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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 38 - Not Quite Strangers: Latin Ethnicity, Culture, Colorism, And Family

Not Quite Strangers | Ethnicity

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Not Quite Strangers: Latin Ethnicity, Culture, Colorism, And Family

I want to start with Carolina. Carolina, what did you bring?


Valerie, my quote is, “Creating a culture of belonging, authenticity, and kindness where everyone feels valued.” I wanted to start with that because it means so much to me. Wherever I go, I want to make sure that everyone feels like they can be themselves around me. Hopefully, I'm doing a good job there.


We're going to keep talking about it and see what you're doing so far that makes it so good. Thank you. Priscilla, what about you? What did you bring?


I brought this T-shirt.


Latina's rising. That's familiar to me. We'll dive into that deep.


It's going to open up the conversation but it's something very important to me. When we talk about DEI, representation is very crucial for all communities. We'll talk more about my relic but it’s something very important to me.


I brought a jar with coins that I've collected from my travels all over the world. I have something similar with bills but I keep it in the jar, not in a coin album. I'll share why in a moment. First of all, thank you, ladies, so much for being here. It's a little different than typical episodes because, typically, I introduce two people who don't know each other very well or at all and have a meaningful conversation. In this episode, I happen to be one of the strangers.


It's better.


I know. I'm excited. The person who's masterminded this introduction and connection is Priscilla Guasso. She’s a good friend of mine. Priscilla, you and I have known each other for several years. We both worked at Hyatt together, have known each other throughout that time, and worked together very closely in my last four years at Hyatt when we were both supporting Latin American and Caribbean and Latinas Rising Up in HR, which you're going to talk about in a moment. I'm one of the co-authors of the book that we put together. Thank you so much, Priscilla, for masterminding this experience and introducing me to Carolina. I can't say much about Carolina. Why don't you introduce your friend and why you wanted us to meet? 


Thank you so much, Valerie, for having us. You know how much I love you and everything that you do. I want to introduce us both and everyone watching to Carolina Veira. She has a heart of gold. She is one of those people that you can always count on. More than anything, she sees truth and love, and an abundance of blessings in each person that crosses her path.


For her day job, she works as a leader in DEI in the healthcare industry. Who she is as an individual is she lives opening doors for people and does that in everything that she does. I want to give away everything about her but she's a beautiful person. Not only does she say what she wants to do but she acts on it and invites others to be part of it.


I met Caro when I moved to Miami. There's a story there in itself but she's big on finding folks that she connects to. Caro, there's nobody that you have not connected to or can find a connection with but she is always there 100% and gives her all with everything. She gives her heart away to many folks and is a phenomenal leader that I can only hope to aspire to continue to emulate as well.


When[1]  you find the[2]  angels in[3]  your life, and Priscilla certainly is one of them, I can't say enough about her, and Valerie, you know her, but there's a reason why we're here having this conversation. We're all aligned. This is happening. I'm a believer that God works in mysterious ways. I'm so blessed to know Prisci and you and to be part of this beautiful community truly. Thank you so much.


Thank you so much. I would hope it's a blessing but you'll tell me at the end of this. I won't say how this blessing unfolds. Priscilla, when we talked, I said, "I'm open.” I would take a phone call or an email on any day. That's a typical traditional way to introduce but Priscilla, I trust you. You are a woman who sees possibility when there is none. You have a barometer for positive experiences and off the charts.


I so appreciate how hard you work at making sure that everybody in your surroundings and everybody whose spirits or souls you touch has a positive experience in your presence and the presence of other people. I was like, "If anybody could do this and I would trust to have a freaky Friday upside-down experience, it would be Priscilla Guasso. Yes, bring it." I'm so grateful for that.


This show is about inspiring curiosity between people and building connections as the two of you already naturally do, and I do also. Also, disrupts the status quo a bit. The typical introduction would be, "Let me introduce you to my friend." You get a little email introduction or you send somebody their contact information. You reach out, set some time in a calendar, and have a conversation.


My hope for this episode is that we go beyond the typical get-to-know-you conversation into something that has heart and is meaningful. That's why I asked you to share what you bring. You have a quote, Carolina. Priscilla, you have your T-shirt. I'd love for you two to share what is it about your quote that's so meaningful. You gave us a little bit of flavor but Carolina, if you could expand on that? What did you do to bring that quote to life? Priscilla, you also have to share why that T-shirt and why Latinas Rising Up in HR have such meaning for you. Carolina, why don't you kick us off?


Valerie, thank you for that question because I was thinking about that a little bit, even before we started the conversation, we're so quick to act and judge people. Unfortunately, we're raised to always be prepared for the bad things that can happen. I remember growing up, my grandpa would always tell me to look past all the noise and see the good in people. To me, despite all the muddiness and all the gray areas, it's always important to see the possibilities, like Priscilla does. I try to always focus on what's good and great about people and what each one can bring to the table and add to our lives.

We're raised to always be prepared for the bad things that can happen.

Carolina, you're from Ecuador, right?


