FCM Celebrates Hispanic Employees
Why are we commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month here at FCM? Viviana Pena shares her story...
Name: Viviana Pena (she/her)
Location: Miami, FL
Position: Team Leader – Melon Chat Team, Corporate Traveler (A Flight Centre Travel Group Company)
From South America to South Beach
I was born in Venezuela, but I moved to Miami, Florida in 2003. My dad was born in Cuba, so I have a mixed Cuban/Venezuelan heritage. Spanish is my first language and I’m now fully bilingual in Spanish and English – it’s funny because in Miami, being bilingual in English and Spanish isn’t really that interesting or noteworthy, however, being bilingual has been super helpful in other parts of my life here in the US, including at school and work.
Keeping her casa close to her corazón
One of the most unique Venezuelan traditions is how we celebrate Christmas – we don’t actually celebrate on December 25th! Everything is focused on December 24th, or Christmas Eve. We always have a huge family dinner, and everyone contributes something. A traditional food you’d find at this celebration is hallaca, which is dough that is flattened onto a banana leaf, filled with different meats, and then rolled up and boiled. It is so delicious and has so many yummy flavors. We only make hallacas around the holiday time, so it’s a really special treat! The whole family gets together to make them, and it takes around 12 hours. This tradition really encompasses the Hispanic focus on family. It’s so important to us, and this tradition reminds me of home. Thankfully, living in Miami, I have access to delicious Latin American food just around the corner. I haven’t been back to Venezuela since 2012 due to the difficult sociopolitical environment there, and sadly I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go back, so traditions like this really make me feel close to home.
Benefits of being bilingual
I think one of the things that makes me happiest is when I’m able to offer someone help in Spanish. For example, when someone reaches out to me on Melon Chat and I get the vibe that they may prefer Spanish, I always offer to conduct our chat in Spanish. People are usually so surprised (and relieved) that this is an option. Moments like these show that being bilingual in a multicultural country like the US is such a gift, and truly helps people. It also makes me feel like a really valuable part of the Melon team when I can help us go above and beyond for a traveler. It also has opened up more opportunities for me – in my past role as a travel manager, I was given the first opportunity to help our Latin American clients who exclusively spoke Spanish.
Her tips for Hispanic inclusivity in the workplace
One thing I would encourage employers in the USA to remember is that Hispanic Americans come from so many different places and have so many different backgrounds. I know we are all Hispanic, but don’t just lump us into that group and leave it at that – when teaching diversity, remind HR and employees that Hispanics & Latinos descend from across Latin America & Spain and have unique cultures, traditions, and phrases depending on where they are from! Just like somebody in Pennsylvania has a completely different upbringing from someone in Minnesota, it’s the same for Hispanics. Please just ask questions to understand someone’s Hispanic heritage before assuming. We appreciate it when people take interest in and have respect for our culture.
I have a few perfect examples to illustrate this point: my brother’s wife is from Argentina, and how she speaks, and her traditions are so different from mine; just like my friends from Mexico, they have sayings and phrases I’ve never heard of in my life! There’s a specific phrase that us Venezuelans use, cachicamo diciendole a morrocoy conchudo, which translates literally in English as “the armadillo calls the turtle shell-y.” Americans would use the phrase “the pot calling the kettle black” which has the exact same meaning. I thought it was so funny that Venezuelans and Americans have the same phrase that means the same thing, just with completely different words.
I really think companies can learn from what FCM & Corporate Traveler are doing by showcasing their Hispanic employees during our heritage month. It’s really amazing and shines a light on our diverse employee base. Placing these conversations up front is really a win for diversity.
We’d like to thank Viviana for sharing her story! We hope that everyone who reads this blog walks away with a deeper understanding of and respect for Hispanic Americans.