Hispanic colleagues and partners and the greater community.

You have a part to play too:

  1. Shop at Hispanic-owned businesses. Hispanic-owned small businesses are one of the fastest-growing business groups in the United States. News sites mitú and Remezcla have developed lists of Hispanic-owned businesses you can support.
  2. Learn more about cultural celebrations. Hispanic culture has many beautiful celebrations, such as the two mentioned above, Día de Los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day), celebrated in the first week of January and quinceañeras, held on a woman’s 15th birthday. Keep an eye out for other holidays like Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), every November 2, and Semana Santa (Holy Week), leading up to Easter weekend.
  3. Enjoy the cuisines of Hispanic heritage. Every region has its own unique offerings—even when it comes to the same food. For Ralph and his grandmother from Puerto Rico, their pasteles look different than ones in the Dominican Republic. Whether it’s ropa vieja, enchiladas or ceviche, food plays an important part in Hispanic culture, so learn more about them, or even try cooking your own.

Andriena Coleman, associate director of DE&I at Hearts & Science, shares, “Hearts is a workplace where new ideas can flourish. Together, this community of amazing individuals changes and grows through unique experiences and perspectives. Our differences are celebrated and truly invaluable to our organization.”

Perhaps, like Ralph, you can take a moment to reflect on what diversity means to you and who it includes. It is important to remember that no group is a monolith. The more ways you can nuance your understanding, the more holistic your view will be.