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The Beauty of Cultural Diversity

Author: Vanesa Contreras Rodriguez - Summer Intern

Vanesa Contreras Rodríguez is a student at Arizona State University, studying entrepreneurship in the W.P. Carey School of Business.  As a student
 who is passionately committed to her community, she is interning at Helios for the summer.  She is working with our Community Investment Center of Excellence providing her knowledge and expertise to help strategize how to ensure more Latino students are prepared for success in college and career and ultimately, graduate with a postsecondary degree.  We asked Vanesa to share her thoughts with us.  The following is the third in a series of articles that Vanesa has contributed to the Helios blog.

For this last segment, Vanesa briefly describes her transition to the United States and the presence education has held in her household. Additionally, Vanesa has interviewed three Helios staff members in order to synthesize a variety of perspectives and present the overlap education plays in a diverse pool of cultures promoting a cohesive society. 

Coming to the United States at an early age was a difficult transition for my family. It was assimilating to a foreign culture and learning an unfamiliar language. I remember “speaking English” with my younger cousin. I would say, “wacho wacho wacho” which would, in our minds, translate to “yes, I want ice cream” or what have you. These senseless conversations were the start of our introduction to learning and dominating the language. Prior to our arrival, my father had been working in the United States for ten years, with continuous travel to Mexico every weekend to see us. My mother would have a warm meal ready for us to share whether it was tamales de elote or frijoles con queso fresco in order to begin the short 36-hour time frame my father would have with us. 

My parents didn’t want a life dependent on my father driving long distances to us, but a stable lifestyle where we would be able to dream our highest dreams and accomplish all that we set forth to do. I asked Vince Yanez, Vice-President of Arizona Student Success Initiatives for Helios, why his family decided to come to the United States and he answered by saying, “it was matter of access to work, specifically crop picking in the fields.” Coming from a family of laborers, I could relate to his family’s decision to migrate. On my father’s side, my grandfather worked endless hours beneath the torrid sun in order to provide his family with just a fragment of financial stability. 

On the other hand, upon completion of junior college, Ian Smith, Senior Vice-President and Chief Communications Officer at Helios, came to the United States pursuing opportunities to further his education. Ian is originally from the Bahamas where his parents and siblings still reside. Ian went on to explain, “I had a lot of family in Florida so knowing I was not alone made me feel comfortable and confident. First-generation students need little things like this to make a difference and allow them to focus on their academics.” 

Education has always been a pivotal role in my family’s household, as it is in many others. When asked what role her parents played in her pursuit of education, Grace Maseda, Director of Marketing Communications at Helios, commented, “Education was always a cornerstone for my brother and I.” Grace is a Florida native, with her roots extending to Cuba where her parents were born and immigrated from. Grace continued to say, “My mother received an 8th grade education and my father achieved less than that because in rural Cuba that is the most an average family could attain.” Regardless of their experience with education, Grace’s parents made it their duty to emphasize the significance of continuing her education.   

While the benefit of education is present among many communities there is always a hidden bias and challenges for underrepresented populations. During my interview with Vince I asked him what challenges he feels Latinos face, he answered, “There is a gap in expectations, in what people think we can do and accomplish”. In the same way Grace mentioned, “Underrepresented unities face issues of equity, validation and lack of or ignorance to opportunities”. Coming from a community where Latinos are the majority, I see the gap between our achievements in comparison to our peers. We are at a standstill, but we shouldn’t be says Vince, “Culturally, when you think about it, we should be doing a better job. At our core is family, and doing what is necessary to take care of our family in order to lead good and productive lives. If you meld those two things together we should be doing a better job in motivating and supporting each other.” 

The beauty of having a diverse community is simple. While we are different in a variety of ways, we are the similar in that we have the same potential as the next person. It all comes down to who has the most grit and longing to succeed. Grace, Ian, and Vince saw life as it ought to be, not as it was, and created their own paths for success leaving a breadcrumb trail for others to follow. It is important for educators, community leaders, and society as a whole to see the value education holds for the future of our nation. It’s not about singling out a group of individuals by the pigment of their skin or the tone within their accent, it’s about welcoming diversity and leveraging it to instill continuous change and growth for generations to come. 

“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres.”

“Education is the greatest investment because it is an investment to yourself.” - Grace Maseda

“Words aren’t going to get it done, you have to get it done.” - Vince Yanez

“You have to let your roots grow and let your flower bloom.” - Ian Smith
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