Today, my manager called me into her office to ask me if I considered myself a member of one of my company's Diverse Growth segments. Specifically, she wanted to know if I considered myself Latino. The long answer follows.
My father is Peruvian. Growing up, I witnessed my father being discriminated against and even heard the ugly words of racism directed at me on many occassions. When my parents divorced, I lived with my father and his sisters. I grew up in a Peruvian house, speaking Spanish, eating Peruvian food, suffering through CCD, and playing with other Peruvian children - mostly cousins. So, yes, I consider myself Latino.
My mother, on the other hand, is of Scottish extraction. My father gave me his body type, but not his skin tone. My mother is the palest person on the planet. I rank a close second. Spending summers with my mother as a child, I lived in an American house, speaking English, eating American food, suffering through sermons, and playing with other white children - mostly neighborhood ne'er-do-wells. So, I also consider myself white.
I have long-since reconciled myself to the fact that I will never be completely embraced by either population. I'm too white-looking to have any credibility with Latinos, even though I grew up as one. I tried approaching several Latino academic and social organizations in my freshman year of college, only to be brutally rebuffed. White people tend to look at me differently. Sure, I appear to be one of them, and they usually assume that my last name is Greek or Italian, not Spanish. It isn't long, however, before they realize that I do not have the same attitudes that they do. I am referring (very generally) here not only to the sense of entitlement that most white Americans seem to possess, but also to their views on religion, politics, history, etc.
So, I straddle two cultures, identifying with both in part but neither in full. Having spent most of my life confused and "left out," I some time ago came to realize just how fortunate I was. I may not be easy to define, but I have a much wider view of the world than many of the people I grew up envying.
After giving my manager a much shorter version of the above explanation, she explained that the EVP of Marketing had nominated me for a "Diversity in Leadership" program that would fast-track me into the upper-echelons of management at my company. I am one of two finalists, and I am competing against another self-identified Latino. And then I remembered: When I filled out the employment application at my company, it didn't have a box that I could check for bi- or multi-racial, so I selected the Latino box. When my manager found out about my nomination (which happened earlier the same day!), she replied to the EVP that she didn't think I identified as Latino, which caused a rapid exchange of emails that led to her calling me into her office.
So, how would this end? If selected, I would be the "Marketing" Latino on a team full of Latinos. Would they question my right to be on the team? That is, would they feel as though I took the spot away from someone more deserving? Some, most, or all of them would, certainly.
I look forward to a day when "Diversity in Leadership" need only refer to diversity of experience, not "race" - an antiquated construct that has yet to prove itself of any value to humanity. But that day, unfortunately, isn't likely to come within the next week or so, and I now have an opportunity to compete for a position that would catapult my career. Given how difficult it is to rise through the ranks of my company, this program is very attractive.
Well, whatever happens, it really is an honor to have made it this far in the selection process.