I was born and raised and finished high school there. I'm so proud to be Ecuadorian. I couldn't even begin to tell you. Here, I say always that I'm 100% Hispanic and 100% American because I do feel that way. We are a mix of both cultures and we're in the middle. We can take the best from both. Most likely, we know how the system works here and there's beauty in it too but not much can compare it to where you come from, your values, your culture, and the people there. It's beautiful to be able to mix both.

Not Quite Strangers | Ethnicity
Ethnicity: It's beautiful to be able to mix both values and culture.

Tell us your quote again. I want to make sure that I got it and tie that back to something you shared.


“Creating a culture of kindness, authenticity, and belonging where everyone feels valued.” I always say that and I live by it. It doesn't matter where I go. To me, it's important that everyone has the opportunity to be transparent and honest with themselves. I remind people to be kind to others and that's what I always try to do. Also, to be kind to ourselves, take a moment to love what we do, the path, and all the hard work that has taken all the blood, sweat, and tears.


I look up to Priscilla for obvious reasons. She's a wonderful leader. She's creating so much beauty with Latinas Rising Up in HR but I know it takes time and commitment. It takes not being able to do certain things like, “I want to lay down on a Sunday and do nothing after working crazy hours.” Sometimes you can do that but what you're building takes time. That's what I aspire for people who are around me to feel comfortable doing and know that to create beauty, there are also rough times and blood, sweat, and tears. Those times are also important to get there.


We're creating some of that, the[4]  whole kindness, authenticity, and belonging. Thank you, Carolina. Priscilla, tell us about Latinas Rising Up in HR.


It's a community made out of love, hope, and aspirations. As I've shared with a lot of folks, we've all experienced it in different ways. I wanted there to be a place where it elevated Latinas who are rising up in HR, literally what the title is. I didn't see enough Latinas moving up in the corporate ladders where I was in different companies. I kept looking around and going, "I can't be the only one. There's got to be others that want to get there if they want that and that's what they aspire to."


When I finally got to a role that was very high in the organization, I said, "I got to do something." I had been sitting on this idea for five years like, "One day, I'll get there and do it." I thought, "Whoever does this, I'll follow them. I'm going to be right there behind them." That's not what happened. I had a few people say, "Priscilla, why do you think you can't be the one that does it? You can be the person that makes that change." I doubted myself for many years because I was going, "No, but I'm Priscilla."


On the contrary, many people say, "Yeah, but you're Priscilla." It took time for me to dig into myself to do it. Not even that but also I had to be in the right place of mind. I took care of myself for the year. I left my job. I took care of my health, mental, physical, and spiritual. During that year, that's when we launched our book. I looked for authors like yourself and others. Anytime I see a Latina in HR that touches DEI, CSR, benefits, or compensation, it's like, "I want to meet you." I want to get to know them and their hearts.


I've shared that with you, Caro. That's also why I gravitated to you. I'm like, "She's getting into the DEI world and has a finance background. I like that. That's so neat and different." We've started talking more about that. Let's learn about each other first and our life stories. Let's do life together. That's why I did this platform and movement with our book. I thought there were so many amazing women out there. We don't know each other but when we do, that's where there's power in numbers.


There's power in numbers.

You can influence so many women. I wanted others to meet you, Valerie, that were in our circles. Our circles are like a ripple effect. We have this circle and you have this circle but when you start expanding, they cross over to each other and create this magnitude of energy and change. I didn't see that in the HR world for us yet. Here we are, 400 folks strong. In one year, it's amazing.


Everyone taps in when they can because we have a lot going on in our lives but that's what I wanted to build. We're not just connected because we are Latinas in HR. It's more we're all trying to rise but to rise, it requires us to be vulnerable, lean into one another, and share the tough stuff. I was seeing authors connect, even on a deeper level, and share what they're going through, whether it’s medical issues, family things that are happening, or parents getting older. "What are you doing with your parents and kids? How are your kids?" It was such a deep, closer tie of conversations other than the surface, "I work in DEI. I'm in benefits." It was a lot deeper. There was a lot of conversation around culture, too. It was beautiful.


To add to that, what we're creating and everyone in their platforms with their teams, followers, or whatever you want to call it, friends, family, it's beautiful because it's also about people and what we all go through. Like you said, Priscilla, we're all going through something. We may not be announcing it to the world. That's why it's important to be so empathetic and kind to others.

Not Quite Strangers | Ethnicity
Ethnicity: Everyone's going through something.

That's one of my words because we don't necessarily know what their struggles are. That's what we're creating here. I'm so proud to know you, ladies. Having this type of platform and everything that it's been creating helps others see the opportunities and that they may have somebody that they can rely on and representation.


Speaking of representation, it's a good segue. I have this jar of coins that I shared. I've traveled a lot in my lifetime. It's not an exhaustive list but seventeen countries so far. I collect the coins most of the time because I was spending money somewhere and I didn't happen to exchange it. I ended up bringing it and putting it in my little jar. I do the same with bills that I've collected. My best friend was like, "Valerie, why don't you put them in an album with a nice little label for each one and where they're from?" I was like, "That's not the point."


