Large corporations today often use their Employee Resource Groups to support the professional development of different groups of employees—veterans, Latinas, women in nonprofessional trades, or Gen Y employees. These are a few examples of ERGs and its well worth your time to join any number of ERGs to network and benefit from workshops and events they may offer. When I recently advised a young Latina about joining her company’s Latino ERG, I saw some resistance and asked why.
“Well, you know, I don’t look Latina. I don’t think I’ll be welcomed.” she said in a whisper.
Ay Dios mío.
I have the good fortune of having traveled throughout Mexico and to have met people from all of the Spanish speaking countries of the world. The idea of a blond, blue-eyed, Latina does not startle nor offend me. Of all the stereotypes that Latinas as a whole have endured through the ages and openly discussed—this one remains taboo. Can you be Latina if you look white? Of course!. Just like this young Latina I was coaching—she may not resemble the indigenous people of her descendant’s homeland but she is 100% Latina. She speaks Spanish. She has a Spanish surname. She enjoys the traditions of her homeland, feels the rhythm of our music and feels connected to la cultura. Since the stereotypical Latina portrayed in mass media has brown eyes, brown hair, and darker skin tones, the Latina who looks white is stereotyped by her own community. How is this bias any different than the bias Latinas face as a whole? And more importantly, what will it take to keep this from dividing us?
Latinos and Latinas often need just as much of a cross-cultural education about the world beyond our nations borders as any other group living in the US. If you have not yet taken a course in Latin American History, Chicano Studies, or simply traveled it can be difficult to appreciate the heterogeneous nature of our latinadad. So let’s get it straight: The unique history of Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean is essential in understanding that the people who consider themselves Latino today share an ancestry that can be Spanish, French, Jewish, Irish, African, Azteca, Inca, Maya, or Quechua—and then some! Depending on your own family’s heritage, the range of skin tones in just one family can be quite varied and ever so beautiful. Skin color is just that—skin color. It is the political construct of skin color that has divided Latinos—not just in the US but even in our own homelands. Latinos of the world come in all shapes, sizes, skin color, hair color, and eye color but they are Latinos one and all.
So why is acceptance of white Latinas a workplace issue? Unity among us is essential to leveraging the collective impact we can have economically as our numbers grow. Some are beginning to call this the Decade of the Latino. The sad news is that 1980s and the 1990’s were also once called the Decade of the Hispanic. All the benefits of our growing numbers have yet to be realized however, in part because our community faces enormous challenges in access to education, the C-suite, and the US Senate. If you are fortunate to work in a corporation that values Latino employees, make time to reach out and embrace the diversity of our community. Help your employer see Latinos as positioned for success, not distracted by internal divisiveness. Our collective future and your individual success is within sight when you see the diverse Latinidad among us is our greatest strength. Tell me about being a white Latina at Latina Cubicle Confidential or join me live at the next LatinaVIDA.