Accented, Brown and Culturally Aware in the Workplace


Today marks the start of a month-long celebration for national Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM). This web portal provides background info about the observance celebrated through October 15 and that is focused on the “histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.”

Recently, I attended an event to kick off HHM and listened closely to a presentation entitled Generational Truths and Myths Every Leader Needs to Know. During his remarks, Jeffrey Vargas presented the characteristics of Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials and highlighted the communication styles of these groups and how they coalesce (or not). The bucket descriptions reminded me of my very first stint in the federal government several years ago through the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities National Internship Program.

I was an ambitious college grad and extremely proud to be the first in my family to bring a bachelor’s degree home. Days earlier, I submitted my Honors English thesis, an in-depth study of Caribbean migration patterns and assimilation to the U.S. depicted in Latino literature, and checked the box of all graduate requirements complete. After delivering the commencement address, I drove to suburban Maryland from Brooklyn, New York, where I knew no one nor had any familiarity with the area. I was in for surprises about myself and others.

During my first week at the federal agency where I was placed, a Division Director approached the doorway to the office I shared with another intern. She asked us our names, which office we were supporting and where we were from. I remember her posture vividly, with arms crossed and a stern facial expression asking us question after question. She was older than my parents, slender, tall, and her complexion matched the powder-white door she leaned on. When she asked me if I was an ESL student growing up, I felt rage in my chest. I felt so uncomfortable in the manner she positioned herself and her tone as well as her interrogation style. She did not make me feel that her casa was my casa.

Back then, I did not have the tools nor vocabulary to properly respond. It would not be the last time I dealt with microaggressions in the workplace. This experience changed my view and has impacted the way I work with others today. For that reason, I am incredibly proud to be a public servant and appreciate this message by the Office of Personnel Management on diversity and inclusion: “When we draw on the wisdom of a workforce that reflects the population we serve, we are better able to understand and meet the needs of our customers-the American people.”

To that end, my heart swells with pride when I read this article about a Supreme Court Justice who shares the same ethnic heritage and hometown roots as I and is quoted as saying her decisions: “affect lives across the country and sometimes across the world. I’m conscious that what I do will always affect someone.” I am also gratified by my current Division Director’s efforts to develop and lead others when he sends a division-wide message to thank us for our hard work, remind us of our organizational mission, as well as point out who benefits from our service.

As this blogger concluded: “There is a beautiful unspoken camaraderie and empowerment that you feel when you see people that look like you…in important ranking positions. It makes me feel like I can achieve the same goals, like I can afford to be ambitious, like it’s not impossible for me to dream.”

Finally, I invite you to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with my amigos and I to honor our histories, cultures, and contributions to America. Cheers!  

Disclaimer: The opinions, references, and views expressed in this post are those of the guest blogger and do not reflect the official policy or position of the agency where she is currently employed.

Yesenia Flores Díaz is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Danay Escanaverino

Great story Yesenia. I agree that the more government represents its citizens’ diversity, the better it can serve all Americans.


Thank you, Steve! I am honored that you read it and enjoyed it. Truly appreciated the opportunity to contribute to GovLoop as a guest blogger over the last several weeks.