The point is to have a collective experience of the places I visited that is not about the differences between those places or the money and how it's stamped. Also, the colors, textures, or seals. It's not about that. It's about the impact that it had on me to be able to see it all in one place. This is going to sound weird. I hope nobody from immigration is watching this but I'll take a stone or something.


When I take you to the Galapagos Islands, you can't do that.


I got it. I'll make sure to remember.


I'll take pictures of the stones.


I have some sand from different countries. I have pieces of wood. Some of the things that are not alive but no seeds. I also don't label them. I have them in the little terrarium that I created because I wanted to show this is the collective experience of being on the planet and all the different places that one's feet or hands can touch. The same goes with people. I collect people too but not in a creepy way. I am connecting with a lot of different people. This is important.


Funny enough, in my family, 2021 has been unique because of my dad's side of the family, who traditionally have been pretty far apart from each other geographically. I live in Dallas. Most of them live on the East Coast, New York, and South Carolina but most of them grew up and were born and raised in New York. We[5]  were from Panama originally but when my aunts and uncles left Panama, they started having their families there.


Most of my cousins were born and raised there. We've been geographically separate from them and not necessarily that close even in communication but these last couple of years has been pretty phenomenal. Once a month, we get together as a family and interview one person in the family who gets nominated. It’s like a family talk show. The rest of the family sends me questions and I interview that person. We hear about their childhood and life and what decisions they took in their career.


That's beautiful. Are you recording this?


We record them and share them with the family.


This is a great idea. I'm going to steal it for my family. Do I have your blessing?


You have my blessing. Go forth.


Sometimes I'm thinking, "What did my grandma do?" I remember stories but I don't remember everything. It's funny because you never know the impact that somebody's going to have until they're gone. That's unfortunate but that happened to me with my grandma. When I saw your grandma, Prisci, it brought back so many memories.


You never know the impact that somebody's going to have until they're gone.

Trust me, my grandma was not the sweetest woman. She was a kickass and hard worker. You had to be on point all the time. There was Ortiga. I don't know if you guys know what Ortiga is. If you don't behave well, you're going to know what Ortiga means. It's like a chancleta but a flip-flop. She was rough growing up but I remember sitting down every night watching a novella with her. That's the memory that I have of her other than being this businesswoman.


She got older and suffered from dementia. They never identified it but we think it was a combination of dementia and Alzheimer's. I'm thinking, "I'm prepared." I'm getting ready for her passage. I could see her slowly getting there. The day that she passed, I was a mess and a wreck for a week entirely nonstop. I remember thinking, "I was ready and prepared,” but you truly aren't. Those are people that mean so much to you. Even though they were strict and tough, those are the people that keep you grounded.


I'll say one last thing. My dad didn't share a whole lot growing up. I'm one of four. I have three brothers. My dad was the one who started this tradition. He's like, "I'm ready to share. I want to share stories. I want you guys to ask me questions and us to get to know each other." I was like, "Dad, I'm going to interview you and get questions from the family." From there, he nominated his youngest sister and so on.


He then was like, "I want something just for the four of you," my brothers and me. "I want to sit down with you guys and for you to ask me anything you want." It's like a tell-all or something. I was like, "Like a confession? What's going on?" We sat together. We were on Zoom because we were all over the place but we spent four hours. My dad told us everything from the girl whom he made fun of in the third grade, all his teachers, the guy who gave him the opportunity to do whatever he wanted in his career, how he met my mom, why he liked my mom, why they got divorced, and why he found his new wife. He told us so much.


It was one of those moments where I was like, "How many opportunities do we get to sit down?" First of all, I wasn't that interested. Years ago, you couldn't have told me that this was something I would want but then I desire so much to understand the people who had such a hand in my life. This keeps growing. My mom's like, "My side of the family wants that, too." It's been fascinating to have these family connections, too. Family is important in our culture but I'm curious, Priscilla, in your experience, what things do you do to bring your family together?


With the pandemic, it was hard. We're a very tight family from my dad's side. People say, "My family gets together." I'm like, "We're 50." It's a party every time we get together. I love it, though. The one tough thing was that we tried to stay connected but everyone's in so many different places. As you talk about connection, this time, being away from each other also required us to be closer one-on-one, which is not something we always do. We're all in a party loud and talking over each other. What are we talking about? I don't know but everybody wants to get heard. What happened at the end was nobody got heard. We're all just yelling at each other.


What was nice during the pandemic is I got close to certain cousins that we weren't as close to before. One thing that we've all learned during this time is that the need for connection is not always physical. We don't always have to be right next to each other or trying to scream over each other in a big group but it requires making an intention. We[6]  have three generations that we take a look at amongst us all. As we get older, we're seeing more and more that we want that connection. Everyone's looking for that.


