In The Community
Professionalism has been defined to me in a myriad of ways, but I distinctly remember being told once early on in one of my first office jobs that my facial expressions were “unprofessional” and “overly expressive” for the nature of my role.
This feedback was met by me with confusion. After all, what does my face have to do with being a professional? I soon realized that this feedback was given by a coworker of mine who frequently engaged in microaggressions towards me, her attributing my normally loud voice, clothing, hairstyle, direct communication style, and overall expressiveness to me being “such a Latina.”
I’ve had this conversation a lot recently with my friends. We’re finding that although we’ve always worked to be in professional roles, we’re also finding out that these “amazing” jobs we’re given aren’t all they appear to be.
Many of us grew up in homes where going to college and landing a professional job would be considered the pinnacle of success. To many Latine and immigrant parents, having their children occupy professional spaces complete with degrees and fancy benefits is the ultimate dream.
However, once we’re in these spaces, many of us discover that we’re not in a place to express anything negative with either the work or the office, only to be told “be grateful for having a job like yours, mija!”
Expressing any of this means running the risk of being dismissed as too picky and being told to be grateful for the opportunities. But doing so means we’re compromising some of the best skills in our professional toolbox: autonomy to make decisions and advocate for ourselves.
I’m far from the only Latina who has been told to deal with mistreatment from employers and that I should be happy to be included. Which is why we need to redefine how professionalism works for us.
It’s time to set the record straight on why Latina professionals shouldn’t be grateful to just be included in these spaces.
Latinas are setting the new normal of what it means to be an accomplished professional through advocacy for our working lives. Being a professional woman, especially a Latina, doesn’t mean we let ourselves become doormats to our employers. Inclusivity isn’t a reason to take mistreatment or abuse from an employer.
With a good title and salary also comes stress, obligations, and an overcommitment to work and situations we weren’t initially prepared to navigate. The leadership skills we develop can end up being reframed as too “aggressive,” while being expected to adjust to microaggressions and workloads that don’t give us any space to exist outside of our jobs. On top of all of this, the shiny benefits like paid time off don’t actually get used when we’re stressfully checking emails after working hours.
There’s real value in being a Latina professional that’s able to advocate for herself. This includes joining Latino-focused, professional development groups, finding an online community to network, working to create your own spaces/groups in your field for others, and forming camaraderie among your professional contacts that are feeling just as displaced as you are.
While I will always disagree with the notion that Latinas need to be expected to say “gracias!” for even having a space at the table, I know it’s important to use our positions of power to make sure there’s a seat for the ones coming after.
Latinas are gaining more visibility than ever before - from TV shows to the big screen, and MSNBC is premiering a special you don't want to miss.
We are finally moving away from the days when Latinas were entirely absent from popular media.
Just this past month four Latinx actors were announced as new cast members of the much-awaited Black Panther sequel, including Guatemalan actress María Mercedes Coroy of Mayan Kaqchikel descent, and Mexican actress Mabel Cadena.
On the small screen, Netflix’s top 10 shows as of this writing include three that have Latinas in leading roles including Cuban/Spanish Ana de Armas in “The Gray Men,” Mexican/American Melissa Barrera in “Keep Breathing,” and Colombian/American Sofia Carson in “Purple Hearts.” But how much do we know about the other 30 million Latinas powering the U.S economy, their families, and their communities?
Actress Justina Machado is going to help us learn more about the largest demographic of women of color in the U.S on MSNBC’s special “The Culture Is: Latina.”
The audience will hear some honest and insightful conversations in this one-hour special that premieres Sunday, August 7 at 10 p.m ET, and will kick off with an exclusive interview with the Emmy-nominated Rosie Perez, the current star of HBO’s “The Flight Attendant.”
An open roundtable dialogue will follow, where Machado will lead a conversation with eight other trail-blazing Latinas. Together they will explore topics regarding racial diversity, the power of images in media narratives, and how they can contribute to the perception of Latinas, as well as their increasingly growing economic and voting power.
The women joining the conversation with Machado include:
- Bricia Lopez, James Beard Award-Winning Restaurateur and Author
- Gloria Calderón Kellett, Executive Producer and Showrunner
- Julissa Arce, Author of You Sound Like A White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation
- Gina Torres, Actress and Producer.
- Janel Martinez, Writer and Founder of Ain’t I Latina?
