Respecting Latino Culture At Work The U.S. is nearing the end of its observance of Latino Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). Aside from fun cultural activities and interesting books there are minefields to navigate too to avoid offending co-workers.
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Respecting Latino Culture At Work

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Respecting Latino Culture At Work

Respecting Latino Culture At Work

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, my thoughts on the latest turn in the presidential campaign. I don't like it. But first, do you ever feel like your diverse workplace is a minefield with opportunities to unintentionally offend or annoy your coworkers?

Do you wish you have a road map to guide you through that difficult terrain? Well, now you do. DiversityInc Magazine is publishing a series of articles about things you just should not say to workers of diverse backgrounds. And the magazine inspired us, and is helping us to bring you our own series.

In honor of Latino Heritage Month, this time we're talking about things never to say to Latino executives. Back with us is Luke Visconti. He's the co-founder of DiversityInc. Also joining us is Daniel Guadalupe. He's a lawyer and a partner at the New Jersey-based firm of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Mr. LUKE VISCONTI (Co-founder and Partner, DiversityInc): It's good to be here, Michel. Thanks for having me back.

Mr. DANIEL R. GUADALUPE (Lawyer and Partner, Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus): Delighted to be here.

MARTIN: Well, thanks. Luke, I want to start with something that is not on the list. You used the term Latino in this article. I hear Latino. I hear Hispanic. Is there one term that's better than the other, and why and how do you figure that out?

Mr. VISCONTI: I think Latino is a better word. It better fits a culture. Hispanic does not as well describe the culture. In our opinion at DiversityInc, there's a better term, and you can use Latina for women, which is a nice way of putting it.

MICHEL: Luke, you made the point of Hispanic to some as offensive. Can you say why?

Mr. VISCONTI: I think it harkens back to a colonial era, and the oppression of the Spaniards on the indigenous peoples. And I think that's why, I think, in my perception there's a bit of offense taken to Hispanic.

Mr. GUADALUPE: And to add to that, I think, not all Latinos feel that way. Many Latinos feel that Latino is a term that is identified with the left, with liberalism, and it's not a neutral term. So I must make that clear that within the Latino community, there is a continuing debate about that. Hispanic is the more conservative term. Latino is the more liberal term.

Mr. VISCONTI: That's interesting.

MARTIN: That's interesting. So let's go to the list. We just got to go to number one. Don't worry. You'll get the promotion. You're Latina. Luke.

Mr. VISCONTI: That's an amazing kind of thing to say to somebody. It really is - I mean that's about as insulting as you could possibly get. It assumes that there's an affirmative-action program that promotes somehow unqualified people.

There's no rational company in this entire country that has an affirmative-action program that promotes unqualified people.

MARTIN: Daniel.

Mr. GUADALUPE: And I should add, Luke, it - and Michel, it goes further. People question your academic credentials. When I started practicing, I remember that I encountered this lawyer in an elevator.

And he was getting to know me, I was getting to know him, and I was fortunate to have attended two Ivy League schools, college and law school. And he made a comment. He said, well, I went to Rutgers, but I know why you went to Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania. You're Latino.

And the assumption was that, it was easy for me to get into the schools. So I said, well, I graduated with a 3.6 from Columbia, and I had good grades in law school, and there was no affirmative-action program.

And I came from the island of Puerto Rico where, ironically, the schools consider that we were all rich, just because we were coming from the island, which was definitely not the case. So…

MARTIN: Do you think that you were heard, or do you think that somebody who's going to say something like that? It's just so wedded to his or her grievance that they really don't care what you - what the facts are.

Mr. VISCONTI: There's no question that you are hurt when you hear statements like that, because the underlying statement is you are different, and I want to let you know that you are different and that I consider you to be different, and that you're not my equal, or that you shouldn't be where you are.

MARTIN: Items two and three on the list. When did you arrive in this country? And hola! Habla Ingles. Explain what's so offensive about that?