For Christmas, we try to get together as much as we can. We'll even do it on Zoom. I hosted a crazy Christmas Zoom with games, presents, and all of that. I tend to take that part because not everyone knows how to work Zoom. I was like, "I'll send the link to show up." We did a virtual baby shower for my sister, my cousin, and my other cousin who lives in Italy. We're all playing games on video. It was insane but it was fun. We stayed connected. It helped us to make sure that we're in the know of what's going on in our lives, even though we're all miles and miles away. I'm very grateful for that.


On my mom's side, it's much smaller. Everyone's in Mexico. A good number of them are still there but we've started introducing Zoom to them a little bit more. They're a little older. They're like, "Mija, I can't figure out where's the button." They keep muting themselves. I'm like, "I don't care. We've been in this pandemic this long. They're still figuring it out, too." We try to stay connected by those means.


WhatsApp has helped tremendously in even sending voice messages to them and one another. I have an aunt that I haven't spoken to in years. My uncle passed away in 2021. She figured out how to use WhatsApp. I get messages weekly from her and I respond. I love it because I feel like I've never been so connected with her as I am now. That's beautiful. The timing is perfect, too. We do a number of different things but we had to get very creative in 2021. It was fun.


It's some work, though. We did some similar things for Thanksgiving and Christmas. One other time, we did a big group but it was a lot. I'm curious. The three of us have an interest in this idea of diversity, equity, and inclusion. What influence did your family of origin or your experiences in your family have on you being attracted to that particular field?


My dad is of Black descent. My mom is not.


Like indigenous?


We're all a mix of a lot of races at this point. I'm sure that there's Asian. She's more European, indigenous, and the whole thing. Growing up, the first story that I learned from my family was that my grandma was so upset with my mom because she was with a person who didn't look like her. I always felt like, "What do you mean?" In my eyes, we're humans. “What are you talking about?”


When I was a grownup and working, I moved from Ecuador to the States. I realized there's this thing where they don't see you as an equal. What's going on there? I wanted to understand that more. I wanted to understand why my grandma thought the way that she thought and how can I help change that, not only within my family but also help others see the beauty of that diversity. To me, it was a very personal decision. It’s my grandma’s way of thinking and seeing things.


I learned to be very forgiving and understanding that the world she grew up in is different from the world that we have grown up, and the future generations as well. We have to be understanding that they didn't have the same tools and resources that we do to understand. The more you are given, the more you're expected to do, learn, and even teach others. That's one of my main reasons if you ask me what's the influence of my family. In general, I want to make sure that we understand that we, as humans, have so many layers and that's the beauty of it, to understand each layer and why we may be through the same experiences but do things differently because of those layers, family, friends, and the culture.


Gloria Estefan and her family do The Red Table Talk, the franchise. Did you see the one where they talked about colorism?




No, I haven't seen that one.


It was one of the latest ones that I watched and it was fascinating. I'm going to warn you, it's provocative. She invited Amara La Negra, who's Dominican, and the guy from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He's Guano, a Jamaican. I[7]  don't know his name. She also had a Brazilian scholar. They talked about the experience of being Black in Latin culture, which I thought was fascinating. They said a lot of times growing up, they heard the phrase, "Mejorar la Raza." I[8]  was like, "I never heard it."


We[9]  have interracial relationships with my family. Panama is such a mixed pot, too. We have people of Asian descent and Middle Eastern descent. With the crossroads of the world being the canal, at least where I grew up, there are different classes. We have a class system but I'm curious about the role that played because when I think of Ecuador, I think of predominantly European descent and maybe some indigenous. I saw the first Black Ecuadorian, this guy on Facebook, who's a cook. I don't know if you've seen him.


Let me tell you, there are a few.


It was so rare. He's dark like me. I was like, "Cool."


There's a strong population that it's Black but there's always been that mentality. It's related to class more than anything. This race they associated with class but this class is better than the other one. I[10]  don't even know how to call them anymore. Those perspectives are not necessarily the right ones. That's why we need to ensure that we're communicating what's real and that has nothing to do with race. A class has nothing to do with race. Race has nothing to do with class, and also what's representation and diversity. The more we have these conversations, my dad's and mom's generations will understand what we're talking about and what we're so passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion.


Priscilla, I see you nodding over. What's going through your mind?


I have a different upbringing. My[11]  dad grew up in the States. He was born and raised in Chicago. My mom was born and raised in Mexico City. My[12]  mom was more of the one who tried to ensure we had our culture. My dad always talked about education. That's how they tag-teamed. My dad always spoke about how education is so important. I didn't know it at the time. I was like, "Dad, I got to get those A's for Alvarado." That's my maiden name. My[13]  mom's like, "Mija, you want a chilla?" She's always making sure I'm eating and I don't lose Spanish, the language, and the culture of what it means to be from Ciudad de México.


I was always a chameleon growing up. At home, we spoke Spanish and watched novellas. I'd go to school and then I'm like, "Mom, I want PB and J. I don't want anything too crazy to cause a ruckus at school." I always lived these two worlds. At a certain point, I started feeling, "Why can't I combine them? Why is this so separate? Why, on the weekends, am I dancing salsa and singing at church where everything's in Spanish, and then I go to school and everything's in English? I don't see anyone eating this type of food with me or know what I'm going through."


