Q: What does being Hispanic mean to you?
A: To me, being Hispanic means being a part of a culture of heritages united by a language and values. Across Hispanic countries, the cultural structures are very much the same. I grew up in Guatemala but traveled across Latin America my professional career and I am always struck by how much more similar we are than different. Latin America is very similar to the United States, in that each of the states has unique identities but all share things in common. One trait that Hispanics share is a desire to accommodate and welcome. In my experience, wherever you go in Hispanic countries, you will feel this same sense of welcoming and accommodation; even here in America when I meet my Hispanic friends.
Q: How do you approach balancing your identity as a Hispanic and as an American?
A: I have seen the experience be different from a first- and second-generation perspective. When I came to Florida for college, I had an overwhelming feeling of being an ambassador for Guatemala. My perspective is that for first generation immigrants, there is a need to bring what you have to the table, all of what you are, where you came from, and to do that openly. Florida also has a large Hispanic population and a native population because it was colonized by Spaniards, so there is a rich Spanish heritage which made the transition easy.
For my older children, they came to the United States when they were much younger and at that age, they were trying to figure out what the culture was. They did not have to be ambassadors like me. As second generation, one relies on parents and guardians to tell you more about where you came from.
The US at its heart is a multitude of different cultures together that have retained their uniqueness and values, but all added something to make America what it is today. I tell my kids, when you are asked to identify your race or heritage, always check the Hispanic box and be proud of it.
Q: You mentioned your perspective that all ethnic groups in America have brought something to the table in terms of culture. In what aspects of American culture can you find Hispanic influence?
A: About 100 things just popped into my head. But I would have to say the first thing is language. I was reading a book recently about how cultures that are multilingual tend to thrive more than mono-lingual cultures. Having a culture with more than one language makes that country stronger.
Hispanics also place a lot of value in the family unit. You always want to keep the family close, both geographically and in relationships. Strength of family is an attribute and a trait I am proud to share with other cultures in America.
After working in America for several years, I moved back to Guatemala to join the family business with my father. We were 50 employees and very close knit. When I came back to the US, I was looking for that same family culture and environment in an organization. When searching for a career, it was important to me to have the opportunity to control my work-life balance in order to build strong family bonds at home. I have found that family environment and ability at Jabian and it makes all the difference.
Q: What business advice to you give to your sons?
A: Personally, I have never experienced any adverse effects in my career due to my heritage. If anything, having the ability to leverage my origins to be proud of it and embrace it, and to share that part of myself with others has been a huge advantage. I believe we have a responsibility to embrace who we are and show how those traits make us better. Looking for those unique points of pride and color in others and learning more about who they are holistically is an attribute of a good leader.
I think it is important for Hispanics to build positive stereotypes and represent our culture. As I mentioned earlier, I always saw myself as an ambassador for my culture and heritage and that sense of pride is important to me.