The Plight of the American-Latino Professional
By: Jesse A. Mejia
American-Latino professionals possess the desire to achieve new heights in Corporate America. In describing the richness of the Latino culture, taking pride in our civic contributions and hearing how much we as Latinos matter to businesses and in political elections, there is also a story of stereotypes that we must recognize. In America, Latinos are the subject of news reports, political stump speeches, comedy sketches and the focus of jokes – none of which is flattering. Even when we hear and see these stereotypes, what do many of us do?
We remain silent. We smile. We nod. But what is going on inside us? We often hate those speaking, hate how out of place we feel, and we may even feel some shame ourselves. As Latinos, we may seek the path of least resistance, and so not only do we enable the misconceptions to continue, at times, we may even become the stereotype.
We are not infallible people. Of course we make mistakes both personally and professionals, but nonetheless, there are circumstances that can make us feel out of place. When those feelings happen at work, we question what our next steps should be, and if it is still okay to dream big.
Many years ago, I experienced that exact moment. During a company holiday party, our company CEO had too much to drink and started saying “stuff.” He had a strong opinion against individuals who were over weight, he would not promote women because he felt they were more concerned with starting families versus advancing in their careers, and then he made his way to me and wanted to talk about affirmative action. Our CEO was drunk and said, “You know Jesse, the affluent white guy no longer catches a break. We no longer catch a break.” He then walked away. My immediate manager, at the time, was present and apologized and said he did not know where that came from and I said, “Neither do I, because in my experience the affluent white guy always catches a break.”
I decided to not remain silent and allow our CEO to think that I was not able to contribute to the organization at a high level. As Latinos, especially in our current political climate, we must demonstrate our intellectual capabilities. My father was a proud man and a hard worker, and, though I was the son of a landscaper, he encouraged me to do more. Even though he did not know how to help me, I figured it out – much like you did too. You too figure things out. I did not pursue the career path of a stereotypical Latino landscaper because I had big dreams and ambition to pursue a fulfilling career in Corporate America — much like you.
In our American society, corporate culture plays a role in the pursuit of your ambitions. While every corporation claims to be an Equal Opportunity Employer, there will always be favorites. There will always be someone who is getting ahead, and it will have nothing to do with intellectual capability, but everything to do with the corporate culture that you have submersed yourself into. Culture and corporations do not change easily. Accept that the company rational for promoting someone else will be because they were “just a better fit for the role,” whereas in reality, it could have been as simple as the hiring manager not wanting to introduce a dynamic that he or she was not familiar with and running the risk of disrupting the team dynamics. In an effort to overcome these barriers, Latinos and all minority workers must be well prepared. Meet your challenges with presence, polish and poise. Invest in your professional development so it will be hard for anyone to deny your success.
I am passionate about this topic because I too continue to face these same challenges every day, but I meet each challenge with confidence. Learning how to overcome adversity is a skill that is learned over time, and this, mi gente, is what is called: GRIT. In Spanish, we call Grit – GANAS, and it will be the GANAS that you possess that will set you apart as you push through the challenges that you will face. As Latinos, we come from a powerful and proud heritage of people who know how to excel in the face of adversity. Grit is in our blood! Stay focused, stay positive, stay professional, Rise UP y Seguimos Adelante!
Jesse A. Mejia is the Founder & CEO of MBA Catalyst, an MBA admissions consulting firm. Jesse has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, US News & World Reports, USA Today, and has been a featured guest on National Public Radio. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and is a sought after speaker on the topic of personal economic empowerment. Jesse is the author of Dual Track: Graduating from College with Options and ¡Rise Up, Mi Gente! A Roadmap for Latinos to Achieve Success in Corporate America. The Plight of the American-Latino Professional is an excerpt from Jesse’s book ¡Rise Up, Mi Gente! To learn more about Jesse, visit www.JesseMejiaSpeaks.com