It was June. We were having one of our weekly Americas Communications team meetings, reviewing stories to be covered in the coming months. When we got to the September topics, Hispanic Heritage Month came up. I still remember the silence on the video webinar after my coworker read it aloud. Nobody said anything for what was maybe only a couple of seconds, but to me it felt longer. I felt all eyes on the monitor staring at me. Being the only Latina on the team, I felt they expected me to take this piece – and, quite frankly, I wanted to take it.
I was excited about the idea of being able to connect with Tech Data colleagues and have the opportunity to share their stories, their cultures and traditions, many of which are similar to my own. From my own experience, most which Hispanic or Latinx backgrounds share many common characteristics. We are cheerful, family-oriented, hard-working, warm and friendly. If you ask us a question, be prepared for a full conversation that may have nothing to do with the initial question. And don’t be surprised if you end up having a cafecito and making a new friend.
"Your origin marks the way you see, feel and share life. It's the way you identify yourself in the world." That’s how Andrés Dehais, senior manager, Logistics, for Tech Data in Suwanee, Georgia, responds when asked what his heritage means to him.
Dehais, whose father is French and mother is American, was born in El Salvador. At an early age, he moved to Costa Rica where he lived for 15 years. He currently lives in the U.S., in Georgia, with his wife, a Costa Rican native, and their two children.
"One is from where one is raised and one adopts all traditions, holidays, meals, the way of speaking, feeling and being," he adds enthusiastically.
After chatting with several peers, including those who weren't born or raised in a Hispanic or Latin country, most agree that no matter where you are in the world, your origin helps define you as a person.
Marisol Marin, associate program manager, Marketing, from the Tech Data team in Canada, was born and raised in Canada by Colombian and Ecuadorian parents.
“My parents always made sure our culture was never lost. I speak, write and read Spanish fluently,” she said “There's not a day that goes by that I don’t speak Spanish. I am extremely proud of my Hispanic heritage. I love our music, dances and delicious food."
In the United States, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 as a tribute to the history, culture, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. According to recently published U.S. Census Bureau population estimates, more than 60 million Hispanics currently constitute the largest ethnic or racial minority in the United States, making up 18.5% of the nation's total population. This year’s Hispanic Heritage Month theme is “Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace the Future.”
This U.S. celebration began under the presidency of Lyndon Johnson in 1968 as "Hispanic Heritage Week" and was extended to a month in 1988, during President Ronald Reagan's tenure. The date selection was not coincidental; Sept. 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of the independence of Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on Sept. 16 and 18, respectively, and Columbus Day or Día de la Raza, which is Oct. 12 and is celebrated by multiple North American and South American countries, falls within this 30-day period.
The U.S. is not the only place that officially celebrates Hispanic culture. In 2018, the Parliament in Canada passed a law designating October as Latin American Heritage Month, in recognition of the significant contribution that the Latin American community has made to the social, economic, political and cultural fabric of the country.
Although this celebration is relatively new, Marin says Canada has always celebrated the Hispanic culture.
“Throughout the year, the Hispanic community organizes several festivals and events here in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) – most of them during the summer because of the good weather,” she highlighted.
And it’s not just countries and communities that recognize the importance of Hispanic and Latinx heritage. Many organizations, including Tech Data, also realize the value of these cultures and the viewpoints and insights gained from them.
In October 2019, Rich Hume, CEO of Tech Data, signed the Hispanic Promise, reinforcing the company's commitment to fostering a diverse workforce and cultivating an inclusive environment to enrich the company, its culture and its employees.
"It has become a crucial and central element of how we decide and how we recruit talent, because precisely it is that diversity that significantly enriches our ability to execute, says Sergio Farache, senior vice president, strategy, innovation, cloud and mergers and acquisitions, at Tech Data.
Farache, who is of Jewish-Venezuelan origin and whose Sephardic Jewish family have roots in Spain, has been living in the United States for 18 years. He worked for several years as a company leader for an IT distributor within the Latin American region, which includes more than 30 countries, and recognizes the benefits of diversity in the workplace.
"Diversity of thought translates into different perspectives, which allows us to analyze problems from multiple points of view, improving the organization's ability in its execution,” he said. “This makes it easier for us to be successful in different markets, because not everyone operates in the same way.”
But diversity not only allows for the implementation of different strategies and initiatives to address regional need or cultural differences, it also lends to higher levels of employee engagement. This increases workplace productivity and drives innovation.
“It is always great to have diversity in our workforce and on different teams because you get a lot of different perspectives,” says Francisco Criado, vice president of Global Security Solutions at Tech Data. ”It is not just one opinion or one viewpoint. It is nice when you get people together from various diverse backgrounds and cultures. For me, is a great catalyst for innovation,” added Criado, who was born to a Cuban-native father and a mother who is half Costa Rican and half American. Criado’s mother spent her childhood living in various places across South and Central America. While Criado grew up in the U.S., in Florida and California, and now lives in Texas, he spent a lot of time in Latin America as a child and grew up fully immersed in his family’s Latin heritage.
