As we close out Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15th) and as we approach Halloween, my favorite holiday, I can't help but think of La Calavera Catrina-one of the iconic figures of Dia de los Muertos. The image was created in the early 1900s by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, who was making a political statement that Mexican elites posing as Europeans were no better than anyone else. They could wear their fancy outfits and hats, he was saying, but in death we are all equal. We are all the same.
Catrina is typically depicted with a smile on her face signifying that life is sweet and that we should be grateful in life and celebrate it day in and day out.
The overarching message of Dia de los Muertos and Catrina, at least to me anyway, is that we are in fact all equal and that we should celebrate who we are as individuals and who we are as a people. As a Hispanic community.
Equality. Authentic self. These are concepts that do not necessarily come easy to Hispanics can be hard to embrace - especially the authentic self.
Take me, for example. I'm the CEO of SHPE, an organization that proudly advocates for Hispanics to be represented in the STEM fields and in communities at large. I've been in this role for a little of two years now, and before this, I was the chief legal officer and general counsel for a national nonprofit that creates employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities.
To everyone around me, I have always come across as poised and confident in my identity.But that's not always been the case. In school and early in my career I was not self-assured. I spent much of my early life wearing a mask: I was Hispanic and not necessarily proud of it. Back then, I was uncertain about what it meant to be Hispanic. I grew up poor and in the hood - a barrio-in Houston, Texas. I was the youngest of six kids and the daughter of Mexican immigrants. My father grew up as a migrant farmer.
Even though I had amazing, supportive parents who sacrificed to get me into good schools, I equated being Hispanic with having less. Everyone around me always seemed to have more and better. But somewhere deep down I knew that I was worthy. That I was good enough; and in some instances better because I had to do more with less. So I applied myself. I studied harder and longer than those around me. And I earned full-ride academic scholarships to a several universities.
Ultimately I decided to attend the University of Texas at Austin. And let me tell you, I had an identity crisis at UT. You see, as a daughter of Mexican immigrants, I always saw myself as Mexican. But when I got to UT I was told that I was Mexican American. Chicana. Tejana. Hispanic. I was so confused. I ended up taking a Chicano politics class just to figure it out. But even with this, it took me a long time to truly embrace my Hispanic heritage.
It wasn't until I was studying for my final exams in my third and final year of law school that I realized that what I had achieved and what I was poised to achieve was all due to my upbringing. My parents. My beautiful amazing Mexican immigrant parents. They did not always give me what I wanted. They did not have the means. But they always gave me what I needed. Unconditional love. And this, of course, is priceless. They taught me the value of hard work, resilience, loyalty, and integrity. And with these values as my foundation, I did well in school and university and graduated from law school. And I "made it" in the very competitive and cut-throat world of litigation.
I attribute my success to these core values. I owe my success to my Mexican parents. Especially my father, who just turned 95, and has always made me feel invincible. What I now know, is to be true to myself and appreciate my heritage, and at every opportunity, I encourage other Hispanics to do the same.
I've also learned that, no matter how we Hispanics identify - Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican - we still need to contend with
how people are determined to see us, particularly in the STEM fields.
That's because, in the STEM fields, we are a super minority. Hispanics are just 2 percent of professionals in the STEM fields. For context, we are 16 percent of the U.S. population. Clearly, we are underrepresented. Just as importantly, we are an untapped resource. An untapped solution.
The past decade, the number of STEM jobs grew by 24 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The growth was so tremendous that, as a country, we could not keep up with it. Today, there are two STEM job openings for every qualified job seeker.
In response, companies with these job openings are seeking qualified job applicants outside America. But why aren't they more readily and consistently considering the millions of young and super talented Hispanics who have long careers ahead of them? Folks like my SHPE Members, who are smart, ambitious, and have the additional benefit of a cultural experience that could enrich all organizations with new perspectives.
As an organization, we at SHPE want to stamp out this perception that Hispanics can't be STEM professionals-or that we aren't ready.
Because the stats do show that we are making notable progress. According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities(HACU), the number of Hispanic students enrolling in STEM studies is on the rise. From 1994 to 2004, they increased 33 percent. In 2013, 9 percent of STEM degrees and certificates went to Hispanics. But it could be vastly better, and SHPE wants to accelerate our progress dramatically.
Currently, at SHPE National, my team and I, are assessing all of SHPE's events and activitiesand building those out into robust, year-long, high-impact, national programs with clear value propositions. The cornerstone of all these programs is the concept of self-efficacy.
What is self-efficacy? In short, it's having the confidence in your innate abilities. You can have all the technical skills in the world-you can be an excellent engineer, a critical thinker, a communicator, and a good decision maker. Butif you don't have confidence in who you are-and that includes your Hispanic heritage and Latino identity-you may be hard-pressed to succeed, in my humble opinion.
Self-efficacy. Authentic Latino leadership. These are important. Critical. And we need to infuse these competencies into everything we do at SHPE. All our programs. From Pre-College to the C-Suite. But SHPE, alone, cannot do this. So we continue to partner with organizations like GlobalMindED that believe in and support SHPE's mission and vision. Our Industry Partner Council members, for example, long-time supporters of SHPE. And we are forging new, meaningful relationships in Corporate, Academia and Government.
On a grander scale, as a country, we see the need for more diversity of thought and experience. We need Hispanic leaders. We need effective Hispanic leaders. We need them in our schools, our companies, we need them in our government and we need them in our communities.
With 11,000-plus members in 250-plus chapters-and a growing capacity to provide awareness, access, support, training and development - SHPE can help fill these leadership voids with qualified professionals who understand and appreciate their heritage.
After all, I often say to young Hispanics, "We're temple builders! We're temple builders!" We come from a long line of warriors and creators. We were some of the first scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Lookto the Incas, the Mayans and the Aztecs. We built some of the first cities. Some of them were so well-designed and so well-built they outlasted civilizations.
We sometimes forget that history. In somecases we don't know it at all. It hasn't been entered in the history books. Yet given that past, isn't it incredible Hispanics are not one of the most prominent group of people in the STEM fields?
In sharing this history and SHPE's mission,I have a sense of urgency. Do you have a sense of urgency for our country? As a Hispanic in STEM? As an ally? And if not, why not? Think about it.
We look forward to seeing you in June 2020 at GlobalMindED and to improving the world with you and other inclusive leaders.