Trigger warning: There are some racial epithets stated by Gary here to reflect on the true nature of his experience and we won’t edit them out to dilute that. If you’re sensitive to mistreatment of Latinx people, this article might not be appropriate reading for you at this time.
Technology has always been at the forefront of my life since arriving in this country. My first English word, at the age of 8, was “cow”. I learned that through the use of a Califone Cardmaster.
Growing up I didn’t really have recess. Instead, I would sit in front of that machine at school, which seemed like torture because it was strategically placed in front of a window where I could see the playground. So while my peers would be on the swings, monkey bars, four square, and doing anything that was more fun than the Cardmaster, I was inside trying to master this one single word.
I fell in love with technology then and I knew that through technology I would be able to communicate with others.
Early Childhood and Development of Soft Skills
It was within the first year of being here in the US that some of my teachers began to purposely put me down. I got penalized often for not spelling my last name the “acceptable” way. For reference, my last name is Marroquin and using Spanish rules there should be an accent on the “i”, however, my last name does not have an accent mark.
Looking back now – being a Latino with a “non-traditional” Hispanic name has been tough. I’ve had jokes made that my name is not Gary but rather Gerardo, Geronimo, Geraldo, etc.
I mean the conviction of people trying to tell me what my name is has been quite astonishing!
Speaking up and looking for help from those with power has often been worse than if I stayed quiet. I would be asked to “talk to the person” who had wronged me and “use my words” to learn about why they had said what they said or that I need to be more of a team player and think of how I can be better. I also even heard many times that I was just sensitive or that I shouldn’t let those things get to me.
So what did I learn? I learned that I had three options – One, speak up and make the situation worse for myself, stay quiet and nothing changes OR partake in my own abuse and “own” the joke to make it mine. I did the latter – I learned how to make fun of my name, my skin, my culture, my parents. My self-value slowly vanished over time.
Working in Tech Today
At 36 years old, I still hear these kinds of comments or racist jokes. I’ve even had to show my drivers license at times to prove that my name is actually Gary. Actually, within recent history, after being a month into a new job I heard one of my peers make a joke that since I came from a 3rd world country that I had had an arranged marriage and that I had 5 kids already. I have also heard peers make snarky comments about me speaking Spanish at work.
Why does all of that matter? Well, I grew up with a lot of anxiety, self-doubt and lacked confidence. Walking into a room and being the only person of color is always intimidating and, I mean if growing up my own teachers were mocking me and my peers make racist jokes- can you imagine what it is like being in a conference room with them and feeling confident that it’s ok to speak up?!
Personally, navigating the business world has been an absolute mystery. When it comes to the tech world – I’ve often struggled with speaking up and saying I want my career to be this or to be that, “Can you help me?”. There’s always fear that by speaking up and standing up for what you believe that it will actually come back negatively. Worse yet – that you speak up and nothing happens and nothing changes for the better.
There was an article written by By Emily Mae Dean of Cronkite News titled “As big tech continues its growth, Latinos feel left behind”; it focuses on a freelance software developer in Arizona, Melissa Ortiz, who spoke about what it was like for people of color:
“It’s really intimidating to go into these groups,” she said. “They’re so confident and assertive, and I didn’t feel like I was able to ask the appropriate questions to further my career. It’s a really big set back.”
Within the same article, it cites that “Latinos make up less than 8% of the U.S. high tech workforce compared to the nearly 70% of the tech workforce that is comprised of whites workers.” So yes, it is tough to feel comfortable to use your voice when you’re the only one in the room that is not like the others.
Culture & Perks
Culture and perks in tech startups can be a different experience. Here are some Perks where it can be different experience at times:
- Location – In Chicago most startups are either in River North or West Loop; for most it’s common to travel via public transit. Growing up brown has you living in fear. There is always the risk of ICE being out and about and hurting you. Last year they were present on CTA platforms and roaming many Hispanic Neighborhoods – The thing about ICE is that not only will they stop anyone who looks Hispanic but they’ve also been known to be violent in their ways of treating people. Yeah I grew up scared that any day I’d be separated from my family. Taking Uber’s isn’t easy either. I’ve had drivers, who were retired cops, tell me that they dealt with bad people and most of which were “Spics” and that they had to be treated with force because they are criminals. One said that I seemed cultured enough so I was ok. This was before work. So yeah navigating to and from work can be a bit off putting.
- A “Family” environment/Friends outside of work – I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard this one. Please stop saying it’s like a family or that we treat each other like one. Until things are equal in the workforce we shouldn’t use this kind of language. If you’re making sexist, bigot, racists or just outright offending “jokes” or unwanted comments then this is not a family. Don’t make jokes about my culture or where I came from and then say we are a family.
- Diversity Programs – Having a POC as the leader of the diversity group isn’t enough- We are more than that. We have the potential to be leaders, executives or board members. Being against racism vs being an anti-racist company are two different things. We need a company to have employees who will stand up publicly at work against racist, sexist, derogatory comments. Leaders need to be at the helm of this. In other words, we want action vs words.
