On September 15, 2019, Hispanic Heritage Month officially began. This month reminds me of my childhood in Bowie, Maryland, where I was one of the only Hispanic kids. Bowie was racially and economically diverse in comparison to other parts of Maryland. As a young person growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, I never really paid attention to my ethnicity and thought that everyone grew up listening to salsa music, eating rice and beans, and hanging the Puerto Rican flag in their cars.
As an adolescent, I began to realize my cultural differences and found that everyone didn’t have the same experiences that I did. I grew to appreciate these characteristics and felt unique. In fact, when I learned what the term “minority” meant, in an area that was mostly black or white, I felt like I was in the middle. This difference was a great asset because I had culturally diverse groups of friends and many times, I felt like I brought people together.
When I entered Marine Corps Boot Camp in 1999, I met several others with a cultural heritage like mine. I met Latinos from Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico and several other areas in Latin America. I found it extremely moving that so many other Latinos were proud to be American and serve their country. This strengthened my pride in my heritage, but also in my country with the diverse group of people around me, all looking to serve. These experiences in boot camp helped me to truly appreciate the value of being a leader, being part of a team, and what it meant to represent something greater than myself. These lessons followed me as I deployed to Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
In 2002, I became an 8th Grade Social Studies teacher. I worked in Laurel, MD which was also racially and socioeconomically diverse, similar to Bowie. I noticed that each year, the Hispanic population grew in our school, pacing with the Hispanic population growth across the US. I treated everyone with respect and kindness but admittedly, I always had a soft spot for my Hispanic students, especially those who struggled with English. As I continued to grow as an educator, I made it a point to mentor students with behavioral and academic issues. I found that having a positive effect on a young person’s life was one of my most rewarding accomplishments.
In 2008, I decided to leave teaching and became an entrepreneur by partnering with Dr. Peg Anthony and forming A-G Associates. I was determined to combine each part of my background and apply my lessons in diversity, leadership, and service. I did this by harnessing:
- My appreciation for diversity. I soaked up as much information as I could from as many viewpoints as possible. I loved, hearing from successful men and women from the White, Black, Latino, Asian, and any other community that I could. Instead of viewing diversity from a race perspective, I simply enjoyed hearing from others who thought differently than I did.
- My experience with leadership to inspire others and encourage success. I formed the A-G Associates Team with like-minded individuals and developed partnerships with congruent companies. I also enjoyed volunteering my time for those that would benefit from my mentorship. As such, I coached football, spoke with students (middle, high, and college), contributed on panels, and wrote articles in hopes of sharing my experiences.
- My dedication to service by taking pride in all projects, large and small alike. When I first launched my business, we only had small pieces of work. Providing the best service that we could on those small projects then led to larger ones.
- My appreciation of an overarching perspective. I viewed every interaction with potential customers as an opportunity to represent all Latinos in the workforce. I ensured that I was on-time, well-prepared, and contributed insightfully to each conversation. Even today, I am aware of how my actions may affect other young Latino businessmen and women.
Today, I attribute my success to all the aspects mentioned above. I continue to cherish my background, as well as a diverse group of friends and colleagues. Listening to input from others that don’t look like me has been one of the primary contributors to success. Since my childhood truly helped me to appreciate diversity in every way, bringing people together has been an honor, especially when it effects all parties who benefit from diverse viewpoints, skills, and views of the world.
I hope that everyone has a great time celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. Please join us as we enjoy the best parts of culture from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America and the rest of the Hispanic world!