Milwaukee has a problem. Too many spaces still lack diversity. Although we celebrate individuality, and we recognize that everyone has something unique to bring to a job or community, it’s still not enough.
Think about it. You walk into an office and what do you see? Usually, it is a room full of white males. Why don’t we question this more?
Here’s the thing: people like me notice.
I am a 21-year-old Latinx female who grew up in Milwaukee. Humbly said, I am great on paper, and in person. I have worked hard to build myself into someone I can be proud of. I knew I wanted to go to college since 4th grade. I’ve been a straight A student throughout my educational career. At a young age, I realized that something about me was different. Simply put, I am an ambitious overachiever.
I grew up noticing and questioning things. Things like segregation, inequality, and lack of diversity. They don’t make sense to me. Yes, I understand the definitions and what the words mean together. My problem has always been understanding the why and how. Why is the world like this? More specifically, why is America like this and why is Milwaukee like this? Why aren’t changes happening faster? How did we let it get this far? How do we evolve?
Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in America, but I didn’t see it. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to see. I did not want to participate in the idea that I was living in a bubble separated from the other bubbles of reality. I went to schools with predominantly Hispanic students, so I thought it was similar in other places. It couldn’t be that bad. Right? Then, I got to college. I was in shock.
Imagine walking into a room wearing a green shirt. You look around and notice that everyone else is wearing a yellow shirt. You didn’t think about your shirt until you saw everyone else’s shirt. You begin to wonder if they notice. You look at the door and hope someone else with a green shirt or even blue shirt walks into the room—anything but yellow. You watch the door for the next four years. This is what my college experience has been like. I watch the door for someone that looks like me or someone who is different from everyone else.
This green shirt that I am wearing is permanent. Even if I tried to cover it with a sweater or another shirt, some part of the green would still find a way to peek through it. Some people may not understand what it feels like to be wearing this green shirt. While I’m proud of my green shirt, it sometimes feels like it’s all that people see.
For years, I have applied to jobs and wondered why I was asked my race, gender, and if I had a disability. I know I don’t have to answer them and that the answers “don’t matter” but then why are they even there? It feels like a trap. It’s frustrating. When I was applying to colleges, my high school transition counselor always told us that if something was on the application, you should do it even if it was “optional.” So, when I look at the “optional” question of ethnicity (Hispanic is an ethnicity not a race even though some companies may not agree with that) I fill it out and think about the two-way trap. If I answer it, I am falling for it, but if I don’t answer it, I am lying about who I am.
Although I want to believe that these are not factors that affect my employment status, I cannot say that with certainty.
I have had interviewers imply that my demographic would help the diversity of the company. What do you even say to that? “Umm, thank you?” “Thank you for reminding me that I am a statistic that makes your company look good.” “Thank you for your comment that made me lose interest and confidence in your company.”
It feels like they were not looking for me, they were looking for my green shirt—anything but yellow. They were looking for a statistic that made them look like an inclusive company. In reality, they lacked humanity.
Why can’t people look past my green shirt? For a 21-year-old, I think I have done a good enough job developing my character, my career, and my personal life that I can confidently talk about anything during an interview. I have received almost $200,000 in scholarship money. I have landed multiple internships since I was in high school. I volunteer. I have been practicing photography since I was 16. I’m proud of my culture and I would be happy to talk about it, but it needs to be done respectfully.
I am aware that not everyone knows what this looks like, and it may look different to other people, but to me, being respectful is simple.
- Ask about any challenges I may have faced. This alone will bring out some diversity and ethnicity issues.
- Tell me about your culture first and I will quickly add information about mine.
- Ask if there is something unique about my experiences. Being Mexican is unique and I can offer a different perspective.
- Don’t assume. While that is a broad statement, it’s the easiest way to to put it.
- Be kind. This goes for anything you can do. I may be different, but don’t make me feel like an alien.
While I am only one person offering my perspective, I know I am not alone. I have decided to embrace my diversity. I have to. I love my culture and I love when people ask about my differences in a respectful manner. I offer something unique and valuable, myself, in my green shirt.
– Alejandra Montes de Oca
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