- Casual Dress – I have been told to dress better and to be more professional. That the reason I am not taken seriously is because of what I wear.
- Promote from within – Simply put I currently don’t know any Latinx Executive at work. I don’t know who to look up to. I have seen others get the opportunity to grow and develop beyond their own skillset. They are given the benefit of doubt – leniency – trust – flexibility to learn. They get to be coached, helped and guided through the process. Yet, the expectation for me is that I need to be more driven, I need to speak up, I need to be more assertive, more of this or more of that. I should think of how I can be better. I am often asked to be patient because – the company is not this or that, next quarter it will be better because we have “x” amount of deals coming in or we have a new executive who is “different” and they will change things.
- Job Training & Conferences – In the past 10 years I have had one manager who has advocated for me to go to a training/conference. These things are an investment in you. The conference I went to cost the company roughly $3K-$5k between the cost of the conference ticket, airfare, hotel and food. I remember talking to my parents and how proud they were that I was at a Conference. Anyway, we need more of these kinds of investments – sad truth is that we grow up being made to feel like we are not worth the investment so it feels awesome when someone helps us and gives us a little push.
- Continuing Education stipend – I have heard multiple things to deter me from using this benefit. I’ve heard things like “You get all the experience here – It’s better than books/school”. The most direct has been “You can’t manage the workload between school and work” or “Well, you barely get anything so it’s not even worth it.”
Our Latinx community is strong, resilient, inspiring, hard-working and loyal. What we need is help. We need coaching and I promise you that if you help us we will forever be grateful and we will work hard to show you that it was worth it. Try to remember that the things you consider basic may not be basic to us.
There are some Latino parents who don’t have an email address and most likely don’t know how to even log into a computer. Be in awe, feel shocked but please jump in to help – don’t mock or snicker.
We will be grateful and appreciative if you are willing to help. Just be patient – it might take us a while but we will get there.
It hasn’t been easy and often times it hasn’t even been fun getting to the place where I am today. I do, however, LOVE tech. My passion came as a need to want to connect with my world. Ms. Melissa Ortiz, the freelance software developer from Arizona, summarized what it means to be a Latino, in the tech world and our responsibility as Latinos:
Ortiz said there needs to be more people like her encouraging other members of the community to explore their options in the field.
She stressed the importance of Latinos leading Latinos.
“When you see a white person talking about it, it doesn’t have the same effect,” Ortiz said.
“But if they see people that started as immigrants, or their parents were immigrants, it shows the possibilities of building generational wealth.”
Siempre Un Pie Adelante y Con La Cabeza Arriba
So with that, I leave you with this, if there’s a Latinx person reading this and you’re struggling:
- Hang in there! You’re awesome. Trust yourself and your abilities. If you need to cry then cry. Our own culture has us believe that crying is a sign of weakness. It’s not – move past that and know that by being vulnerable you’re making yourself stronger.
- If you’re here illegally – I was there with you; This is a really tough one. I know that it all can seem hopeless at times but trust me it will get better. Whatever you do please don’t give up. Siempre un pie adelante y con la cabeza arriba. Here are some of the things that helped me get through:
- Reading – It’s a great escape out of your own mind.
- Asking for help – I know that it doesn’t come easy or that some of you may not have the best experiences with getting help. There are good people out there though but you have to try to get yourself to ask for help.
- Celebrating small wins – I mean putting on my shoes was a win some days. Don’t lose sight of your goals.
- My family – My mom cleans houses for a living and it was because of all those toilets that she cleaned that I am here today. My dad worked 2 jobs growing up and I remember during summer break trying to stay up until midnight to go see him at work during his “lunch” break (it was midnight) at the factory he worked at. I still recall that there was this basketball hoop where he would play with us for most of his break – I don’t know if he ever ate but I know he played with us. My sister was always my biggest champion and the one who, till this day, is my biggest inspiration. So love your family and tell them how much you appreciate them.
- If you ever feel or have felt ashamed of your culture – Give yourself a break. You’ve grown up being made to feel like you should be ashamed. Just try to find your way back. I got picked on for the food I ate, the music I listened to, the clothes I wore, my accent (though now I have no accent?), the color of my skin, etc. My mom used to pack me champurradas (Look it up if you don’t know what it is) as a snack to school while my classmates had Fruit By The Foot – Yeah it wasn’t easy.
We have had to fight to be respected, be trusted, and we have even fought to be a citizen.
We literally get put through the ringer to PROVE we are “American.”
“America” is a conglomerate of North, Central and South America. Los Tigres Del Norte probably said it best:
“Soy el Gaucho al galope por las Pampas
Soy Charrúa, Soy Jíbaro, Utumano
Soy Chapín, Esquimal, príncipe Maya
Soy Guajiro, soy Charro Mexicano”
“Porque América es todo el continente
Y el que nace aquí, es americano
El color podrá ser diferente
Más como hijos de Dios, somos hermanos”.
At the end of the day – Don’t ever lose faith in humans.