For Hispanic Heritage Month we spoke to a few Progress employees to start a conversation about diversity, culture, teamwork and working for a global company.
Quick quiz: What’s the oldest city founded by European settlers in the United States? Answer: St. Augustine, Florida.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and approach Thanksgiving, maybe this might be a good piece of history to share with your in-person or now-virtual family: Roanoke (1585), Jamestown (1607), and Plymouth (1620) all came after the Spanish founded St. Augustine in 1565.
Here at Progress, we always have a lot to celebrate as a global company with offices on six continents and businesses that rely on our products all over the world. One of the greatest advantages of having a global reach is having a global workforce.
And Hispanic and Latinx employees not only have great history to share, they contribute so much to our culture and our work, not just in the Caribbean and Latin America region, but worldwide. So, we had some great conversations with a few of them to see what we could learn.
Here are some excerpts:
Nelson is based in our Burlington, Massachusetts, office. He grew up in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, and Cabimas in Zulia State near oil fields. He also lived in Europe—The Hague in Holland and Iserlohn in Germany.
If you could choose one place to live other than the U.S. where you live currently, where would it be and why?
The Hague, Holland. I love the Netherlands, having been my home during two incredible years of my life. Aside from perhaps being the home of the most influential soccer philosophy in the world, Total Football, it has a rich and complex history and very welcoming people. It is a very organized and open society that taught me the importance of equality and being forward-thinking among a truly multi-racial and multi-ethnic enclave. And of course, while I am a bit of a foodie and the Dutch aren’t particularly known for their cuisine, I can eat kaassoufflés (cheese soufflés) and erwtensoep (Dutch pea soup) for a steady diet. Throw in some good steak, Venezuelan arepas and an hallaca come Christmas and we are in business!
See more on Hispanic food
Who would you say has had a major impact on your life?
This is a hard one since there have been many influential people in my life but at the moment, my three kids. Ana Linda (18), Cruz Manuel (16) and Sol Haydee (11) teach me new things every day and challenge my notion of how best to do things. For example, I am trying to stay connected with them via our smartphones but Sol doesn’t have one. So she taught me to use her email address to send text messages through my phone to her tablet. Technology is just one of the things they have a natural grasp over because a world without internet is inconceivable to them. Bottom line: My life revolves around them, and I am constantly learning from them.
What would you say is your biggest success thus far (professional or personal) and what did you learn from that experience?
God has indeed blessed me as I have been remarkably lucky on both ends of the spectrum. Professionally, helping create and write for an award-winning health news website, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts’s Coverage. That is one of my recent professional highlights as it introduced, stretched and honed my brand journalism writing skills. On the personal side, meeting, coming to the U.S. on my life savings and marrying my wife is the single most important success in life. She is my rock, my companion and my best friend. In my moments of doubt and pain, she brings clarity and calm to the ensuing chaos showing me the way forward is together with a kind word, a friendly smile or an inside joke only we can really get.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
That’s easy. I play, coach and manage an over-40 soccer team in Lexington, Massachusetts. We are part of a larger club called the Lexington Eagles Football Club (LEFC). I take great pleasure and pride hitting the pitch with my teammates and battle very skilled town teams within the Over-The-Hill Soccer league. When I am not chasing a ball, I am managing on the sidelines, coordinating subs, and game planning to defeat an opponent by targeting their weaknesses and keeping their strengths contained. I also enjoy coaching my 11-year-old daughter—I taught my 16-year-old boy enough—and watching her learn, fail yet get up and triumph is an incomparable feeling.
When we are in the clear with COVID-19, what is the first thing you would do or first place you would go?
I’d like to hop on a plane and go somewhere I’ve never been like New Zealand, Australia in Oceania or Japan in Asia. My wife has been to Japan and she has nothing but positive things to say about her experience there. Now, the one thing I have to do is go to Venezuela and see my family and friends. It’s been quite some time since my last visit and there are places back home I have yet to visit and a crystalline, Caribbean beach beckons, my friend.