My mom had me very young. My parents got divorced very young. I always joke that I grew up with my parents because they were figuring it out and I was also figuring it out. I felt like, "How am I going through this alone? Why aren't there other folks like me?" In high school, I felt there was a difference. I didn't want to have two lives anymore. I wanted to combine them. I started seeing it more with status and money. I come from not a lot of money. The folks in my school do and I can't relate. It was tough.


As I got older, I was like, "I don't fit in that world but I want to get to know all worlds." I became a social butterfly and started meeting folks and trying to get to know their stories. It also had to do with that. I was quite an introvert when I was younger. I did not like to go out and speak with people. I[14]  was like, "If I ask you all the questions, I don't have to talk but then I get to know you." It taught me to be a good listener but then that's how I learned about different cultures and where people came from.


I had a lot of White friends but I say that, and then I'm like, "Where's your family from?" As I spoke to their parents, they said, "My family's from France. Here's where my family's from Italy." I'm[15]  like, "You're White but you've got all this other culture. Talk to me about this." I started learning about other cultures other than my own. Diversity and inclusion have always followed me but not that I was purposely looking for it. The curiosity that I have is what opens those doors for me. In college, I became a resident advisor, where I had a floor of 60 women but it was around global diversity and inclusion.


They're like, "We're purposely making this environment with women from all different cultures." They're like, "Priscilla, do you want to lead this? It's the inaugural year." I was like, "Other cultures, yes, sign me up." It was so many learnings. I learned so much of myself and also so much of other women and the men who lived on the floor beneath us. I became a mediator, too. I was like, "How did I end up here?" It was neat curiosity.


I didn't know you could study this, go into this, and have it become a profession. I’m following my curiosity. It was a mesh of both personal and professional. I believe in God very deeply. I feel like he was helping guide my way. I had to keep following my curiosity. It led me to eventually work in global diversity and inclusion. Even after that, I wanted to do more. That's where we got to work with each other in Latin America. With my curiosity, that's where I was like, "I want to learn more about everyone in Latin America."


There are so many different nuances like La Chancla, “What do you say? What do you want to say? What does that mean?” Living in Miami, it’s the same thing here. You don't know where anyone's from. It's exciting at the same time because you start building even greater empathy and connection. You see people for who they are and the experiences that they've had. It's one of the biggest things I hold on to. Everyone's going through something. We've learned that more so in 2021.


More than anything, don't jump to conclusions for yourself. It's a journey because we've got years of different things and experiences that were embedded in us as we grew up. There's also a lot of healing that we have to do in our journey. Not to say that mine's done. I have a lot of years to go still, hopefully, knock on wood. It’s something that I'm working more towards diligently than just letting life happen and being a lot more intentional.


Much of what you said resonates with me. I used to be an RA or a Resident Assistant in college. What was interesting is although I'm Panamanian, it's always been difficult for me to put myself in a box. I've always been the blend, primarily because when I came to the US, I didn't speak any English. I had to learn to speak English when we moved here. We'd been living in the States for maybe five years or so before we went back to Panama. My grandparents always lived in Panama. They never left. My grandfather never set foot in another country because he was afraid of flying or something.


I remember going back the first time. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old when I went back after having left at nine. I remember seeing all my childhood friends because my grandfather and grandmother moved into the home that we used to live in growing up. We went and started hanging out with all the little kids with all the excitement. I ended up going to some of these parties and stuff. I couldn't participate because I hadn't spoken Spanish.


At home, we converted to speaking in English with my parents because they didn't want us to have any problems in school. Education was super important for them, too. They assimilated. They said, "We're going to speak English at home. That way, you don't have any problems." We speak English at school, with our neighbors, and at church. It was years of all English. I go back to Panama. All of a sudden, people are like, "You don't speak Spanish anymore." I was so embarrassed that I was like, "That's never happening to me again when we're going to come back.”


I came back and started studying Spanish in high school. When[16]  we left Panama, I was in third or fourth grade. I knew enough. Spanish in high school was super easy because it was like, "You guys are learning what I learned in third and fourth grade." People thought I was cheating but then in college, I ended up doing it to major in Spanish because I wanted to be able to read and write in Spanish as well as I did in English. I found community in the global international world.


The reason I mentioned the RA thing is because, somehow, I don't know why I was so compelled. Every quarter, each of the RAs had to host some event. That's the arrangement. Mine always had to be something international and multicultural. I had a salsa dancing event because all[17]  my friends had done salsa. The guys came to the girls' dorm and the girls went crazy. It was awesome.


I had an international male panel where we talked about love and relationships across the culture. It was guys from Sweden, Trinidad, Colombia, and Venezuela. It was awesome. I was so compelled to always bring culture and globalism to these spaces. I want to hear from the two of you how this shows up for you. I'm reading the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Have you heard of this?


