You have probably seen them before: Latina professionals depicted as sexy vixens on TV, wearing miniskirts or tight dresses; the sassy secretary with a naive style; the nightmare boss’s wife. Although the Hispanic community has become the largest minority group in the US, Latinas, in particular, have to fight against stereotypes and other distorted perceptions.
When it comes to holding down a job in corporate America, you’d think being bilingual would work to my advantage, right? But this isn’t the case for many Latina entrepreneurs and leaders.
Latinas are risk-takers, from the lady cleaning your house, who is becoming the next entrepreneur by creating her own cleaning business, to the Latina women-owned law firms. Not afraid of getting our hands dirty, 788,000 Latinas now run their own businesses. Placida V. Gallegos, a Latina advancement specialist, points out that Latinas control 39 percent of the 1.4 million companies owned by minority women in the United States, and these businesses generate nearly 147 billion in sales.
We need to learn measures of success different from those in the traditional corporate world today. It was important for me to let go of the concept that because I’m a Latina, I won’t be able to get the job. I had zero work experience when I moved to the U.S.A. I had to earn my place and pick my battles wisely. My level of confidence was determined through my discipline and organization. From day one, I knew I had to assimilate into the corporate culture without hindering my roots. Assimilating meant making sacrifices in my home-life situation, but I was ready to take on the challenge. As Latinas, we work with a lot of adjustments because everything in life requires compromise, from small things like speaking Spanish with other co-workers and bringing drama to work, to the big things, like feeling we don’t fit in at work.
The sexism in the Latino community is alarming. There is a certain prejudice within professional Latinas, who often feel we have to work double the amount to demonstrate our skills. And once we’ve made it, we’re often the only Latina or woman of color, like a token.
At home, we often feel trapped by rigid gender roles, and more often than not we don’t have a supportive husband or partner. Sometimes, we get caught in the fight between the clash of a new culture and our own traditions.
Latinas often feel oppressed by their choices because we have very different expectations within the family dynamic. Latinas are ambitious for more than making babies and being submissive. We break barriers against language, stereotypes, culture, and discrimination. Latinas have feelings, but we are not out of control. We fight against false cultural perceptions because young Latinas are driven to be successful.
We are told we won’t be able to graduate from high school and get a higher education due to poverty. It is very common for Latinos to have parents who didn’t finish their high school education, but why should Latinas follow the same pattern? Latinas are hungry to have a better education, to become more competitive and ignite the entrepreneurial spirit. There are 50.5 million Latinos in the United States. We are catching up but still have far to go. We came to this country because we believed in a dream, and we are becoming more visible against the hatred of politicians because we understand the concept of inclusiveness and know that we have a responsibility to carry on with our goals.
One of my heroes, Maria Hinojosa, is the executive producer of Latino USA on NPR. How did she become successful? In a very moving speech for TedX.
“My stories didn’t appear. We were invisible. I was invisible from the media narrative. No one in the reporting that I saw looked like me, looked like my family. So I began to think that maybe somehow my life, my story, was less valuable—less important. Then one day I saw Martin Luther King speaking,” Hinojosa said, “and it was this person who looked the most unlike me, who made me believe that maybe one day, yes, I could, in fact, be a part of the fabric of this country. I didn’t know this invisibility, I just lived it. I didn’t understand it. And I came to see myself and feel myself as, ‘the other.’ ”
Latinas are more than an extension of the U.S.A.; we are becoming the builders of the future, woven into the fabric of the nation. The time has come to believe in us as much as we believe in ourselves.