See our full conversation with Nelson and Natasha Walwyn-Robinson in the video below:
Sam attends the Northeastern University School of Law. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern, where she majored in history with an emphasis on pre-law studies, and minored in Mandarin Chinese and political science. She speaks English, Spanish and Chinese.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
It’s a space and an opportunity to reflect on the culture of my family, but it’s also an opportunity to honor the obstacles that myself and other Hispanic people have overcome, and to acknowledge the struggles that many still deal with.
What have you enjoyed the most during time at Progress?
I have most enjoyed working with the legal team and getting exposed to so many new areas of the law. The projects that I’ve been able to work on have been so fascinating and being surrounded by such intelligent and passionate people has greatly enhanced this experience.
What and/or who inspired you to pursue law?
When I was growing up my parents brought me to see “Legally Blonde” on Broadway. I fell in love with main character Elle, and decided I wanted to be a lawyer like her.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Hopefully still practicing law. I hope to work in a corporate practice, which would allow me to use a lot of the skills I gained while working at Progress.
Eduardo was born and raised in Argentina and now lives in Florida, where he has been based since about 2000. He’s been at Progress for three years.
What’s your job like at Progress?
I'm the relationship guy. I wear many hats because it's a large territory for just a few of us, but my main role is to keep relationships ongoing. I've been in the territory for a long time. I know a lot of people mainly in IT, software and telecommunications. I did half of my career on the in technical side. Now, I am building relationships, growing the ecosystem, and making sure that it's a win-win for all of us.
Do you feel like it's important to have people who not just speak Spanish, but know business and technical people throughout Latin America?
Yes. Definitely, it is. Sometimes we joke that we may speak the same language, but we don't always talk the same language. Every single country in Latin America speaks its own variation of Spanish. So you will find something that is very offensive in one country, which is a joke or very common term in another country. So it is challenging. It is very important to understand the nuances of the language and also the nuances in culture and how business is done.
We are fortunate enough at Progress that we have people from seven different countries on our team. So that diversity helps a lot in our territory. Even within the team, we find sometimes there are situations when we're like, how do we communicate? How do we say this? How can I convey what I'm trying to do across the aisle when you're from my team, we speak the same language, but it's hard to convey. How do we get there? But it's fun.
Do you also speak Portuguese as well?
I do speak basic Portuguese, yes. I committed to my partners that I will be fluent enough to do a presentation by the end of the year and we're not that far off. It started the first week of 2020 with my Portuguese class three times a week, but I'm not fluent enough to stand up and speak publicly. And Spanish and Portuguese are not that far from each other, and sometimes because we're both aware that we're speaking a very close language it's easier to communicate than two Spanish-speaking natives because we believe we speak the same language, but we're not saying the same thing. So when that difference is explicit, then it's easier to find a common ground.
And now with the speed of the business with texting everywhere, I'm communicating from my territories in Teams, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, text, and you're bombarded in too many different ways of communicating. If you combined the brevity of the communication plus the difference in the wording, and all of that is a cocktail that is not easy to manage, but it's fun.
What is the culture like on your team?
We have differences and we joke about the rivalries among some of our countries, but within the Latino community, there is still a lot of respect for a team. We know we're a team. We know that we respect each other. So all of us, we really embrace each other truly, that's a key part. Teams need to embrace diversity.
There are many times that we don't see the same things because we're definitely from different cultures. We might have different ideas sometimes, and may not agree on the effectiveness or a specific traditional way to doing something. And then we say, "We understand, but let's try once and measure it." So we find that common ground because everybody is able to see that trying something different can lead to a win for the team.
How do you feel you, as an individual, and people on your team make Progress a stronger, global organization?
It’s a win-win situation for all, from every angle—me as a guy and a professional, then the team as a team, and then the company as a whole. I've been working closely for the last quarter with a team in Sofia, Bulgaria. I’m learning things about them like how far they live from each other and their challenges, and what it’s like for them because of our time zones. At our weekly morning minutes, because it’s a Friday morning meeting, I'm always joking because I'm having my coffee at 9 a.m., and they're having their happy hour at 5 p.m. And so it's their last meeting, it's my first meeting on Friday. And even embracing and making them part of the extended team, and having those frequent conversations, I believe as a company we're growing a lot. And they find ways to do things that we were thinking were impossible.
Do you have friendly soccer rivalries or talk about food, recipes and other things to bring the team together?
