How Latinx Dropboxers use their heritage to find power in their communities and at work

This year for Latinx Heritage Month, instead of recruiting lots of external speakers to help us celebrate and learn, we turned our focus inward to find the impactful stories already within our company. Dropbox Senior Software Engineer and podcast co-host Jose Rodriguez Salinas hosted a fireside chat with five panelists who shared their journeys and the unique perspectives that their heritage has given them in life, at work, and beyond.

When you think of Latinx Heritage Month, what does it mean to you?

  • Bryan Villa: To me, it’s all about showcasing the contributions that our community has had on this country. We’re all a part of the American story, and we are capable of achieving anything we set our minds to.
  • Tony Fregoso: My family’s history is pretty interesting in regards that, at certain points in our history, they actually tried to hide our Latinx background. My mother’s family even changed their last name to hide it. So for me this is a really important time to reconnect to my Latinx roots, because I haven’t always had a strong connection to that part of my heritage.

How do your roots influence your professional life?

  • Jose Eguizabal: Today, 26 years after I arrived in this country, I can look back and see that my communication style has actually stayed the same. Hispanics tend to be jokers, they play around and laugh a lot, and they bring that into their professional lives and have fun while they’re working hard. I have always injected that into my communication style at work. Of course you assimilate in some ways and you keep growing, but the identity stays, and that’s the beautiful thing about moving to this country and sharing those things that are unique to you with other people. I see myself as a professional, but no matter how hard a problem gets, the humor always stays!
  • Berenice Mendez: Language was a point of contention for me when I first moved to the States, so I developed this ultra-specificity so that nothing gets lost in translation. It’s a great skill to have, being able to be specific and not leave things to be misinterpreted — especially at a company like Dropbox that has so many different teams and functions.
  • Julissa Trevino: For me, it has sometimes felt like I’m not American enough. As a first generation American, I grew up in a neighborhood that was primarily Hispanic, then went to college in upstate New York where it was very white. That was the first time I felt really different. Early on in my career in journalism as well, the industry lacked a lot of diversity and I felt alone, but now I’ve kind of learned that my language and roots bring a unique perspective to the work I do. I bring a lot to the table.

How has your community influenced your life lens?

  • Bryan: Growing up in a Latinx community in Los Angeles, I didn’t know anyone whose parents weren’t manual laborers. I remember waking up for school and going to the bus stop and being surrounded by a bunch of the parents in my community going to their jobs at 6 A.M. in the morning. I knew that a degree was the ticket to better opportunities. I was lucky to have parents who worked hard and taught me enough so that I could go to college someday.
  • Jose: One of the things you really learn from the community is hard work; it’s engraved in your head growing up that hard work pays off. But there’s also a sense of humility; it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you have to stay humble and appreciate everything you learn and everything you have in this country.
  • Berenice: There’s also this really creative problem-solving aspect of Latinx culture, which I think just comes from a lot of developing countries as well. You’ve gotta make do with what you have and you’ve gotta make it work. That’s translated into my professional life as well — I’ve gotta hack my way through sometimes to make it work. In that same vein, growing up my family was great at reaching out to cousins, aunts, or their friends who could provide some help when there was a large project or challenge to be tackled. That sense of “if you don’t know how to do something, there’s always someone readily available to provide that context to you” is just so important to have when you’re working in a team. It makes me want to be that way as well, being so available to offer up what and who I know that can help. It’s a wonderful thing that feels specific to our culture.
  • Tony: For myself, it’s a bit different in the regard that I was kind of isolated from my heritage growing up. I didn’t get exposed to it as much, except for all the time I spent with my grandfather. At 4 in the morning, he‘d pick me up from my parents house with tortillas and sandwiches in the car, drive out to the mission district, and we’d clean up parking lots with a broom and a dustpan. I did that six days a week every summer from the time I was eight years old and would make a couple bucks each day. That’s where that work ethic was engrained in me, and now I know that even if the tech industry magically disappears, I will always have a job; I will go do anything, and nothing will ever stop me.

Have you had any experiences with mixing communities that you’d like to share?

  • Berenice: At work, I use Spanish words in a lot of conversations and explain what they mean, because I often find that the Spanish word feels more appropriate. For example, I got a lot of people saying “chisme” instead of gossip. When I can do that, I feel like there’s a door opening — so what other ways can we do that? There are also concepts in German or Japanese or any language that should become commonplace too. I don’t think Spanish needs to be elevated, because it’s not less, but I think we need to give it the place that it deserves, and not be embarrassed to use it.

What advice would you give to the next generation of Latinx people coming into our tech community?

  • Tony: Get a mentor! Find someone who’s done something that you’re thinking about doing. That can help you find another community.
  • Jose: Once you make the leap and start your career, use what you’ve got. We are different, and a lot of people waste time their whole career trying to assimilate. We’re unique, so let’s use what we’ve got to better ourselves and make the company we work for better too.
  • Julissa: Try to build a network of people who look like you and have similar backgrounds and upbringings. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth — as a woman and as a Latina, sometimes you’re made to feel like you should be grateful to have a certain job or be in this space. But it’s really important to learn to ask for what you want.

Even after Latinx Heritage Month is over, we support Latinx Dropboxers and Dropboxers of all backgrounds year round through our ERGs. You can learn more about them here.

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