Mr. VISCONTI: Well, you could also add the comment that has been made to me by strangers who want to connect. They also say, hey, amigo. And they throw an amigo here and there. Well…

MARTIN: Oh, dear.

Mr. VISCONTI: I think that there is an assumption that our native language is not English, that it is Spanish. That all Latinos speak Spanish, and that they speak fluently. And that somehow appealing to ethnicity right away in an overt and in-your-face kind of way is the way to connect.

But what that does is create a reaction on someone like me that says, you are trying to pigeonhole me into this category.


MARTIN: There's more on the list that I think was a head scratcher for some of us which is, do you speak Spanish, as opposed to assuming that one speaks Spanish. Do you speak Spanish?

And I have to tell you that everyday in this office, obviously we have a unique job, but not so unique, where somebody is asking if someone speaks another language. There's an email everyday from someone saying, can you speak or read German?

Can someone here speak or read French? I need somebody to translate, I need someone to make an overseas call. Seems to me that that's such an asset that you would want people to know if you are bilingual. So what's so terrible about asking?

Mr. GUADELUPE: I think in a way that the question - the person we went to is Henry Hernandez, who is an experienced chief-diversity officer in several companies. He, in a way, I think, was saying, "How Latino are you?"

When that question's asked, in other words, it could be Latino to Latino, and you're trying to establish a pecking order, and I think that that's the kind of - to ask a question in the context of we have a business operation that requires a second language, that's one thing. To do it to establish rank is another thing entirely.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. We're talking about things you should not say to Latinos in the office. We're speaking with Attorney Daniel Guadelupe and Luke Visconti of DiversityInc.

Luke, one of the other items deals with making assumptions about race, that you're not white or someone even, you know, raising the question of race. I'm not really sure under what circumstances anybody really needs to inquire about these matters, but, well, Daniel, has that ever happened to you?

Have you been asked to identify your race, and how do you respond to that?

Mr. GUADELUPE: Well, what I always respond with - I try to explain that because our ancestry comes in part from Spain, and in part from Africans who were brought by the Spaniards as slaves, and by Indians who were disseminated by the Spaniards.

We have a rainbow of colors, and there are Latinos who are of African descent and their skin is darker, and there are Latinos who looks Scandinavian and everything in between. And when I explained this, people look at me in amazement, like they cut class or they never paid attention to their history teacher in high school.

Mr. VISCONTI: I think Latino is not a race, it's a culture.

Mr. GUADELUPE: Exactly.

MARTIN: In the corollary to this, Luke, I've heard from another people, particularly Afrolatinas or - Afrolatinas saying - people saying to them, you don't look Latino. But, Luke, what's your thought on how one should respond to this?

Now, Daniel's been very patient with people in giving them the sort of history lesson, but how do you - which is, you know, the kind of thing to do. What's your thought on this? How would one respond to this?

MR. VISCONTI: I would be very cut and dry. I mean, you know, if you're talking with a human-resources executive, which is the context of the comment you're not white, you need to really educate a person like that.

In my opinion, and I'm more strident than most people, I guess - but I would say, look, you know, Latino is a culture. Black, white, those are races, Asian, you could be an Asian Latino. In South America, there's Asian Latinos. So, you know, you have to do the education thing in that kind of situation, in my opinion.

MARTIN: One item on the list, I just - I don't know, maybe I'm pleading for absolution here, it says, butchering a Latino's last name. Now, I don't know, I mean, I could, over the course of a day, have to pronounce a name in Creole, in Hindi, and I kind of want to say, give me a break, you know, because there are different ways that people - sometimes people anglicize their names to make them easier.

I don't know, I just - I guess I'm looking for absolution. What do you think? Announcing names are tricky, also sometimes people's first language themselves is not English, and they're struggling. I don't know when is the line between when you say something, and when you...

