The dna Spotlight is an ongoing series that highlights our colleagues’ unique voices in our agency.
During National Hispanic Heritage Month, we continue to recognize the achievements, contributions and history of Hispanic American individuals. We had the pleasure of speaking to our own colleagues, Mike, dna General Manager, Angelique, Manager of Client Experience, and Claudia, Associate of Client Experience.
Q: Where is your family from originally and what cultural traditions have continued with your family?
Mike: My dad’s family is originally from Puerto Rico. When his father came over, it was really about assimilation and blending into the city. There was a lot of whitewashing and Americanization that they went through, to the extent that my grandfather changed his name from Jose Miguel to Joseph Michael, so that he could pass for White.
A lot of the traditions are more around food and select dishes that my dad would make, he’s a pretty good cook. It’s an interesting thing just because the era that my family came here was less about being proud of where you came from and more about blending into the New York culture when they arrived.
Angelique: My family is originally from Cuba, both of my parents and their families immigrated in the early 60’s when Fidel Castro took over. My dad’s side and my mom’s side came to Miami through the Peter Pan flights that were enacted in 1963. I also agree with Mike about cultural traditions because I feel like a lot of the traditions that my family have are centered around food. We celebrate Christmas and Christmas Eve, called Nochebuena, which translates to “good night.”
When my grandparents came over, similar to Mike’s, it was a lot of assimilation because there was discrimination and racism, so trying to fit in as much as possible was important to them. When my grandmother was still driving she had an American flag with a Cuban flag next to it on her car. It’s this weird thing of trying to fit in because you didn’t fit in for so long and being targeted was such a concern.
Claudia: My dad is originally from Brazil, and he was the first member of his family to move to America. He always tells the same story, “I came to this country with $300 in my pocket,” and he started from there. Just going back and seeing my family there, I’ve always had a super strong connection. I have been going to Brazil, basically, since I was only a few months old, 2-3 times a year, so I grew up speaking Portuguese in my family and all of my family traditions were centered around my family in Brazil.
One specific tradition that my family and I have really grown to love is on New Year’s Eve. In Brazil there is a goddess called Iemanjá and she is the goddess of the sea, so on New Year’s Eve, everybody goes to the beach and they put a white rose in the water to thank her for everything she has done that year.
Q: What does National Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Mike: For me it’s always been a catalyst to want to learn more. I mentioned this in our agency meeting a few weeks ago, the idea that there are so many different types of people with different backgrounds that make up Hispanic or Latinx. Puerto Rico is interesting because the homogenization of Puerto Rico culture happened in the late 1800s, prior to that it was almost like America where you had distinct cultures within it.
This month is an opportunity really to learn, educate myself and dig deeper into things that maybe I don’t think about on a yearly basis.
Angelique: I think National Hispanic Heritage Month is a reminder to dig deeper into your own culture. From my experience, I’ve never visited Cuba, nobody from my immediate family has gone since they left. My mom came to the United States when she was 3 and my dad when he was 5. Their siblings were young as well, so no one really remembers from their own personal experience. But, what we know of Cuba and the people and what it was, is from my grandparents, great aunts and uncles and growing up with those stories that have been passed down.
Also, reading articles and books. A lot of independent bookstores put out really good non-fictions about Latinx culture. I went and I bought a couple of books this past weekend that I’m hoping to read to learn more.
Claudia: It’s definitely the same for me, I try to educate myself and learn about Brazil’s neighboring countries. I haven’t traveled that much in South America, besides Brazil, so understanding other people’s cultures and talking to some of my friends that are from different countries in Central or South America. I’m super into crime podcasts, for example, and one of the podcasts I listen to, they focus on cases of Latina and Black communities, just because those are the cases that usually don’t get the spotlight. I try to listen to those episodes as much as I can.
Also, understanding how I play a role in Hispanic Heritage Month and understanding my identity. Being from Brazil, I feel like it’s kind of one of those countries that you don’t really know if it fits into being Latina or being Hispanic.
Q: What Hispanic role models have been most influential in your life, and why?
Mike: This is going to sound a little silly and you guys may be a little too young to get this reference, but do you remember when Ricky Martin had the ad where he was the face of Puerto Rican tourism? [Claudia: I actually do remember that!] [Angelique: Same!] It was the first time that you had a big face attached to Puerto Rico and he was proudly saying it, referring to it as “my” island of Puerto Rico. And there was a moment that I remember as a kid where I was like, “that’s pretty cool,” because for so long a lot of famous entertainers in that space didn’t really talk about it as their island, they were from there but they were American. Maybe it was the age that I was at but it was very memorable – not to say that Ricky Martin is my role model by any means, but it was one of the first times I heard someone very proudly talk about it as a desirable thing to want to identify yourself with.
As I got older, it would be hard not to name someone like Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lin has done a lot to raise awareness for Hispanic culture overall, he’s Puerto Rican but In the Heights very much focuses on Dominican culture because that’s predominantly who is living in that neighborhood. It’s people who are shining a different light on what the culture is and giving a glimpse into the beauty and the diversity of the cultures.
Angelique: I thought it was really funny that you said that, Mike, because I have this vivid memory of Nickelodeon doing Hispanic Heritage Month commercials when I was younger and I remember I was like “wow, I wish that was me,” and not understanding that I was a part of it. I thought it was so nice because the people that they were showing looked like me, my cousins, my friends and the people I go to school with.
For Hispanic role models, I thought more about the people in my life. Growing up in Miami, my grandmother came to the United States with 4 young girls and was 5 months pregnant by herself without my grandfather. She is the strongest person I will probably ever know. My mom, she is a child of 8, her sisters and her brother are very successful, and my cousins too. I feel like being surrounded by that, we are able to keep moving forward and accomplish a lot and have these opportunities.
Claudia: My heroes are people that are in my life. I think it was first grade. I went to an international school which was very inclusive, very diverse, but a lot of my friends only spoke English. Their parents spoke different languages but they never passed it along to their kids. So I was the only one that spoke a different language, I always spoke Portuguese with my dad. We had one day out of the year called U.N. Day where we dressed in our national dress and spoke our language, it’s the moment where you’re supposed to be really proud of your country. But since all of my friends were speaking English, I was embarrassed and wore an American soccer jersey. There was a gym teacher at my school who was Brazilian and he knew I was Brazilian and asked me why I wasn’t representing Brazil, and I said that none of my friends speak another language, I feel weird about it. He said “you should be so proud, Brazil is such an amazing country,” really just made me feel proud to be a Brazilian and proud to be a little different than my friends. So he’s always been a huge role model for me.
The other is my aunt, she worked a lot with the indigenous community in Brazil and traveled to the Amazon. She was always trying to do something different and help underrepresented communities, she continues to send me articles and different organizations I can support.
National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated in the U.S. from September 15 through October 15. For more information about National Hispanic Heritage Month, visit hispanicheritagemonth.gov.