Guest blog post by Glorimar “Glo” Maldonado, Diversity Program Manager, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM) (September 15-October 15) is a time to celebrate the histories, cultures, and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The theme for HHM 2020 is “Hispanics: Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace the Future,” and it is one to which I can definitely relate.
I was born to Puerto Rican parents. My dad’s family moved to New York when he was 10 (making him a “Nuyorican”), while my mother remained on the island until her late 20s, when she married my father and they moved to Turkey for their first overseas military assignment. Although they are both Puerto Rican, their dialects, customs and traditions couldn’t have been more dissimilar, so from an early age, I learned to accept differences, even if I couldn’t fully grasp why they existed.
To be honest, for a long time I felt out of place as a Latina/Hispanic. I didn’t fully understand the U.S.-Puerto Rico dynamic and found it difficult to explain to my peers. I endured endless teasing from relatives because I was born on an Air Force base in Florida and not in Puerto Rico—to them, I wasn’t a “real” Puerto Rican. While proud of my heritage, I was hesitant to show it—how did bomba and Rafael Hernández stack up against the better-known cultures of Spain and Mexico? I am bilingual, but I learned English first, and my preference was—and still is—English. I am light-skinned, although three distinct races (white, black and Taíno Indian) are reflected in the trigueño (tricolored) color of my skin. I wasn’t like other kids who were born and raised in one place; I am an Air Force brat who grew up on military installations in Europe from age seven 7 until almost 17. I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.
My parents, trying to be helpful, gave me two mantras: 1) “Know who you are so you know where you’re going;” and 2) “Work harder than everyone else. You’re Puerto Rican, and they are expecting you to fail.” This year’s HHM theme reminds me of the first mantra. As I grew older, I tapped into my love of learning to better understand my heritage, the greater Hispanic community, and other cultures that are similar to and different from my own. My early struggles to understand and appreciate the nuances that made me a unique contributor to my own raza (race) eventually enabled me to understand and appreciate the struggles and accomplishments of others. To think that I am one of many wonderfully unique Latinos who have contributed to the fabric of this nation—even in minute ways—is mind-blowing. Being a part of the 8% of the federal workforce and the 4% of employees at the USPTO who are Hispanic makes me proud. Yes, we have much farther to go regarding overall representation, but as a public servant, I feel I am fulfilling my destiny and making a mark. I am proud of my past, and I look forward to seeing the future contributions of those 8% of federal workers and 4% employed at the USPTO.
That second mantra was woven into every school report card, standardized test, and diploma I ever took or received. Fear of failure and judgment was always nipping at my heels. My parents urged me to do more and do it better. I was an “A” student and earned multiple degrees. For more than 20 years, I took on leadership roles, driving forward nationwide programs and initiatives. From my time as Chief of Staff for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, to Chief Recruitment Officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to my job today, my parents’ voices in my head, coupled with a desire to leave each place better than I found it, have been the driving forces in my life. Passion for people instead of fear of failure is my motivation now.
Each year, HHM gives me the opportunity to reflect on my journey and those of the people who have gone before me. I am so proud to be part of a community of scientists, writers, musicians, teachers, and artists who have received the Nobel Prize and Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards, among other achievements. My roots are embedded in the land of Cervantes, Picasso and the Alhambra. The legacies of Méndez v. Westminster, César Chávez and others have contributed to human rights and equity in schools, the workplace and across the country. I have a B.A in English, History and Psychology from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida and M.S. in leadership from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. And although I am not a patent or trademark examiner, the Diversity and Inclusion work I do—the programs, initiatives and areas that my team and I oversee at the USPTO—is making the world a better place.
I invite everyone to join me in our ongoing evolution as human beings, employees and allies. Continue to ask questions, learn, grow and appreciate the differences and commonalities across all groups. It’s through these actions that we are better able to take pride in our past and embrace our future.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Hispanic employees in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15--October 15).