This year, it’s time to make Hispanic Heritage Month a more authentic and meaningful experience for everyone involved. Why? For too long, many companies have chosen to use stereotypical representations of Hispanic culture – largely appropriated from Mexican tropes – as their anchor points throughout the month. In response, people aren’t making new connections or developing any new understanding about the Hispanic experience or their Latinx colleagues, an outcome that runs counter to the spirit of Hispanic Heritage Month.
That so many stereotypes have burrowed themselves into typical Hispanic Heritage Month event schedules is understandable. Concepts anchored around Taco Tuesdays, Day of the Dead décor, mariachis, ponchos, piñatas, and sombreros are familiar and “safe” ways of acknowledging Hispanic heritage. They challenge no worldviews, question no behaviors, and neatly sidestep systemic biases and historical injustices alike. They don’t draw anyone out of their comfort zones or truly invite anyone to see the world through a different lens. They allow people to turn up to events, pass the salsa, and cross “Heritage Month” off their to-do list with ease.
In short, they allow the status quo to continue.
And yet, the status quo does everyone a disservice. Stereotypes and cultural assumptions can be upsetting, sowing the seeds of disengagement, dissatisfaction, and interpersonal conflict within organizations and teams. Even worse, a lack of true understanding between people prevents the formation of deep and authentic relationships. These relationships are the foundations of psychologically safe environments where everyone can bring their full selves – and their full potential – into the workplace.
So, what can companies and teams do
differently this year?
First, acknowledge the realities. Latin America includes over 20 countries and many different cultures, some of which pre-date European contact by millennia. The elements of Mexican culture that have been “mainstreamed” represent only a small slice of Mexican life, and bear little resemblance to the norms and practices in other regions or countries. In fact, there is no universal Latinx or Hispanic culture or even life experience. Country of birth, economic status, immigration, gender, ancestry, and other factors all shift how different populations have developed and customarily expressed their cultural identities. Acknowledging this is the beginning of moving beyond it.
Next, make this year’s Hispanic Heritage events, activities, and celebrations an opportunity to learn more about cultures that may be less familiar or less frequently featured, like diving into Salvadorian or Guatemalan cultures instead of being Mexican or even Puerto Rican centric. To guide this, rather than centrally planning or executing events from a top-down perspective, invite Latinx employees to step up and design events and celebration that reflect their experiences and their lived realties. Approach each occasion with a sense of curiosity and ask respectful questions instead of judging or guessing.
Finally, encourage participants in Hispanic Heritage Month activities to truly listen and see the individuals involved. Where possible, seek understanding and connection points that are specific to the person, rather than treating Latinx employees as “representatives” of a non-existent universal Hispanic culture. This can do more to create meaningful bonds and touch points between team members than pushing staff to be icons of a concept instead of being allowed to be who they truly are as people.
By taking these steps, it is possible for organizations to strip some of the stereotypes out of Hispanic Heritage Month. Yes, it will take more effort on a corporate level than just having team leads order in tacos. And it will take more effort and commitment on a personal level, to be present and intentional about listening and interacting with employees as unique individuals rather than “representatives” of some universal Hispanic culture that doesn’t exist. Yet by taking these steps – and making the extra effort – it is possible to transform Hispanic Heritage month from a tick-box activity on the corporate calendar into something truly meaningful and beneficial for everyone involved.