In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are celebrating the accomplishments and amplifying the voices of our incredible Latinx community. Longtime Code2College volunteer instructor Jorge Luna shares why representation matters, and how he himself became passionate about advancing diversity in STEM.
The year is 1997 and I am sitting in a Mexican American Studies class at The University of Texas at Austin. The topic being discussed is a commercial for Taco Bell that featured a small talking Chihuahua who would utter the words, “Yo Quiero Taco Bell!”, and how folks found the commercial offensive to Spanish speakers. Frankly, I didn’t get why anyone would take issue with the commercial as I personally thought it was catchy and a little bit funny. Then someone said to me, “You may not understand why I find it offensive because when you see yourself, you don’t think to yourself the stereotype is all you will ever be. But for me I do”.
Wow. I was speechless – and sad.
Fast forward 20 years and I am employed at a Fortune 500 company working as a Senior Manager. An individual who is now a close friend approached me and said, “You have a big opportunity to help us. I am not sure if you were aware of that”. He proceeded to tell me that there were not a lot of Hispanics at the level of leadership I was at in the company, and that I was an inspiration to folks who don’t usually see one of their own in a leadership position. At this point, my naïve response was, “Well there you go! If I can do it, anyone can!” It made me feel special that I was in a position at a level that not too many of “us” had achieved. What a compliment, I thought.
Or was it?
Unfortunately as I pondered on that conversation in the following hours, days, months – and now years – I came to realize the unfortunate reality of that comment spoke much less about my accomplishments and so much more about the playing field we operate in.
Once again, I was speechless.
It is a blessing and a curse that we are influenced by what we observe out there in the world. What we see can limit or empower us – it is much easier to believe that I can accomplish something if someone I can relate to has accomplished something similar before me. When enough people have accomplished it, then it no longer just looks possible, but it starts to look probable, and eventually easy. Representation is not having one example out there showing that it is possible – representation is when it looks easy because we see it all around us.
The conversation I had with my friend quickly went from a compliment to a call to action: to do all I can so that people of color having great tech jobs and holding leadership positions are not anomalies but rather the norm.
I am thankful for Code2College giving me the opportunity to serve as an instructor to many students. It is great to be able to teach and have them pick up great skills from the classes. But the multiplier – the bonus ball – is having them see a brown immigrant with a very Hispanic sounding name introduce himself as a senior leader for some of the best companies in the world. If that was not awesome enough, I get to help grow some of the brightest technologists heading into college – the future technologists and leaders that my kids, who all have very Hispanic sounding names, will encounter and say, “You are telling me I can do that?, You are telling me I can be that?”
We will have representation when we no longer have to tell them – they will see it all around them!