Yeah, we got a lot of that because first, there are some stereotypes that aren’t always true. I'm from Argentina and they might expect me to love meat because we eat Asado and then play soccer because we are like Maradona, big soccer players. And they find out that I'm a vegan and I don't like soccer. So when I introduce myself, everybody is like, "What?” The next question that they ask is like, "Is that why you moved to U.S. or what?" So yes, we have all of that. It amazes me sometimes. I found out a couple of months ago that Venezuelans were very strong in baseball, like Puerto Ricans. I mean, with Puerto Rico, I knew because they’re a part of the U.S. But Venezuelans, I was like, "What are you talking about?" And with the Brazilians and the soccer, we are big rivals. If there’s an Argentina-Brazil game going somewhere for some kind of tournament, it’s heated.
It’s similar with food. Mexicans eat spicy food. And all the southern regions, we don't—not Chileans, Uruguayans, Argentinians, they don't eat as spicy. They do up in the north. We have different kinds of foods and because we live in different regions. They have more fresh fruit, more heat in their climate. We are more, with four seasons, more like Massachusetts. We have a strong winter, strong summer, those kind of things. So yes, definitely we got those within the team and with customers.
We recently featured Fernanda in a full Q&A blog post you can read here. She is originally from Mexico City and moved to Lexington, Massachusetts, during high school. She went to college in Boston, majoring both marketing and finance and economics. Fernanda worked at the United Nations in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
What was the transition like moving from Mexico to the U.S. during high school?
The biggest change wasn’t the language or the people, it was the culture. It took me a little time to adjust. In Mexico, there’s a lot of warmth and people are more huggable, have more side conversations, and aren’t always straight to the point. Take a high school essay question, for example, in a U.S. high school you need to make your point, prove your thesis, be very focused. I think the English language is indicative of the culture. The culture is more about results, and less about the road to get there. That affects a lot of how you execute on a daily basis. For me the end is not the goal, but rather the journey.
How important to you is diversity in not just society, but the workplace?
Diversity is such an important aspect in our lives because rather than just getting to know each other’s culture, we get to know the people and develop mindfulness and empathy. We are more kind if we have personal relationships. And we learn that it’s OK to disagree, but we can have an actual conversation. We seem to be lacking that a lot recently. Beyond politics, even in my generation, it’s harder to have an actual conversation. It’s so big, but we cannot see it.
What are you most proud of, being from Mexico?
The first thing, it’s my heritage. Mexico has had so much influence on our food and our culture. We’ve adapted other cultures to fit in Mexico. There’s obviously the Spanish and European influences, but there are even things from the Middle East. Mexico is very malleable to all these other influences. I love history, and I love to understand the context of things. We as people in Latin America, in general, have a great understanding of our roots.
Second, our warmth. We are a very warm people.
Third, we are resilient because we have been one of those groups of people who were conquered, gained independence, more people tried to conquer us, we get independence again, the government becomes a dictatorship, and now we have a representative democratic republic.
Fourth, our positivity. We always feel like things are going to be better. And that goes hand in hand with hard work.
As an American citizen, what are you most proud of?
In the U.S., nothing is impossible. We are a country of fighters. We fight for what’s right. We have hope. You can ask anywhere in the world, even go back 100 years—the place of hope was the United States. There has always been a chance of doing the right thing, a moral compass. In the U.S. you don’t have to doubt who you are. I like to challenge the status quo, and the U.S. is a beacon of freedom, where you have the possibility to become who you are.
I can proudly say I have become this very nice mix of values of Mexico and the U.S.
For more coverage, get to know Edwin Bermudez, facilities operations manager at Progress, or read Sam Basu's blog post, Celebrating Hispanic Cuisine on Telerik.com.
Special thanks to Natasha Walwyn-Robinson for her contribution to the interviews and this blog post.
Dave Pierce strives to be a writer’s writer, an editor’s editor, and a marketer’s marketer. An award-winning journalist formerly of The Boston Globe, Dave combines his love of SEO, content management and social media with his passion for storytelling. At Progress, he manages, writes and optimizes content. Dave lives in New Hampshire with his wife and teenage daughters. You may find him at Northeastern University hockey games on the weekends from October to March. You can find him on LinkedIn every day.
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