What Diversity and Inclusion mean to me
Growing up in a multi-cultural home in East San José during the 60’s, I had no idea what diversity meant. My parents raised me to be color-blind, and to treat others with empathy, respect and kindness.
In September of 1972 I started middle school in another neighborhood. When I invited Mike (one of my classmates) over to my house, I’ll never forget his reaction when we turned onto my street: “man, you’re poor!” We stayed friends, and when I visited his home (up on the hill), it was clear that he lived a completely different life. His father was an airline pilot, and I guess a pilot is paid more than a mailman.
About my dad: smart, wise, and loved like the day is long. The man I’ll just never be: unselfish, kind, fair. He graduated high school at the top of his class (Joliet Township High School, class of 1940, in Illinois). My grandparents needed my dad to work and bring home money for the family to make ends meet. I’m sure my dad thought he would continue his education later. Well, Pearl Harbor happened – he served honorably in Europe and came home to start a family.
My mom: strong, fun, and loving. Fifth grade education while working the fields. She continued working in the canneries in San José. Rough stuff – that’s why I never describe what I do as “working hard.” She taught me life lessons, “never complain about going to work – many people do not have jobs.”
What does all this have to do with Diversity and Inclusion? It turns out the world is not as color-blind as my parents; nor is the world as empathetic or loving.
By the time I finished graduate school at San José State University, I had more of an awareness of my background. It was empowering and inspiring to participate in Latino Commencement. The keynote speaker that afternoon spoke of the responsibility taken on by each of us to reach out and help another. Not to rest on our laurels.
I’ve taken that call-to-action literally and live each day trying my best to help others avoid the mistakes I have made during my career. People of color are often referred to as “at-risk.” When I have tried to make a difference, I have sometimes run into resistance (e.g., “why should Latinos receive special treatment?”).
I believe there is a difference between special treatment and equitable opportunities to close the gap. When it comes to education, Latino learners often begin kindergarten so far behind the others, they do not catch up by the end of high school. Why? Lack of nutritional food options, no WiFi, no laptops, neither parent having a college education, the need to work to help the family survive. The hurdles go on and on.
With early intervention like a culturally-relevant curriculum, programs including First 5, and role models – sponsors who take the time to give something back to others - we can begin to close the opportunity gap. Sponsor are able to teach others to learn from their mistakes. We should all be mindful of the optics of a person of color wearing a suit and tie (a woman leading a meeting in the boardroom). This sponsorship will provide the lessons that are not taught in our schools – navigating political firestorms, finding the most rewarding career choices, and making a difference to others.
The meaning of Diversity and Inclusion to me is creating an environment where differences are encouraged, recognized, and celebrated to foster an organization’s growth. Through this, I believe the world will become the place my parents imagined.