National Hispanic Heritage Month: U Krewers Share Their Stories
“Ni de aquí, ni de allá.” Not from here, not from there. It’s an expression that many who identify as Hispanic or Latinx can relate to—from blending multicultural backgrounds, to navigating the complexities of the immigration experience, and finding belonging in the workplace.
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), we asked three U Krewers to share—in their own words—how their intersecting identities have shaped their personal and professional experiences and how they’ve found belonging at UKG.
Jennifer H., Legal Assistant II
Migration Journey: I am an American-born Cuban/Colombian. My mother was born the year Fidel Castro came into power in Cuba; she was kicked out of her country at the age of 7. Her father (my grandfather) was a doctor who gave aid to the soldiers who stood against Castro. As a result, the Castro regime held on to my grandfather, while my mother, my uncle, and my grandmother made their way to the U.S. on a Freedom Flight on December 29, 1966. My grandfather wouldn’t join them in Miami until the following February. My father, while not in a communist country, also experienced a very traumatic migration to the U.S. His mother left him and his siblings with their grandmother in Pereira, Colombia, when he was only 4 years old. My grandmother made her way to New York to get a job and apartment before bringing over the rest of the family. My father didn’t join his mother in the U.S. until he was 9 years old.
Love Languages: I am incredibly influenced by both cultures. Whether it’s my “Spanglish,” blasting salsa and merengue while driving in the car, or learning how to play baseball with a Cuban mop in my grandparent’s backyard, being Cuban/Colombian has seeped into every aspect of my life. My background brings me a sense of community almost everywhere, but it has also brought me moments of trying to figure out where I fit in. Living in South Florida has been wonderful because I’m surrounded by both Cubans and Colombians (amongst so many other Hispanic cultures). But, on occasion, I’ve also been considered “too Cuban” or “too Colombian,” or “too Gringa.” My pronunciation is just a little too lax for my Colombian side, a little too pronounced for my Cuban side, and altogether way “too American.”
Pursuit of Happiness: I am most proud of the appreciation I have for life. I fully attribute that to my roots. Knowing what my grandparents and parents had to endure to get here, seeing the little habits they’ve carried with them because they know what it feels like to have everything stripped away and then make something new, and making a life not just for themselves but for their future generations—it’s all made me appreciate life. It’s made me a harder worker. It’s made me hyperaware of not taking things for granted.
If we all thought the same way, life would be boring.
Bigger Picture: Speaking as someone who has grown up in a Cuban/Colombian household, I can tell you they both come with a reputation. We’ve all heard the jokes about Colombians and narcotics—it’s so overplayed. There is so much more to the culture and its people (or any culture for that matter) than a smudge on its history. As for the Cuban culture (especially in South Florida), I feel more now than ever, Cubans are very misunderstood regarding politics. I think it’s so important to remember that we all come from different walks of life. If we all thought the same way, life would be boring.
Creating Connection: Even when I joined UKG as a “temp” on the customer success side in 2020, I felt like I belonged. I knew I had to find a permanent position at UKG; I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Fast forward to 2021 when I landed a permanent role as a legal assistant: The anxiety of belonging bubbled up inside of me again. But luckily, I felt like I fit right in. Whether it’s my team, or working with other teams, or participating in employee resource groups (ERGs) or the different communities that exist within our ecosystem, I have felt supported and encouraged each step of the way.
Dori T., Executive Relationship Manager
Origin Story: I was born and raised in Miami to a Colombian mother and a Venezuelan father. Growing up, I spent all my summers in Colombia and Venezuela with my family. I was raised among people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds—specifically those from Cuba, the Caribbean, and South America. I relate to people from different walks of life. I am fully bilingual in both English and Spanish. Spanish was my first language; I learned English in school. This skillset has opened doors for me personally and professionally. It helps me relate to others and has broadened my ability to build relationships.