I have heard of it.


I started reading it but I've heard a lot of her interviews. She said, "Black immigrants coming to the US benefit from maintaining the immigrant mystique." These are not her words but there's a level of privilege that you get from not being Black African-American if you're Black coming from another country. Immigrants from other countries who are fair-skinned, Latinos[18] , Europeans, or whatever from other continents, benefit more when they assimilate to the dominant culture here in the US.


I was like, "I've been doing that for privilege." I'm then like, "I'm global and international." I'm very proud of that but at the same time, I'm like, "Has that been because I received some level of privilege for it?" It[19]  wasn't something I did consciously but I started to question, "Is that part of my desire to stand out in a way[20] ?" I grew up in Alabama. That's the other thing. I went to high school and college in Alabama.


I was like, "I'm not from here, promise. This cannot be my reality." There are lovely people in many cases but in some places, that was like, "I don't think the way a lot of you think. I can't be from here." That's where I made that a little bit of a split. I'm curious about your experiences either as an immigrant or trying to balance multicultural or dual cultures in your home.


It's interesting because I know it was me. Everyone always welcomed me on both sides of the community, wherever I was going but you're making me think too.


Is your dad Hispanic, Priscilla?


Yes. His story is he was born and raised here in the US. I was around 3 or 4 years old and then we lived in Mexico for a good number of years. I was raised out there and then came back. It was a lot of back and forth. My mom is the one that's from Mexico City. That's a whole other story for another day. I always battled being where I belonged and going. Maybe a couple of years ago, I felt like, "I'm proudly from Mexico. I was born here but my roots, heritage, and culture are from Mexico."


I'm also very proud of living here. I don't want to have to be put in one box and say, "This is who you are." I'm both and that's who I am. People can battle and say, "You're from here." On the other side, it’s like, "You're from over there." I go, "This is what I believe. This is where my heart and culture are. This is me." I have battled with both to the point where I was like, "Did I assimilate too much? Was I too much of a chameleon?"


What we're hearing a lot about is you were code-switching, where you’re going between and switching on and off. Why? Learning from everyone's experiences, even within Latinas Rising Up in HR and every other community that I've been in, I'm not the only one who's been going through that. That's what I've learned. It's supposed to be a journey. You're supposed to learn more about who, where, and what it is that you represent. At the end of the day, I was like, "I'm here to help others and give back to others. Wherever you want to put me, that's on you. This is where I belong and what I do. This is who I am. I'm not going to spend too much time personally spinning around that."


That's the same thing with words and things. I’m like, "This is where I go, what I feel, and what I believe in. Hopefully, we can all work towards that." There is a lot of work that needs to be done, even within our community. I'm learning and growing myself. If we talk again, I might be like, "That was an interesting interview. This is where I am now." What we're supposed to do is to be open that we're on this journey. Where I am now, I'm very proud and will continue to be a Latina, American, and Mexicana. I've been told, "You don't sound Mexican. You sound like a blend of Chile, Colombia, and Argentina. You're Spanish and not Mexican." I'm like, "That's okay. I'm a mix of a lot of things but this is Priscilla."


Carolina, what do you have to say about that?


I feel the same. We are a mix of a lot of experiences, cultures, and countries. Whenever I go, I want to meet people and make sure that they feel at home. It doesn't matter if they're a Mexican or they're from Switzerland. I want to learn from them, eat with them, and listen to their stories. If it helps you to feel more comfortable, based on the fact that I'm Ecuadorian, good for me. If it helps others to feel more comfortable around me because I also feel 100% American, good for you. We're going to have a fabulous time. I am a blend of a lot of things. I'm a blend of cultures, experiences, stories, songs, and food.


I can enjoy Tres Leches, as much as I can enjoy escargot, pasta, or pizza. That's the beauty of being human. We have access to all those resources. I have to go back to what you were saying when you're celebrating, Priscilla, with your family and Valerie interviewing all these people. I’m thinking about the opportunities that we have with technology and have access to people in other countries who may or may not be Latinos. Let's use all of those resources and our experiences to our advantage to connect more and open doors for others. That's what I'm about. If others see it as an advantage, it is.


Use all the advantages. Priscilla, I made a very conscious decision. When we were doing the book launch for Latinas Rising Up in HR in Spanish, you gave us the option to do either English or Spanish. I was like, "I'm the only Black person in this group." There are going to be other people watching from all sorts of backgrounds and I want them to see representation that there are Black women or people who can speak in Spanish.


That's not something that you see very often in the media. You see very little when you think about magazines or news programs. Very few times will you see someone dark-skinned on camera in a Spanish-speaking country. Talking about the chameleon, that was my code switch. I did a little code-switching for the launch. It's not only important for other people of dark color like me. Some people are still surprised that I speak Spanish. When I tell them I'm from Panama, they're like, "From Panama?" I speak Spanish and they're like, "Huh?" I’m like, "Panama is a Spanish-speaking country.


What did you expect?"


