I was the only Latina at my summer internship on Wall Street at a political and communications consulting agency known for electing New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio.
After the 2016 election, the firm expanded beyond comprehension—clients constantly poured in with a focus on re-instilling progressive and liberal values such as immigration and criminal justice reform, civil and human rights, labor and philanthropy. Everything that the company stands for and represents aligns well with my political views. Despite this, out of 150-plus employees, there was only one Spanish-speaking Latina: me.
As the population in New York City continues to rise dramatically, one would assume that the demographics would properly adjust as well. Since 2010, the U.S. Census Data provides that Hispanics (any race) make up over 27.5 percent of the population in New York, making it the “largest Hispanic city” in the United States with over 2.3 million Latinx people.
Initially, being a piece of this demographic, the situation I landed in felt like a cultural and personal achievement.
I assisted in representing immigration organizations that were focused on reuniting families at the border. I created Spanish-language communication plans for proper representation of Hispanic values and recognition. I locked in interviews with Telemundo, Univision, Caracol and more. I achieved proper coverage of the present issues that are being faced by the Latino community.
Yet as I write this, I feel panicked that I’m no longer present to maintain the tone that I set. As I flew back to Miami, I realized that even the most progressive companies still lack diversity. We shouldn’t be comfortable with that idea.
According to a study conducted by People en Español’s Latina@Work, 53 percent of Latinas admit that their company is “defined by conforming to traditionally white, male standards.” I learned this myself, despite working for a company that has deep-set progressive values in a city strongly inhabited by people of color.
I faced a struggle between accepting my bilingual call to action, and being sought as an equal at the company. Being the only Latina who could represent the values of their clients, I lost out on the same opportunities that were geared to the “traditional, white, male” employees. While I ensured that the Spanish grammar was correct in immigration messaging, I watched my intern coworkers write op-eds for the New York Times.
I never thought that I’d face this conundrum in New York City: How can we ensure that there are more Latinx in the workplace while still offering them the same opportunities? As Latinos continue rising in the workforce, where do we draw the line between our work being considered a “favor,” and our work actually being a driving force for the company?
I suggested the need for diversity to the CEOs. They looked at me wide-eyed, confused and stunned that they didn’t realize this imbalance. However, their lack of awareness was exposed when they asked me bluntly, “Where can we find capable Latinos?”
Growing up in Miami, I’ve grown accustomed to the idea of being a “majority” in a city where 70 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latinx, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. In Miami, Latinos are politicians, lawyers, journalists, and consultants. The realization of how privileged I was to grow up in a strongly present Latinx community is now beginning to settle.
I dreamt of corporate New York as a melting pot that would set the tone beyond its city borders. I envisioned the environment of a New York City workplace promising culture, diversity and promise for people of color. But once I was asked “Where can we find capable Latinos?” I felt shy to present my cultural background.
Monique Manso, brand sales director at People en Español, said Latinas@Work revealed the divergence between cultural expectations and progress in the workplace. “Our study is uncovering how Latinas are experiencing more professional and educational growth than ever before. However, they are modulating two opposing versions of themselves,” Manso said.
Our representation matters. Let’s continue paving the way to become an integral part of corporate America.