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En Español: Learning and working in Iowa as a Mexican-American

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Julia DeSpain/Little Village

El camino largo: Pensamientos sobre la representación

Por Jesse Gonzalez

Durante mis largas manejadas por carretera de camino a pueblitos de Iowa para reunirme con presidentes y directores ejecutivos bancarios, que por lo general son hombres blancos, he comenzado a reflexionar sobre mis experiencias como un joven Mexicano-Americano viviendo en Iowa. He logrado desentramar observaciones varias, tales como ser la única persona de color en mi lugar de trabajo, visitar gerencias ejecutivas de instituciones financieras predominantemente blancas, o darme cuenta de que el cuerpo estudiantil de la Universidad de Iowa (mi alma-mater) históricamente ha sido y hoy día sigue siendo predominantemente blanco.

Durante esas largas horas mañaneras de manejada, muchas cosas pasan por mi cabeza. Me mantengo firme a mi identidad y disfruto escuchando banda, un tradicional género musical mexicano. Al tiempo que escucho la música, recuerdo con nostalgia las largas manejadas por autopistas de doble línea desde el aeropuerto de Guadalajara al pequeño pueblito mexicano que visito ocasionalmente para ver a mi familia.

Al acercarme al pequeño pueblo de Iowa en el que estaré trabajando, me encuentro a mí mismo preparándome para sentirme intimidado e incómodo porque seré la única persona no blanca en las reuniones que más tarde ese mismo día, y durante el resto de la semana, estaré dirigiendo con ejecutivos banqueros.

Dado que a menudo me siento fuera de lugar, como si no perteneciera a estos espacios, me muestro titubeante a compartir mis pensamientos cuando discutimos temas de trabajo en las reuniones. Siento que no puedo ser genuinamente yo, y necesito tener más cuidado con las palabras que uso y la manera en la cual me proyecto que mis compañeros blancos, para ser tomado tan seriamente como ellos en estos ambientes. Me siento solo.

De las varias instituciones de las que he sido parte a lo largo de mis carreras profesionales y educativas en los siete años que he vivido en Iowa, cada una de ellas ha enfatizado la importancia de diversidad e inclusión cultural. Sin embargo, ninguna ha sido capaz de superar los problemas sistémicos que fueron diseñados para impedir que las poblaciones minoritarias alcancen el mismo nivel de éxito y posición social que sus homólogos blancos. Varias de estas instituciones, incluida la Universidad de Iowa, tienen programas que intentan ayudar a los estudiantes minoritarios de secundaria en sus carreras educativas. Aún así, solo el 6.8% de la población estudiantil es latino/a/x y el 3% negra. Sí, la población del estado de Iowa es más del 90% blanca, pero casi la mitad del alumnado de la UI son estudiantes de otros estados.

Aún así, parece haber un déficit dado los números mencionados, y se debe hacer mayores esfuerzos para cerrar la brecha o hacer que estos programas sean más exitosos. Mientras continúo reflexionando sobre mis experiencias, los problemas sistémicos se hacen más obvios. Está claro que los grupos de personas marginados en el campo bancario y en el de las finanzas, tanto profesionalmente como en el acceso educativo, lo cual es alarmante. Sin un mayor énfasis en asegurar que los grupos marginados de personas tengan el mismo acceso a los recursos y oportunidades que sus homólogos blancos para adquirir el mismo conocimiento y calificaciones a través de la educación, las poblaciones minoritarias continuarán sin voz y no estarán representadas en estos campos.

La intención de promover diversidad e inclusión ha sido una más bien vacía, lo cual me lleva a preguntarme, ¿Cuándo les va a importar lo suficiente como para hacer algo verdaderamente significativo a aquellos que no sufren esta adversidad—pero tienen el poder?

The Long Road: Thoughts on Representation

Written and translated by Jesse Gonzalez

During my long drives down double-lane highways on my way to small Iowa towns to meet with predominantly white bank executives, I often reflect on my experience as a young Mexican-American man living in Iowa — first as a student at the overwhelmingly white University of Iowa and in my current profession, where I am the only person of color in my entire workplace and most of the financial institutions I visit.

Throughout those long morning hours of driving, a lot goes through my mind. I remain true to my identity and enjoy listening to Banda, a traditional Mexican music genre. I reminisce on the long drives from the airport in Guadalajara to the small town in Mexico I occasionally visit to see family.
As I approach the next Iowa town I will be working in, I find myself needing to prepare to feel intimidated and uncomfortable given the fact that I will be the only non-white person in the meetings I will be conducting later that day and throughout the week with bank executives.

Since I often feel out of place, I am hesitant to share my thoughts when discussing work matters in meetings. I feel that I cannot be my genuine self and need to be more cautious of my word-choice and the manner in which I conduct myself than my white coworkers to be taken as seriously in these environments. I feel alone.

Of all the educational and professional institutions of which I have been part in the seven years I have lived in Iowa, all have emphasized the importance of cultural diversity and inclusion. However, not one has been able to overcome the systemic issues designed to hold back minority populations from attaining the same level of success and social standing as their white counterparts. Several of these institutions, including the University of Iowa, have programs that attempt to aid high school minority students in their educational careers. Still, only 6.8 percent of the student population is Latino/a/x and 3 percent black. Yes, the state of Iowa’s population is more than 90 percent white, but nearly half the UI student body are out-of-state students.

The diversity program’s shortfalls seem to be reflected in the underrepresentation of people of color in my fields of finance and banking in Iowa. A greater emphasis needs to be placed on bridging the gap to make these programs more successful.

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As I continue to reflect on my experiences, systemic issues become more apparent. It is clear that minority groups are marginalized in my industry, which is alarming. Without a greater emphasis placed on ensuring that marginalized people have the same access to resources and educational opportunities as their white counterparts, minority populations will continue to be voiceless and underrepresented in these fields.

The claim to promote diversity and inclusion has been an empty one, leaving me to wonder, when is someone unaffected by this adversity, with the power to do so, going to care enough to make a difference?

Jesse Gonzalez lives in West Des Moines and has been a professional in the banking industry for five years. Jesse is passionate about social issues that he has observed through his experiences as a young Mexican-American man growing up in California and living in Iowa for the last seven years, both as a financial professional and former college student.


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