We have a lot of people of West Indian descent and Caribbean descent. There is that. Part of the representation is showing people what's available. Not so that we put another label on something. That's probably what I've been battling against. Carolina, you see that there's richness of kindness, diversity, and belonging. People can see that beyond the place you are from, the language you speak, the foods that you eat, and the words that you use for XYZ, there are so many layers.


We can go beyond the labels and connect as human beings, having very unique experiences. We come into our bodies to this planet. It's so random, too. Think about it. How many times do you get to choose where you're born, what language you speak when you're raised, what religion you practice, or what schools you go to?


We have so little choice sometimes. It's such an arbitrary move to think about that being our identity. We had no choice whatsoever. If you were born in Sweden, Chile, Nigeria, or Japan, who has the choice? We stick so much to those labels and identities. We're missing out. What I'm committed to is helping people build those connections beyond those labels.


At the end of the day, recognize that we're not too different from each other, even though we were. Somebody was born in Sweden and some others were born in Canada. In[21]  race, we’re so different because of different families. At[22]  the end of the day, we all want to be loved and have somebody who cares about us. We want to be respected, valued, heard, and seen. It comes down to the very basics. It doesn't matter where or who you are. If we can grab onto that and help others see that, that's the beauty. That's why our humanity is so important. Why not?


At the end of the day, we all want to be loved.

How do we get to that?


Valerie, it's something I'm saying through my experience and practice. It's like, "What am I doing? Looking in the mirror, how am I practicing that?" I have to challenge myself all the time because you can get comfortable and be like, "I like being around my circle." Get uncomfortable and take those risks, whether they're calculator risks or you're going out and jumping out of the plane.


I've learned so much when I've been uncomfortable. I subscribe to this app that sends you little affirmations every day and you can choose how much you want and how little. Before we had our book launch, it was saying, "Being uncomfortable is only going to last for a little bit. Hold on to it and learn." I was watching that and it hit me. Sometimes, it's easy to be in a comfortable space. You learn and miss out when you get uncomfortable and try something new.


You could be missing out on something like your new best friend down the road, maybe a connection that could open so many doors for you, or maybe you were meant to do something in that person's life. It comes back to what are we doing individually through actions to make that change. Over time, we do it as a group collectively. We start gravitating as Caro does and what you do. I do it with other people who are on that same journey and are trying to do something similar. We're still learning and trying to figure it out together.


I agree with you, Priscilla. It's a lot about connecting and making a priority. One of the things that I also do is interview people who are part of a book, Hispanic Stars Rising. It was also published by Jackie from Fig Factor Media. Kudos to her because she's a fabulous human being. She's fantastic. She can see beauty also. Sometimes, where you're so partnered with life and you can't see it, she can see it. That's a power that not too many people have. I had to throw in that there. If you don't know her, you have to meet her.


It takes time to say, "I want to get to know you." To your point, Valerie, somebody told you, "I don't know how to do it." It's tough work. Be intentional about meeting someone because it's going to take time. It's going to take those 15 or 30 minutes of your time that you want to invest in work or something else. You never know where that conversation is going to take you. Have deeper and longer conversations.


I've had some of the best conversations in my life with people who I just met. "I'm going to have an interview with you. Can we do that fifteen-minute discovery call before the actual interview?" That call ends up lasting 30 minutes to 1 hour. We're still talking. There's so much beauty. It doesn't happen with everyone but when it happens with someone, there's magic there. That's what we need to continue doing and gravitating towards those people who can become part of a network of support. Those end up being our go-to people.


How did we do? How was this? Did we pass muster? Priscilla was already part of the circle and stuff.


We're doing fantastic.


When we think about this particular meeting, connection, or conversation that we've had, how would you say it[23]  went?


It went very well. When I say that, I want to invite you to get coffee and then eventually go to the Galapagos Islands. I'm not kidding. We should make it a point for you to come. Where are you?


I'm in Dallas, Texas.


I've been meaning to go to Dallas. Maybe we should have a book launch there.




It's the beauty of connecting with others. Valerie, I saw your presentation at the book launch. There's so much beauty in what you do. Thank you for this space. I always say, "We're sharing stories with the world," but we never know where this episode ends up and who's going to end up reading this conversation. I'm pretty sure that people will be like, “I went through that. It's weird. Here are three Latina-descent women who may have nothing to do with me.” I also went through a grandma who was a psycho.


She went from being a tough cookie to a psycho.


She was a tough cookie. She wasn't a psycho. She's going to be pulling me. We're not different from each other.


You're right. It requires taking time, putting time aside, listening, shutting off the phones, connecting one-on-one, and trying to see where those connecting points are. Valerie, every time you're like, "Can we do something," I'm like, "Yes." I always learn something new and I love it. Your soul is beautiful. The work that you do is amazing. Hearing how you made that decision to purposely speak in Spanish, that's what this platform is. You use it however you want. I love that you did that.