- Gloria Estefan, Grammy-Award Winning Singer, Actress and Philanthropist
- Mónica Ramírez, Co-founder and President of The Latinx House
- Maria Hinojosa, Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist and Anchor of Latino USA
Don’t miss this amazing special that serves as an opportunity for Latinas to elevate our voices and take ownership of our narratives in popular media.
- Is Rosalia Taking Advantage of Latinx Culture? ›
- Labels 101: Hispanic, Latino, Latinx, and More ›
- Luz Media ›
My home state of California recently celebrated yet another first by becoming the first in the nation to require an ethnic studies class to graduate from high school. The bill’s author, Assemblymember Jose Medina, believes that ethnic studies “provides hope for fostering understanding and unity” in the face of civil unrest and racial tension. In fact, passage of the legislation came just over a week after students from an Orange County, California high school demonstrated why this mass education is still sorely needed.
In a highly publicized racial incident, the students from one high school with a very slight white majority student population at 51% seemingly targeted the Latinx students from a neighboring high school by way of a viral poster reading, “Ur dad is my GARDENER.”
While the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District vowed to investigate, the school board may meanwhile propose a resolution to define and ban “critical race theory” at their next meeting.
As an Orange County Latina who attended high school in the same school district in question, I’m both disappointed by how little has changed in the more-than-decade since I graduated and also hopeful for the classes of 2030 and beyond (2030 is the year in which the ethnic studies requirement becomes effective for graduates).
It simply isn’t too much to ask that our education system include educating our children about diversity.
In fact, such racist incidents demonstrate ignorance about, if not outright resistance to, the reality of an increasingly diverse nation with a diminishing white population. Part of the issue we are facing can be attributed to the lack of diversity within the teaching corps as much as it reflects an uninformed portion of the student population.
Reflecting upon my time in high school, I can attest to the fact that I never had a Latinx teacher, or any teacher of color for that matter.
I can’t recall ever interacting with a Latinx school administrator during my four years.
All my teachers were, as far as I could tell, white. I genuinely believe that they cared about me and the rest of their students regardless of race or ethnicity and a handful of my teachers were wonderful with credit due to their commitment to teaching.
But, there were others who sometimes committed lapses in cultural understanding in their teaching and during casual interactions with students. Such microaggressions included errant remarks about immigration and “real Mexicans” during class lectures and overheard “jokes” predicting which Latina student would be the first to become pregnant, that I was forced to process at a critical time in my development.
In my school district, the teacher population is nearly 80% white, while the student population is 43% Latinx.
But let me be clear, this isn’t just a suburban Orange County reality. In California, the most diverse state in our nation, Latinx teachers only make up 21% of the teaching workforce while the student population is more than 50% Latinx.
According to a 2018 study from the Learning Policy Institute, students of color who have educators of color demonstrate greater academic achievement, such as social and emotional gains; increased scores on standardized tests; and decreased rates of chronic absenteeism, suspensions, and dropouts. White students benefit from educator diversity as well, meaning that the achievement of a truly diverse teaching workforce would be a win for all students.
Yet, aspiring teachers of color experience significant barriers to entry at every level of the teacher workforce pipeline, such as the high cost of college attendance and lower college completion rates.
These problems are not without solutions at every level of our education system.
For example, school districts could create DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) subcommittees to strengthen hiring and retention practices and work in partnership with local Minority Serving Institutions. States could modify credentialing requirements to remove unnecessary hurdles, such as overreliance on standardized testing requirements given the mounting evidence that they don’t accurately or consistently predict teacher effectiveness.
At the federal level, the Secretary of Education could create a subcommittee to explore and report to Congress potential solutions, such as grant programs and additional financial aid (#DoublePell).
The inclusion of an ethnic studies bill as a high school graduation requirement is a hard-fought accomplishment with far-reaching implications. However, it’s only the beginning of not only the kind of transformation that is possible, but the kind necessary to promote inclusivity and student success for our next generation.
Briana M. Calleros lives in Brea, CA and works as the Director of Community Education at Suma Wealth. She is a recent graduate of the Hispanas Organized for Political Equity (HOPE) HLI 2021 Cohort, an intensive nine-month leadership program for professional Latinas across California. The goal of the Institute is to train Latinas in vital leadership and advocacy skills, enabling them to create fundamental change within their local neighborhoods, state, and workplace.