Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
The Hispanic and Latino/a/x community comprises many cultures, traditions, and languages. To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, four PIMCO employees share their perspectives on the community’s diversity and how being Hispanic/Latino/a/x has influenced their lives, personally and professionally.
Q: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Giovanni Companioni, senior account associate, Latin America: Hispanic Heritage Month allows us to showcase the richness and diversity of our community and highlight the contributions that Hispanics have made throughout history, as well as the sacrifices and hardships they have endured.
For me, being Hispanic is recognizing my parents’ sacrifices, carrying on their stories and traditions, and empowering future generations.
Q: How has your Hispanic/Latino/a/x heritage influenced your career/life choices?
Ismael Orenstein, senior vice president, emerging markets portfolio manager: My career choice is a direct consequence of having been born and raised in Brazil. When I was young and Brazil was in a hyperinflationary cycle, my family would run to the supermarket on the first day of the month (when salaries got paid) and buy as many groceries as they could before prices rose. That made me really curious about why some countries had those crazy cycles of high inflation, external defaults, and recessions, and it made me want to work with emerging markets.
Melissa Navas, senior account associate: Both of my parents were born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York when they were teenagers. Life was not always easy for them in the States, but their determination to succeed was unwavering. Despite being discouraged by certain teachers and counselors, both my parents became the first in their families to go to college and then later received master’s degrees. Through their hard work, I was afforded the opportunities that they had only dreamed of, and was shown the power of perseverance.
My parents have always reminded me that nothing worth having comes easy, but that hard work is often rewarded. As a Latina, I understand that we have so much to offer. We bring our shared experiences – our Latinidad – to our work, providing our employers with a fresh perspective. Our heritage is often rooted in humble beginnings, reminding us that real success comes from giving back to your community and sharing with each other.
Q: What is one thing you wish people knew about your culture (but don’t)?
Stephania Vielma, vice president, fixed income strategist: The Latino/a/x community takes togetherness very seriously. Juntos means stretching ourselves to not just understand and accept but to embrace and to love. Family and community are at the core of the Hispanic/Latino/a/x identity, and popular culture and the media capture the joy of multilingual and cross-generational households.
Lines can also be drawn between our parents and ourselves, the relatives and friends who stay behind, and the new communities we join. Yet the Hispanic/Latino/a/x community embodies the ideal of unity every day, influencing all that we do.
Giovanni: Cuban-American culture is largely defined by the mass emigration from the island of Cuba after the revolution of 1959. My grandparents and parents left everything behind in the early 1960s and migrated to the U.S. to start new lives. They abandoned their homes, left their jobs, moved to a foreign country, learned a new language, and assimilated into a different culture. I am proud of their hard work, fortitude, and resilience.
For Cubans in particular, Miami was a natural choice given its proximity to their homeland. A stroll down Miami’s vibrant Calle Ocho transports you 330 miles south to the heart of old Cuba. At the iconic Domino Park, you'll find the Little Havana locals smoking cigars and discussing the latest headlines over a game of dominoes. You can then make your way to a ventanita (little window), where hot Cuban coffee, crunchy pastries, and crispy croquetas, are among the delights served to-go through open restaurant windows.
Melissa: The media perpetuates narrow Hispanic and Latinx stereotypes. I was fortunate to grow up in a very diverse city (Jersey City), but as I moved to college and into the workforce it became clear that many people did not understand the breadth and depth of our community. It was almost as if people expected me to look, talk, think, and act a certain way just because of my background. I wish more people would recognize the diversity within our shared culture – Latinos are a complex blend of traditions, races, beliefs and experiences!
Ismael: Brazilian cuisine is really diverse, influenced heavily by African and indigenous populations as well as by immigrants from Japan and Europe. Every region of Brazil can have very different dishes including Moqueca (seafood stew), Feijoada (black bean stew), and Picanha (sirloin cap).
Q: What does the diversity of the Hispanic/Latino/a/x experience mean to you?
Stephania: I take great pride in my experience as a Latina, a Mexican, and a Mexican-American woman. Being rooted in a culture rich in values, history and traditions has been seminal in my development, and enabled me to continue to grow and contribute.
To be Hispanic in the U.S. today means remaining open and willing to let those curious enough into our communities and show the commitment and sense of duty we bring to the places we work and call home.
Q: What family tradition do you wish to pass down that your parents have passed down to you?
Giovanni: December 24th is much more than Christmas Eve for Hispanic communities; it is a celebration of culture, tradition, and love. Noche Buena (Good/Holy Night) is celebrated slightly differently depending on the particular Hispanic culture, but all the celebrations are filled with food, music, and laughs.
Before the nighttime festivities begin, extended family and close friends drop by for a quick bite and a drink. In the background, family members pitch in to cook the classic menu of roast pig (lechón asado), black beans, white rice, yuca con mojo (yucca in garlic sauce), and plantains. The soundtrack for the evening consists of Celia Cruz, Beny Moré, Tito Puente, and other classic artists. After hours of celebration, the night concludes with the elder family members exchanging gifts and expressing their gratitude for each other. It’s a very special and a very Cuban celebration.
Although some traditions may have been lost to assimilation into American society, Noche Buena has remained vitally important to our community – I look forward to passing down this tradition.
Melissa: Growing up, one of my favorite family traditions was celebrating Día de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day, on January 6 to honor the Three Wise Men. In Puerto Rico, along with other Caribbean/Latin countries, this holiday is as important as Christmas, and it is especially exciting for youngsters. On the eve of Día de Los Reyes, children pick grass and place it in a shoebox with some water, leaving it at the foot of their beds. The grass and water is for los camellos (camels) that have traveled far to deliver gifts. Upon waking up the next morning, the grass and water are gone – replaced by gifts and treats left by Los Reyes. Puerto Ricans celebrate the day with traditional food, music and family. If lucky enough to celebrate this holiday in Puerto Rico, there is also a huge parade, where tens of thousands of people flood the streets to dance, sing and receive gifts from Los Reyes.
My parents made it a point to keep the traditions of the island alive in our home. As I look to the future, and to one day having a family of my own, I plan to do the same. As Latinos, these traditions help keep us connected to our roots – preserving our culture and giving us a piece of home, even when we are far away.
Stephania: My parents taught my sister and me to have great deference for the traditions of our new home in America. Thanksgiving is one of our family’s most cherished holidays; yet there is another celebration each November that, as a Mexican-American, I hope to keep alive.
Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a time to remember our deceased loved ones and celebrate their lives and those living. The tradition is said to have pre-Hispanic origins: UNESCO recognizes it as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. The ritual of laying out a home altar decorated with candles and marigolds serves as a beautiful memento that unites our stories across time.