What are you? Hispanic? Boriqua? Latina?
How Has Being Hispanic Shaped Who You Are?
From personal interactions to educational experiences to my professional career, my appearance consistently sparks the questions: what are you or where are you from? And oftentimes, before I can even respond, labels from societal constructs are automatically applied. I’ve lived my life being asked “what are you.” I’ve always answered politely. I explain what I am, where my family comes from, and where I’ve lived. But also, perhaps more importantly, I share my lived experiences which represent holistically who I am. I’ve dedicated my life to pursuing my personal, educational, and professional dreams which have shaped who I am across campuses and in the professional landscape. My Hispanic heritage has led me through a world of implicit bias in which I’ve learned to navigate while remaining true to who I am, where I come from and where I’m going.
Being Hispanic in the Big City
Growing up in the Bronx, my family’s Hispanic heritage was quite prevalent and we always fit right in. I am the youngest of five siblings and my Spanish-speaking father and family shared cultural traditions I’m thankful to have experienced. My mom, who is Greek and Maltese, learned how to cook traditional Puerto Rican meals that we still enjoy today. The reality is, the experiences of my Hispanic heritage were short-lived. We moved from the Bronx when I was seven years old and my life experiences as a Boricua ended there. We moved to a small town in Maryland without my Hispanic family and so began my lifelong journey of living outside the box.
Small Town America and Early Education
Moving from the big city to small town America was quite the culture shock. The town we moved to was a very distant suburb of Washington D.C. and Baltimore, MD, far removed from city life and even suburbia and rooted in civil war history, just a few miles from a major civil war battlefield. But the schools were decent and the town was very different from the inner city life we left behind. Establishing a strong educational foundation was always at the core of my life experiences. My mother intentionally sent us to schools in Manhattan because she heavily researched the best possible school programs for us to attend. We were in the talented and gifted programs which continued through our transition to Maryland. In New York, academic achievements were celebrated, in Maryland it was…different. I was different from the majority of the student population both culturally and academically. My accomplishments brought with them an element of surprise for a student of color from New York City. In high school, an English instructor was unexpectedly impressed by my grammar skills. Throughout my childhood education, I remember most vividly during this time, the constant barrage of “what are you” questions from everyone I met. This question follows me to this day. It was during this time I decided to let my lived experiences and achievements speak for who I am in addition to my heritage. With these experiences and self-identity discovery, I graduated from high school with the national honor society and went on to pursue my college career.
Being Hispanic at a PWI
I attended Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, another small town rich with American history. “In 1783, Benjamin Rush, a revolutionary in both spirit and life, established Dickinson College with the intent of providing a different kind of liberal-arts education.” Their mission is to “provide a useful, innovative and interdisciplinary education in the liberal arts and sciences to prepare students to lead rich and fulfilling lives of engaged global citizenship.”1 With a predominantly white student population with high-income families, I did not relate to most students, nonetheless, as a scholar-athlete I was welcomed to the global campus and celebrated for my experiences and accomplishments. By college, I was used to being asked “what are you” and was fully determined to show that I am so much more than my “check all that apply” status as presented by my appearance and college application. I was thankful for the Posse Foundation bringing students from inner cities to Dickinson College which provided a sense of community for me with like-minded students and shared experiences. This community allowed me to embrace my heritage and carry it with me in successfully completing my college career and preparing me well for post-collegiate success.
You are lucky Wow, you’ve worked hard!
Pursuing a successful professional career has been a journey navigating societal constructs that favor white males in the workplace. “Hispanic individuals accounted for only 4 percent of large U.S. companies’ most senior executives in 2021, according to a survey by the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. That’s essentially flat with the 5 percent reported in 2020 and 2019.”2 I work in marketing and communications. I have experience working with a global investment firm, small businesses, a marketing agency, and two universities. I now have the privilege to work in the educational equity space for Every Learner Everywhere and teach principles of marketing as an adjunct instructor at Salisbury University. While some may consider me lucky to be where I am professionally, each of these experiences I have worked hard for. Each of these organizations taught me a lot about how I show up, externally and intentionally, in the workplace. I learned about equitable business practices and I learned a lot about questionable business practices. I learned how to navigate organizational structures, both good and bad. I learned about who I am and the difference I can make and most importantly, I learned about the space I need to be in and the intentionality necessary to make a difference, pursuing educational equity in higher education.
Educated · Motivated · Proud
I’ve dedicated my education and career to becoming a successful Hispanic professional. Yes, I am Boricua. Yes, I am Latina. Yes, I am Hispanic. My heritage is what I have inherited. Who I am is everything I have worked for and am striving to be. I’m well-rounded. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve lived in a small town. I’ve lived in the big city. I graduated high school. I graduated college. I earned a master’s degree. I’m an accomplished scholar-athlete. I am driven. I am successful. I am an educator. I’m a mother. I am a wife. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I advocate for educational equity. I advocate for racial justice. I advocate for gender equity. I advocate for change. I advocate for meaning. I advocate for purpose. Catalyzing educational equity is my career, only recognized through a lifelong journey of navigating living outside the box and understanding what it takes to realize your potential while breaking barriers to success. I hope to encourage other Latina women to work hard and pursue your personal, educational, and professional goals. Be you, your authentic self throughout the journey and live your life, outside the box.
1 Dickinson College, About Us website. https://www.dickinson.edu/homepage/284/about_overview.
2 Agovino, T. (February 12, 2022) Society for Human Resource Management. “Hispanic Executives Closing the Gap.” https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/hispanic-executives-closing-the-gap.aspx
Emilie Cook joined the Every Learner Everywhere team as the communications manager in April 2021. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Dickinson College, and later earned her Master of Science in Marketing from the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School. She began her career with Nationwide Insurance before venturing to Malaga, Spain where she taught English for several months. Upon returning to Baltimore, MD, she began her marketing career at T. Rowe Price working for the global investments division and later the corporate marketing and communications division. Succeeding her career at T. Rowe Price, she became the events coordinator at the University of Maryland’s office of enrollment management. Upon relocating to Bethany Beach, DE, she joined the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce as the marketing & communications manager, transitioned to the D3 Marketing Agency, and most recently served as the marketing director for the Off the Hook Restaurant Group. Emilie is also an adjunct professor for the Salisbury University Perdue School of Business where she teaches marketing and has implemented adaptive courseware.