Mr. VISCONTI: Well, I think, especially the person who said this had a very difficult name to pronounce. And I think that that, you know, I would feel slighted if people I work with regularly didn't take the time to pronounce my name correctly. And I think there's the kind of defining line.

MONTAGNE: Mm-hm. I see.

Mr. VISCONTI: If the person asks for pronunciation, then if I'm the person being asked, I would pronounce it for the person, and help them get over it. If you find yourself regularly slighted by a coworker or a boss specially, who regularly pronounces your name wrong incorrectly, I think you have good reason to be insulted.

Mr. GUADELUPE: I think it depends on the circumstances and the person involved. I think that, for example, I know of no one named Jose who pronounces his name "Hose(ph)."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GUADELUPE: Now, OK. If someone comes along and I'm Jose, and quote, hey, Hose, how're you doing?" And, you know, a stranger, I will be offended. I mean, what are they doing, you know?

Now, if your name is Guadalupe, right? And many, many years ago, you start telling people, listen, it's not Guadalup(ph), it's Guadalupe. But they still call you Guadalup. Well, you know, after years go by, you get tired of correcting people or just telling them how to pronounce it in Spanish, so, you know, it's not a big deal.

MARTIN: And there are a number of items in this list that again, you just - your heart sinks when you read them, and you're just saying, please, tell me that this happened, you know, one time, on an airplane, a long time ago and far away.

But, like, you're not like them, can you show me your knife? Why don't all you Latinos stop doing that? And - you're laughing, but, Daniel, please tell me nobody's telling you these things to you.

Mr. GUADELUPE: Oh, I can tell absolutely, absolutely, and in many different permutations from bringing out your burglary tools to - I feel like I have stock in Victorinox, you know, the Swiss Army knives company.

I think this ties into the - what I was discussing with Luke before the show, which was the perception that the media creates about the stereotypes. And, of course, ever since "West Side Story" won an Oscar, and became a famous movie, the image of the Puerto Rican brandishing the knife was ingrained in the American psyche, and unfortunately that has continued on, and on, and on, and on.

And it is difficult when you go see a movie, or when you're watching television and you don't see Latinos as expert commentators in new shows, or you don't see them as main characters in a sitcoms and movies, and you see the same stereotypes being perpetuated.

I let some scruff grow on my face and, you know, even people, you know, even some attorneys that work with me say, you look like a Columbian drug dealer, or there is one guy who called me Fidel all the time. I would see him in the bathroom.

It this is, you know, a senior older attorney, who's like, hey, Fidel, how are you? And it's those types of comments that make you think, gee, you know, we really haven't made any progress in some areas.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that. What about your kids, do you think that they will have to fight these battles, or do you think that if we were like to sort of get together ten years from now, maybe we wouldn't - you think we'll still need this list or not?

Mr. GUADALUPE: I think that it will take some time for the mainstream to hopefully in the future get rid of this list, and the comments that this list contains. I think that we have made some progress, but I don't think until we resolve this immigration issue, and we put the role of Latinos in this country, which is to be Americans and to continue contributing to the fabric of America as they have/had since the beginning of this country, and not too many people know that. I think that eventually - I am very hopeful - and I think it will happen.

MARTIN: Luke Visconti, final thought?

Mr. VISCONTI: Yeah, considering Latinos will be 30 percent of our population by 2043. It will go away, but we'll be old by the time it gets there, Dan.

Mr. GUADALUPE: And you to - not to scare your listeners or anything, this is a total joke, but to borrow the joke from Paul Rodriguez, he says, hey, you are in America, speak Spanish.

(Soundbite of laughing)

MARTIN: You can answer those letters.

(Soundbite of laughing)

MARTIN: Luke Visconti is the co-founder of DiversityInc, and Daniel Guadalupe is a partner at the New Jersey-based law firm of Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus. They were both kind enough to join us from member station WBGO in Newark. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Mr. GUADULUPE: Thank you, Michel. It's great to be here.

Mr. VISCONTI: Thank you, my pleasure.

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