October 22, 2021

Celebrating Employee Experiences During National Hispanic Heritage Month

This October, we handed over the Cengage Group LinkedIn to five of our employees who each shared some insight into what National Hispanic Heritage Month means to them and how their personal experiences impact their day-to-day work. Amy G., Senior Technical Content Developer, Ydalia C., Corporate Communications Coordinator, Edwin R., SVP, Higher Ed & Skills Sales, Xavier A., Author Relations Manager, and Daniel V., Senior Software Engineer each have diverse backgrounds with different unique traditions. Through this Takeover, we were honored to be able to celebrate the differences within the Hispanic community.

Amy is a strong believer that her Puerto Rican heritage and personal life have played a crucial role in her career. “After having my child, I returned to college at the age of 22. Balancing the pressures of work, school, and raising a child were challenging, but I was determined to become the first in my family to graduate from college. My past experiences have helped shape my career as I’m very aware of the diverse needs of the students I serve – I am always thinking about that student who works a full-time job or the student who is forging their own path and may not have an experienced role model to guide them.” Amy has been a member of our WebAssign team for nine years and says, “the culture has always been warm and welcoming to all, so I always felt comfortable being myself here.”

Read on to hear from four more of our employees about their personal experiences and heritage.

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Sharing cultural traditions at work

Ydalia C. says that National Hispanic Heritage Month “is a fantastic time to celebrate our traditions and stories - and personally a good reminder to be extra proud of my Venezuelan and Puerto Rican cultures.” One of Ydalia’s favorite traditions takes place at the end of the year where “Venezuelans get together to make ‘hallacas’, or in Puerto Rico we make ‘pasteles.’ It's a lovely time to be with family and, in our household, it always ends with music and singing together. It's great to bond over the sounds of the Caribbean and Latin America, particularly with the Venezuelan national instrument, ‘el cuatro,’ which I've been learning to play for the past year and a half.” (pictured here!)

Ydalia adds that “having a shared background makes it extra meaningful to support Mosaic (our Employee Resource Group for BIPOC employees) and provided an added sense of connectivity at work. I have found that the people at Cengage Group are very receptive to learn more about our cultures. On the communications team, as a bonding exercise, we put up Zoom backgrounds of our favorite food, and I chose "tequeños" (arguably the best food to come from Venezuela), and it was really great to share a bit more about my family traditions and culture with the people I work with every day.”

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How culture impacts leadership

“National Hispanic Heritage Month is a great way to highlight the diverse Hispanic cultures, but for me personally, it is something that I celebrate every day, all year round. As a Puerto Rican and person of color, I am very proud who I am and bring it with me everywhere I go. I appreciate the life that I’ve lived and feel blessed to be where I am today. I take great pride in my culture, my people and all that we represent.” – Edwin R., SVP, US Higher Ed Sales

When it comes to Edwin R.’s leadership style, he says “I operate best in an inclusive environment, so I try to create that kind experience for others. I grew up in the Bronx where the majority of people in my community looked like me. When I got older, I made the decision to go to Ithaca College where the population was very different and predominantly white. I have experienced both sides of the spectrum, so as a leader I work to create an environment that is inclusive of everyone no matter your race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. We have to create a safe space for dialog, where everyone feels comfortable using their voice and then challenge ourselves to hear different point of views – it is not about proving who is right, it is about taking the time to listen, learn, and grow.”

Edwin’s favorite part about the Puerto Rican culture is its emphasis on family and breaking bread together. “My family takes a very active role in trying to eat meals together. It is important for me to be able to sit at the kitchen table with my wife and son and catch up on each other’s day. It is something I valued growing up and hope will continue for generations to come.”

Edwin also adds that “one of the things that is often misrepresented during National Hispanic Heritage Month is that all Hispanics are the same. But that’s very misleading – we should take this time to celebrate our diversity and what makes each culture unique.”

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The importance of allyship

“I had never heard of National Hispanic Heritage Month before now. I don’t feel this month is necessarily for the Hispanic community. Rather, I see it as an opportunity for allies to learn about us and connect with us, and my hope is that they’ll continue their friendship and support once the month is over.” – Xavier A., Author Relations Manager

When asked about his involvement in Mosaic, Xavier explains that “Since I was a child, two things have been true: I’ve faced racism as a member of the Hispanic community, and I’ve avoided racism as a white-presenting member of the Hispanic community. Having a foot in each of these two perspectives, my goal when speaking about race during Mosaic meetings is to challenge white allies. I encourage them to face their discomfort about benefiting from institutional racism, because I know what that discomfort feels like. Conversely, I also know what it feels like when a white ally lets you down. So, I aspire to make them better allies as I endeavor to be a better ally myself.”

A Hispanic tradition that is very important to Xavier is the Spanish language. He explains that “language is very special in that it’s both a cultural anchor and a tool. You can teach your children Spanish to connect them to the Hispanic community, and at the same time you’re setting them up advantageously as a bilingual person in the job market and in the world.”

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Spreading cultural awareness

Daniel V., Senior Software Engineer, shares that “National Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration of everything that I am. It is a chance for me and others to honor and celebrate the cultural diversity within the Hispanic community. I try to honor both my parents and our Mexican American heritage by working hard and pushing myself a little bit more each day as proof that we can all be better people.” Daniel explains that being a member of Mosaic “provides me with a place to give a voice to my Hispanic community. It has helped me gain pride in my heritage and who I am.”

When asked, what is one thing about Hispanic culture that you wish people were more aware of, Daniel answered: “I wish more people knew the difference in significance of September 16th and May 5th. It is a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) celebrates Mexican Independence. However, Cinco de Mayo is actually the celebration of the Mexican army's victory over France at the Battle of Puebla. September 16th is the official Mexican Independence Day. It’s important to make that distinction.”

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We believe that celebrating our heritage and creating an inclusive and diverse workplace is essential to the success of our company. For more examples of how we support our employees check out the I&D page on our website and learn about our Employee Resource Groups.