Source of Pride: I am very proud to be Latina. I love that in our culture, family is always first. In a Hispanic household—and even with friends—we tend to be close. We help and support each other. We spend all our special moments together as a family and we never miss a family gathering. Traditions are very important, so spending time with one another and celebrating comes naturally. My heritage is about our history, our struggles, our hard work and where we come from. Our culture represents love, beauty, family, hard work, and so many more positive qualities. Regardless of what aspect of Latinx or Hispanic culture someone may relate to, we all have one thing in common: “orgullo” or pride.
Regardless of what aspect of Latinx or Hispanic culture someone may relate to, we all have one thing in common: “orgullo” or pride.
Multicultural Influence: One of the main things that can be misunderstood about Hispanics is where they come from. Just because we speak Spanish does not mean we all come from the same place. We all come from lots of different countries and each Hispanic is a unique, diverse person. There are also Latinos that can speak a variety of languages—not just Spanish. Some of the most common ones are Jamaican Patois, French Creole, Portuguese, Amazonian, Mayan, and Quechua. Also, many Hispanics in the U.S. were born here and may even be second, third, or fourth generation. We are very passionate and expressive in the way we interact with others. We cry, hug, smile, and sometimes talk very loudly! This is because we emphasize everything and we’re passionate about everything we do.
Finding Acceptance: Being part of the leadership group in UNIDOS strengthened my sense of belonging and gave me a safe space to express my true self. It is very exciting to be able to share my culture with others and have conversations about what brings us together. Being part of this ERG complements the work I do as an executive relationship manager (ERM). My current and prior managers have been fundamental pillars in my professional growth within UKG. They have supported me every step of the way. I can say with certainty that UKG has the best managers! Another group that has supported and encouraged me are the executive sponsors, chairs, and my co-leaders in UNIDOS. They are always looking for ways to elevate each other and make me feel that the work I do is meaningful and appreciated. There is a saying, “When you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,”—that is what UNIDOS represents for me. UKG’s culture, my teammates in ERM nation, and in UNIDOS make me proud to be a U Krewer!
Najwa J., Accounts Receivable Analyst
Double Take: My mother is Cuban, and my father is Lebanese. Growing up with both cultures has been nothing short of amazing. The relationship between these identities has been symbiotic and fluid-like; they share a lot of similarities. Both sides instilled in me the importance of family and being close to one another. My cousins and I talk every day and we get together at least once a month. We saw this constant interaction growing up between our parents and they passed it down to us. Since we are a big family (I have 11 aunts and uncles in total), I feel like I have a large support system, which has instilled in me a huge sense of self-confidence and self-worth.
Knowledge is Power: My heritage heavily influenced my academic career. It was strongly emphasized that knowledge is one of the most important things in this world and we must take every opportunity to develop our own lives by furthering our education. My grandfather on my mother’s side loved to play educational games with me. It’s one of my favorite memories of him. Although I know he helped me 80% of the time, he would always act like I got the answers all on my own. I am proud of being a first-generation college graduate. While I was happy to finish my degree for myself, I was even more elated by how happy my parents were. Both fled their countries and worked extremely hard so that I would have this opportunity. I couldn’t be more grateful.
My family strongly emphasized that knowledge is one of the most important things in this world and we must take every opportunity to develop our own lives by furthering our education.
New Perspectives: Many people are surprised to learn that there is a huge variety of religions in Lebanon! Lebanon is a melting pot—you can find a mosque right across the street from a church in Beirut. Also, Lebanon is not a desert country. There are many beaches and mountain ranges. When we visited, we went to the beach one day and played with fallen snow on Faraya Mountain the next.
Team Mentality: I have had great experiences with the teams around me at UKG. My manager has supported me by ensuring I have a positive work environment and always lending a hand. He has given me great guidance and I am truly grateful for that. He has helped me gain more confidence in my role as an accounts receivable analyst by assigning tasks and projects, such as creating a billing training presentation. Another team that helped me come out of my shell is the Career and Learning Workstream in UNIDOS. I love our back-and-forth banter on ideas.