Reflections on Hispanic Heritage Month: A Prosek Ask Me Anything
At Prosek, we’re committed to creating a space where everyone – regardless of their race, gender or background – feels comfortable, accepted and appreciated. One of the ways we work to achieve this is through our Culture, Diversity and Belonging (CDB) Council, an internal group of passionate Prosekians who create fun and educational programming throughout the year to help us learn about one another’s cultures, traditions and perspectives on the world.
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the CDB Council organized an Ask Me Anything (AMA) panel, during which several of our colleagues spoke candidly about their experiences. Our moderator, Cristina Martinez, was joined by Kaitlyn Amaro, Kristen Duarte, Maria Gonzalez and Irina Navarro. Together, they discussed some of the most memorable experiences from their childhood, shared stories about visiting the countries from which they and their families are from, and talked about how being Hispanic has impacted their lives in ways big and small.
To learn more about Cristina, Kaitlyn, Kristen, Maria, and Irina, scroll down for their bios; and keep reading to see what they had to say during our event.
On how to increase education and awareness of the Hispanic population in the U.S…
At the start of the conversation, each person went around and said where they and/or their families are from as part of their introductions. Maria Gonzalez believes that smaller moments like these are important, because they’re a way to express pride in your heritage. She also believes that forums like what we had this week are “helpful to raise awareness” and create spaces “for Hispanics to feel supported.” Moreover, she explained, they’re great for debunking “misconceptions overall,” especially around citizenship and education. As examples, Maria cited two recent findings from the Pew Research Center: first, that 4 in 5 Latinos in the U.S. are in fact citizens; and second, that Hispanics now make up 1 in 5 students enrolled at postsecondary institutions in the U.S. These are in contrast to certain stereotypes that many of us might have unfortunately heard at some point in our lives.
Kaitlyn Amaro talked about the individual and collective ways we can improve and educate ourselves about the Hispanic experience in the U.S. As for what we can do on our own, she explained, “It starts with being aware of your own unconscious bias.” We need to each take responsibility for our actions and understand the “why” behind our behaviors. On a broader scale, Kaitlyn believes that having conversations in an open forum “like this one” is super important—because they enable opportunities to “have a seat at the table to let our voices be heard.”
On their favorite things about their Hispanic culture and family…
Cuban food and Cuban music. Those are the two things that Kristen Duarte loves most about her culture. Growing up, Kristen cherished the times – like every Christmas – that her family spent in the kitchen. Her grandma would whip up some of the family’s favorites: croquetas, arroz con pollo, black bean soup and more. The recipes were never written down, but they’ve been passed down verbally. It’s a tradition that she’ll always be able to enjoy and pass on to future generations.
Speaking of traditions, every year, Maria Gonzalez and her family put their own spin on the “posada,” a Mexican tradition in the days leading up to Christmas. They reenact the Nativity scene and go door-to-door to sing to people in their neighborhood. Maria explained that, since she comes from a big family, it’ll sometimes be as many as 70 of her and her loved ones bringing this tradition to life.
On what they feel like people get wrong about the Hispanic community in the U.S…
For Irina Navarro, the number one thing is that people tend to lump together and generalize all of the different cultures as just one Latino or Hispanic entity, rather than recognize that there are so many different countries and cultures that comprise this diverse community: “I don’t think it happens all the time, but I notice it quite a lot, and I think it’s such a shame.”
For Kristen Duarte, it comes down to misconceptions and stereotypes: “There’s this notion in the U.S. that immigrants are lazy or criminals. But in my experience, the Hispanic people I know are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever met and will do whatever it takes to provide and make things better for the next generation. As someone who was made to feel embarrassed about my heritage by other children, I feel like there’s so much opportunity to educate [people otherwise] …”
On what it was like growing up in the U.S. and visiting where their families came from…
Kaitlyn Amaro grew up stateside, but as a child lived with her grandma and grandpa who were from Puerto Rico. When describing each of the three times she’s been to Puerto Rico (so far), she said that it “felt like going home in a sense,” and that “there was this inherent understanding of each other.” Growing up, Kaitlyn heard stories about Puerto Rico’s rich history; about the cobblestone streets in San Juan, and about the sounds of the “coqui,” a small frog endemic to the region. The first time she heard the coquí herself, it felt “almost nostalgic”—even though she’d never actually experienced the croaks of the frogs until that moment.