"Diversity of thought translates into different perspectives, which allows us to analyze problems from multiple points of view, improving the organization's ability in its execution."
“Culture and family is so important to us,” said Criado. “When it comes to the holidays and traditions, we always got together with all the aunts and the uncles and the cousins.”
Tech Data recognizes the cultures of its employees through its diversity and inclusion program. The company has several business resource groups (BRGs) made up of employees from across the business who share an affinity or have an interest in a particular aspect of diversity such as gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, military service, etc. Early in 2019, Fuerza, the newest of these Tech Data BRGs, was introduced, with members seeking to contribute to the company's success by supporting all Hispanic/Latinx colleagues in their professional development, providing education on the various cultures of Latin America and promoting Tech Data as a great place to work.
"Since its launch, we have been very focused on promoting Hispanic culture throughout the corporation and supporting Tech Data's Hispanic/Latinx community with opportunities for continuous professional development, networking and the exchange of best practices to maximize potential and career advancement," explains Lynn Bautista, senior manager, Product Marketing, for Tech Data's Latin America export business, and chair of Fuerza.
The Hispanic/Latinx BRG has been working with other BRGs throughout Tech Data to help promote various employee events and initiatives to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. This includes joint messages focused on the Hispanic American military (including women) who have received the Medal of Honor (the Army's most revered award), and an educational talk about black communities in Latin America (Afro Latinos), touching on topics such as colorism and racial differences that are still present in Latin American societies. Also planned are group webinar sessions that will allow participating employees to explore different regions within Latin America, learning about their history, culture and traditions.
Workshops such as these, that revolve around Hispanic themes and celebrations, help to clarify myths and change perceptions.
Speaking of changing perceptions, during the development of this series on Hispanic Heritage Month, I also spoke to Karina Niño de Rivera, graphic designer with the Tech Data Agency team in Tempe, Arizona, who was born and raised in Mexico before moving to the United States. She talked about the Day of the Dead. This Mexican celebration dates back to pre-Hispanic times and honors the dead. To those who don’t understand it, Day of the Dead may seem unusual, but Niño de Rivera explains its meaning and why it’s one of her favorite holidays.
"I love to celebrate this tradition, because it breaks with the taboo about death, which is usually a difficult topic to talk about and accept,” said Niño de Rivera. “Every year on Nov. 2, we set aside our grief over the loss of our loved ones and give ourselves permission to be happy and celebrate those family members and friends who are no longer with us.”
“We go at night to the cemetery where our ancestors are buried. The place is usually full of lights, candles and flowers. We take the favorite meals of these special beings. Some families bring mariachis and others their own guitar. It is a beautiful, vibrant, joyful and elegant occasion, and at the same time one of great respect and honor."
“Every year on Nov. 2, we set aside our grief over the loss of our loved ones and give ourselves permission to be happy and celebrate those family members and friends who are no longer with us.”
The truth is that our heritage is a big part of our day-to-day life. After 15 years of living in the United States as a Jewish-Venezuelan:
- My family always comes first, and a family reunion overrides any previous engagement.
- Although I do not live there, Venezuela and the community in which I grew up are always in my heart and I support them within my possibilities.
- I always get asked where I am from the minute I say a word in English, usually starting with “You have a nice accent …”
- My family brunches still include pabellón criollo, arepa and torta de plátano (sweet/ripe plantain cake), and my contribution to any potluck is always Armando Scannone's arroz con leche (rice pudding);
- I miss having the beach and the mountain (my beloved Cerro Ávila) both within a 30- minute drive;
- I greet with a kiss and a hug even vague acquaintances (my American bosses and coworkers are still getting used to it after many years);
- I speak in Spanish to my children;
- I sing and dance to the sounds of Carlos Vives, Juan Luis Guerra, Franco de Vita and Alejandro Sanz and play/dance as much Reggaeton as possible in the car;
- Any excuse is perfect for a celebration in the house;
- We have dinner after 8;
- Venezuela and the community in which I grew up are always present in my heart and in my day to day;
- I am so grateful to this country that welcomed my family, witnessed the birth of my son and daughter and has given us the opportunity to grow and live with freedom and respect.
Don't miss part two of this series, in which additional Tech Data Hispanic / Latinx colleagues share their culture and traditions and what it means to them to be part of an organization that fosters diversity in the workplace.
NOTE: A Spanish translation of this blog post is available for download by clicking here.
About the Author:
Karina Seir is a senior communications specialist at Tech Data. In this role, she develops and executes communications plans that reinforce business initiatives and company strategy, supports the development of internal executive communications, collaborates with regional leaders and manages the external communications and public relations efforts for the company’s Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. Seir has 20 years of communications experience – the last 14 of which have been with Tech Data. The Venezuela native moved to the U.S. in 2005 and is fluent in both Spanish and English. Karina’s background and profile can found on LinkedIn.