Other young girls hopefully are reading this. You don't know where all of this is going to go or who's reading this. You made them think, "She speaks Spanish. She can sing in Spanish, too," which I love. That's the thing. You break stereotypes every day but it's not because you're trying to break them. That's who you are and you don't fall into those boxes. I love hearing that. We are not meant to be put in one specific box because we're such complicated, beautiful, and different people. That's who we are.


That's a great point, Priscilla. I read NPR that said, “We are that combination of love, hate, beauty, bad moments, and not-so-pretty experiences. What do we decide to do with all these feelings, emotions, and experiences? That's the result.” It's that constant learning and making sure that we make space for people who are going to elevate us and others with our stories. Valerie, what you're creating and building here is beauty in itself because you're giving other opportunities to share experiences. I love that. I learned so much from listening to others. Thank you so much, truly.


I appreciate that you guys shared what you did. One of the things that I'm so conscious of in these spaces and conversations is you both said it takes time. There's an intention behind it. I want to challenge this a little bit. In the crossing of an aisle, you could have a meaningful connection with somebody. I do challenge myself on occasion to do this when I remember this. I was at a supermarket in the checkout line. I remember the guy, who was the cashier, was having a nice little banter with the person that was in front of me. I don't know what they were talking about. Maybe it was the weather. I have no clue. There was a little laughter and a good vibe there.


It was my turn. I started taking all the stuff out of the cart. He's like, "Good afternoon, ma'am." He starts going through his motions. I was like, "I want the banter." He had all these tattoos. He was sleeved. You could see it peeking out of his shirt. I was like, "I love all those tattoos. Tell me about them." He's like, "Which one?" I'm like, "Your favorite." He picked one tattoo. He's[24]  a very fair-skinned guy with brown hair and blue eyes. He said, "I know I don't look it but I'm half Filipino." I was like, "Cool."


He says, "My mom's Filipino. My father's from Texas but I grew up going to the Philippines every year. This tattoo used to be an ancient language of the Philippines before it was colonized by the Spaniards. It's like a hieroglyphic marking of my family tree." He's swiping all my stuff through the scanner as he's talking. In five minutes, I had this beautiful conversation. I learned something different that I was not expecting from someone I could have just said, "How are you? How's the weather? How much is this? Do I have a coupon," that kind of interaction.


Did he give you a discount?


I had no discount.


It doesn't count if he didn't give. Maybe this is something that everybody does. If everybody does, good for you. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I like to call the server by their name. It's a personal choice. I'm very intentional about it every time. There have been moments when she or he goes and they react better. I've gotten better services, I feel but some of them go into those conversations of sharing more. I remember once going to Arizona or something. I started talking to this girl. She told me, "I had to save up money to go to college to have this experience." She goes on to share so much. It's only because of that. I try to follow your lead.


I don't know if you're following my lead but humanizing one another is what you're saying. How do we humanize our experiences? This is why I'm saying it doesn't take time. It takes an open heart, intention, and curiosity. We're already going to be there five minutes waiting for our checkout stuff, taking an order, giving our order, or waiting for our cars to be serviced. How do we make the most of that exchange with that person and still feel like we're allowing them time and energy to do the job that they're to do? If somebody's waiting, we don't want to add stress to them. We could probably give up some things.


I want to thank the two of you so much. This is part one. I say that in every episode. All my readers are like, "We're going to have part two?" I'm so grateful for the two of you being so open to sharing and bringing these stories and philosophies to light. I'm grateful to have met you, Carolina, and have had this opportunity to connect. Priscilla, success. I do want to thank you. Any final words before we close out, either of you?


I like what you said, Valerie, about challenging ourselves. I do challenge myself a lot because that's how we grow and also to talk to people you don't know and be okay with jumping on video like this. We realize that it's not always going to go right. It's okay. There's going to be hiccups along the way. You never know if you don't try it. That's something I would say about a lot of things in life. Take those calculated risks to do what is within your comfort zone. I don't want people going crazy and be like, "Priscilla said to take a risk." After you've meditated, prayed, and thought, whatever it is that you do, and you make that decision, it's for all of us to go through it. We need more leaders like the three of us and have more of these bold conversations.


Carolina, anything to say?


In my case, let's not be so quick to judge one another. Let's be open to being more kind to each other and ourselves. Let's expect greatness from everyone. Not so much like, “It's going to go bad.” Sometimes, let's get surprised by what the world and what others can do.

Not Quite Strangers | Ethnicity
Ethnicity: Let's expect greatness from everyone.

Thank you both for creating an environment in this show where all of us belong and we all had something of value to share. I can't wait for parts 2, 3, and 4, the sequels.


You're coming to Dallas and Miami.


We're going to the Galapagos.


Let's make it happen. Ladies, thank you so much. For those of you who read this episode, you know that you can subscribe to and get many other episodes and all the part 2s and 3s that you want in the future. Thank you all so much for reading. Have a wonderful rest of the day, everyone.


Important Links

Strangers: Meet Carolina Veira & Priscilla Guasso

From: Ecuador/Miami, USA & Mexico/Illinois, USA

Talk About: Latin ethnicity, culture, colorism, and family


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