When Kristen Duarte visited Cuba with her family, they managed to track down the addresses of their family members’ former homes. Seeing that her grandfather’s house had become a government building was “really surreal,” and spotting her last name – Duarte – engraved in the building that was formerly her grandfather’s warehouse was “the most special moment of that trip.” To Kristen, her visit to Cuba was “very life-changing” for her whole family.
On what it was like NOT growing up in the U.S. and moving here—and what people should understand about their experiences…
Cristina Martinez explained that, to her, bucketing people into a category/generalizing everyone as Hispanic or Latino is “very much an American marketing thing.” As she put it, “…To us, we’re all very different…with very different cultures…histories…political backgrounds…” When Cristina meets a Hispanic person in the U.S., she doesn’t introduce them as Hispanic or Latino, but rather, she refers to their heritage in relation to the country they’re from, e.g., “This is my friend, Maria; she’s Mexican.”
Like Cristina, Irina Navarro was also surprised by how often Americans just group together everyone’s experiences. When she came to the U.S., Irina “thought it was weird when people referred to Latin people as Spanish…and didn’t even specify which country in Latin America they were from.” She explained that when you’re outside of the U.S., it’s not usually like that. But at the same time, people in other countries have their own ways to misunderstanding her background. For example, though Irina is Argentinian, she spent most of her life growing up in Italy and going to school there. Even though she felt like a true Italian, she noticed that whenever she’d tell someone where she was originally from, they’d say she wasn’t really Italian. Meanwhile, whenever she’d go back to Argentina, people would ask her where she’s from, because – to them – she spoke Argentinian Spanish with a different accent.
One good thing about the U.S. versus Argentina or Italy, Irina noted, is that here, it feels like “a lot of the pressure” around her heritage is gone because there are “so many different kinds of people here…” and she doesn’t feel the need to “justify” and defend her background.
On people in the Hispanic culture whom they admire…
Kaitlyn Amaro mentioned the Puerto Rican musical artist and international phenomenon, Bad Bunny, who, in the words of this recent Rolling Stone article, “doesn’t miss.” To Kaitlyn, Bad Bunny is someone who “brings this light to the culture.” She loves that Bad Bunny uses his platform to bring awareness to issues that are happening in Puerto Rico and the Hispanic community, from the electrical grid constraints in PR, to transgender awareness and acceptance among Latinos. Kaitlyn also spoke about how Spanish language music has only recently become popular in the U.S. and that, while someone like Bad Bunny would’ve topped the charts only outside of the U.S., today, he and other Latin musicians have popular songs that they’re singing fully in Spanish. In her words, that’s truly “a beautiful thing.”
ABOUT THE MODERATOR
Cristina Martinez, Senior Vice President
Cristina was born and raised in Puerto Rico and her first language is Spanish. Her mother is from Puerto Rico and still lives there. Her father was from Cuba, moved to Spain and then Puerto Rico after the Cuban Revolution, and met her mother there. Cristina lived in Puerto Rico until she was 18, when she moved to Boston for college. She has lived in Puerto Rico, Boston, NYC and now Dallas, Texas.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS
Kaitlyn Amaro, Talent Acquisition Associate
Kaitlyn is a proud Boricua, or Puerto Rican, by descent; her grandparents both being from PR and moving to the U.S. when they were teenagers. Kaitlyn has been back to Puerto Rico on multiple family trips, and loves to stay connected to her Puerto Rican heritage through family traditions, music, and food.
Kristen Duarte, Associate Vice President
Kristen grew up in Rye, NY and has lived in NYC for the last seven years. Her father was born in Havana, Cuba and moved to Miami, FL at the onset of the Cuban Revolution. Kristen spent much of her childhood visiting family in Miami, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. She was fortunate enough to travel to Havana with her family in 2017 and experience her father’s return to the country he was born in, as well as visit the home he grew up in and her great grandfather’s warehouse, which still bears the Duarte name.
Maria Gonzalez, Senior Vice President
Maria was born in Mexico City and moved to the U.S. with her immediate family at the age of three. Twelve years later, her mother decided she’d spent enough time in America, and the family moved back to Mexico, where they now reside. Maria grew up speaking Spanish in her household and attended a bilingual high school in Mexico City.
Irina Navarro, Assistant Account Executive
Irina grew up in 8 different countries but spent most of her life in Italy, she identifies as half Argentinian and half Italian. Her parents were born and raised in Argentina and at home she spoke Italian with her mother and Spanish with her father. When she was 16, she moved to Caracas, Venezuela to finish high school, at the time the city was ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The experience helped her re-connect with her Latin roots and develop a renewed appreciation for the struggle many people in Latin America face every day.