Make a Difference

As we leave Hispanic Heritage Month and enter into the festive Holiday Season, I wanted to take the time to really reflect on what it means to me. Never in my childhood or adult life have I experienced Hispanic Heritage Month to the level I have in 2011, and mostly due to my current responsibilities ( I’ll get to that later.)

The month long celebration was officially established in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan to acknowledge the victories Latinos in many countries have had trying to achieve independence and freedom. America, a land filled with opportunity, founded and built by immigrants, is clearly anxious to celebrate (I will let you personally reflect on that given this is not an article on immigration.) The government’s official 2011 theme, “Many Backgrounds, Many Stories….One American Spirit” says it all.

However, what does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to me personally, and what is my story? I decided I live it proudly every day, based on how mi Papa y Mama raised me. They instilled in me their core values and my “colorful” way of life right from within my Mami’s womb. You see, my Papi with four niños, a mother-in-law, and pregnant (that would be me) wife in tow decided to travel north to pursue a better life for his family. He had been a ranch hand in a small town in Texas, and he heard there was factory work available that could help him achieve his dream of providing a home and health insurance for his growing family. He ended up working in a foundry and getting that home (unfortunately after a few years he was injured and became disabled, which had another huge impact on our family, but once again that is another article...)

However, as I was being raised, it was Papi’s determined spirit that kept me on the straight and narrow with his chopped English. “Mija, there is nothing better than an education.” “Mija, you must always work hard and never give up!” “Mija, have you done your homework?” “ Mija, get up---it is time for school , and you should not be late.” “ Mija, pay attention, you must learn so you will not have to work as hard as me.” “Mija, did you clean your room and help your Mama.” I am sure many of you can relate, but that was the driving force that made me who I am today.

Of course, there was nothing more important than la familia and being there to support one another. Surrounded by good Mexican food and music, we were rich in love and laughter, given times were difficult after Papi became disabled, and two more children had been added to the family. However, I was encouraged to follow my dream of a college education, which was realized after much hard work.

Today, I proudly sit as a female Mexican-American executive working for General Motors Company as the Corporate Director of Diversity Initiatives. I could not have asked for a job more fitting based on my work experience and cultural background.

One of my responsibilities includes working with Latinos by building relationships and developing rapport to ensure GM is supporting and meeting the needs of the community. With a presence of 50 million plus and a purchasing power of $1 trillion, it behooves all companies to engage and embrace Latinos.

That being said, Hispanic Heritage Month was a flurry of activity. Many organizations have events in celebration, or simply to honor the month with the raised awareness of Hispanics. I became a road warrior to represent GM and celebrate our culture with mis compadres across the country. To share a few, GM with varying lead divisions (Chevrolet, Cadillac , GMC) proudly supported the NCLR ALMA Awards, the Hispanic Heritage Awards, the USHCC Annual Convention, the HWC Annual Conference, the NHFA Gala, and the CHCI Caucus. Phew! Going back to my opening comment, I have never celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month like I have this year. It was truly a beautiful experience. I was exposed to so many powerful, influential, and giving Latinos that work to support the Hispanic community. I heard stories and made connections with people that left a lifelong impression. I am truly honored and humbled to have had such a tremendous opportunity and can only hope that GM stays on track in order to continue our level of support with all these tremendous events and organizations.

In closing, I reflected on what more could I do to personally make a difference after having been exposed to so many things. First, I’ve committed to personally mentor young aspiring Latinos to help them achieve their personal dreams. We must as accomplished Latinos “pay it forward.” We must be proud of our Hispanic Heritage and raise awareness of our community for those who are not familiar with it. Accepting and embracing all cultures is key to the nation’s success. I’ll encourage Latinos to vote in the ballot box, as well as with their tremendous purchasing power by supporting organizations that support them. Finally, I’ll practice and preach better health habits to my family, and any youth that will listen.

Given our growing numbers, Latinos will be the key to this country’s success in the future. We must work together to help us achieve the next platform of success. If only half of the Latino population took on helping one more of us, we would impact 25 million. We can all make a difference.

Alma Guajardo-Crossley is the Corporate Director of Diversity Initiatives at the General Motors Company.