The Rise of Latinas in the US: forging their identity in the midst of two cultures

Who are these Latina on the rise? Let’s begin with identifying what constitutes being Latino or Hispanic. These two terms are often used interchangeably in the United States and you will see why from the definitions. Latino is defined as “a person of Latin American origin living in the US” and Hispanic “of, relating to, or being a person of Latin American descent and especially of Cuban, Mexican, or Puerto Rican origin living in the US”. Based on my personal experience, of the two, Latino is the term most used by Latinos in identifying themselves in the United States, besides their country of origin.

The Latino population in the United States has skyrocketed. “The Hispanic population boomed to a record high of 59.9 million in 2018, an increase of more than 12 million Hispanics to the country’s total population since 2008.” Within this growing minority, Latinas are rising, in numbers and in power. “U.S. Hispanic women, also known as Latinas, have recently and rapidly surfaced as prominent contributors to the educational, economic and cultural wellbeing of not only their own ethnicity, but of American society and the consumer marketplace. This rise of Latinas is driven both by strong demographics and a healthy inclination toward success in mainstream America.”

Hispanic women are a key growth engine of the U.S. female population and are expected to become 30 percent of the total female population by 2060, while the non-Hispanic white female population is expected to drop to 43 percent.”

With this new surge of Latinas, has come many firsts. As a psychotherapist and empowerment coach, I have had the privilege of working with bicultural Latinas for the past 18 years. The majority of Latinas I work with, between the ages of 22–50, are first generation. They are the first in their family to graduate from college, obtain a corporate job, put off marriage until later, or decide to seek therapy, which continues to be a taboo in most Latino households. As Latinas step into these new territories, they are faced with challenges, from fitting in to feeling guilty about leaving their family of origin behind, also known as Latina guilt or family achievement guilt. Family achievement guilt is the guilt felt by first generation (mainly working-class) college students, achieving more academically than their family members. It is important to note that this Latina guilt, as I am now referring to it, is also tied to personal, financial, and professional success. And its implications for how Latinas show up in the workplace are evident.

A fellow Latina coach shared with me how her parents were not supportive of her success. They said things to her like, “no te creas tanto”, which translates to don’t think too highly of yourself. “This kept me playing small for a long time, being humble, soft-spoken and compliant in the workplace.” Another colleague shared how her mother would ask her why she wanted to make more money. Consequently, feeling like she was not worthy of her own success.

And yet another Latina shared that anything she did to improve that she did not learn at home was criticized, especially by her mom. “She encouraged me to study initially and then she wanted me at home.” “Over the years their comments made me think I deserved less and it affected my assertiveness and my promotion potential at work.” “They made me feel like being different was wrong.”

Along with the guilt that can be demoralizing and disempowering, Latinas face pressure and expectations from their family of origin and from the dominant work culture. Culturally, Latinas are raised to be the primary caregivers in their families. They are expected to fulfill the role of wife, mother, daughter etc., regardless of professional pressures and ambitions. Therefore, the pressure to earn more in order to provide for their families is strong. Latinas also feel they can’t be completely themselves when entering the workplace. Consequently, repressing themselves to fit in. There is a stigma of being too loud or seem too emotional. A survey of 500 Latinas found “they are twice as likely to say they must work twice as hard as their co-workers because of their cultural background, compared to non-Hispanic white women. And nearly a third of Latinas also feel they must dress more conservatively than their co-workers in order to be taken seriously”. Some Latinas even feel they must anglicize their names in order to fit in. This repression not only has strong implications for Latina’s self-esteem, but also for how they show up in the workplace. How effective can they be when they can’t be themselves?

As Latinas continue to rise in number, their success in the workplace is essential. In order to succeed, they must learn to place more value on who they want to be versus who everyone else wants them to be. I recognize this is not an easy task but it will be imperative, not only for their success, but for their overall well-being.

Latinas here some tips to stay true to yourself, while empowering yourself in the workplace

Recognize and value your unique skills.

My experience navigating different work environments has taught me the importance of being rooted in my ethnic identity, and how that brought value to the table. Being able to use my Spanish speaking skills in the workplaceI made the services I offered more specialized and unique. Latinas must learn to bank on their language skills. When interviewing, make sure to ask if there is a higher compensation for being bilingual. Offer to use your language skills to help set you apart, while also placing value in this specialized skill. Do not offer or agree to be the token translator of documents in meetings or projects. This is a common pitfall. Agreeing to help one time shows you are willing to be a teamplayer but that is not why you were hired. Recognize your worth and value. Set limits early on.

Create a network of support.

You can’t succeed alone and you don’t want to struggle alone either. Reach out and seek support, within and outside of your workplace. Whether it is a coach, psychotherapist, mentor, or all three, create a network of people that are cheering you on. Through this support you are more likely to stick to your goals, stay motivated, and have more resources available for your success.

Trust and take action.

Trust that what you already know and what you have to offer in the workplace is enough. Trust the unique skills and experiences that only you can bring to the table. You did not get to where you are by chance. You worked for the position you now have and made powerful decisions to get here. Trust is like a muscle. Exercise your trust muscle and it will get stronger. In the meantime, go the step above when you are having a hard time trusting.

Celebrate and assert the diversity you bring into the workplace.

Make everyday an opportunity to share and speak about your ethnicity and culture. Speaking openly about your background normalizes diversity in the workplace and it also allows you to show up more confidently being authentically you.

The above is only a glimpse into the tapestry that makes up the Latina experience in the United States. I hope it provided you with a little more knowledge of Latinas as women and as a force to be reckoned with, as we strive to thrive for ourselves, our families, and our community at large.

Written by: Guisela Pinto Caballero

Guisela is a psychotherapist and empowerment coach. She was born in Bolivia and resides in the United States. She considers herself a lifelong student and a lover of travel and all things Latino.

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