07 Oct 2020

Honoring Latinx Heritage Month: Hensley Carrasco's Q+A with Fellow Latinx Colleagues

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Hensley Carrasco

I joined Harvard Business School last September and after a year of on-campus and remote work, I can comfortably say I still have not met every single person on campus. Throughout my career, I’ve always made it a point to try to connect with others to learn more about their backgrounds and what brought them to where they are.

There aren’t always opportunities to share stories about where you or your family come from in the workplace and so I decided it would be fitting for me to reach out to some colleagues for National Hispanic Heritage Month (also known as Latinx Heritage Month). I especially wanted to do so because being Dominican, I am always interested in learning about other Hispanic/Latin heritages.

What I love about being Dominican is family (my parents are each one of 12), food, and the sense of community it all brings. Read on to learn about some of my colleagues and what makes their heritage special to them.

-Hensley Carrasco, Communications Coordinator

Aileen Oliva

Aileen Oliva, Staff Assistant in Human Resources, Guatemalan and Salvadorian

What was your path to HBS?
I tell everyone I came to HBS by luck, but really it was through hard work. I say that because while a Year Up student, you are placed at an internship where you’re most likely to succeed, based on your performance during the first six intensive months of the program. I say “luck” because out of all open spots within Harvard, I was placed in HR at HBS. After graduating, I was lucky enough to be converted to a temp position and then offered a full-time role a month later.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
I am a first-generation American. My dad is from Guatemala and my mom is from El Salvador!

What I love about my culture is how family-oriented we are. I always put my family first and their happiness and support mean so much to me. I also love our delicious food! Eating is always a great way for us to come together as a family.

Ailyn Pestana

Ailyn Pestana, Junior Graphic Designer and Photo Coordinator, Venezuelan

What was your path to HBS?
I worked at Laspau, a nonprofit associated with Harvard, earlier in my career. That helped me learn about Harvard culture and all of its benefits. When I saw that HBS was looking for a designer, I was immediately interested in the opportunity.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and moved to the U.S. 20 years ago.

Having grown up in the U.S., I didn’t always feel very Venezuelan, but slowly I found ways to feel connected to my culture. I have stayed really close to my roots through food, music, and my family’s traditions.

Food is a huge part of my culture—I am always making arepas, which are a staple of Venezuelan cuisine, basically our version of a sandwich but so much better. Orinoco in Harvard Square and Brookline serves delicious arepas and other Venezuelan classics; I highly recommend stopping by. When we first moved to Boston, it was really difficult to find Venezuelan food but slowly the Venezuelan community grew. There are now many restaurants and markets all over the state that deliver all the classics—cachapas (corn cakes), tequeños (cheese wrapped in dough), quesillo (similar to flan), special cheeses, chocolate and candy bars, and so much more. All of these foods are incorporated into my daily life, and I love sharing them with others as a small piece of my culture. One of my favorite things growing up was watching my grandma cook up Venezuelan classics, and slowly I learned from her how to replicate them with my own little twists. To this day, making ensalada de gallina (chicken salad) makes me feel so close to my grandma, since it was one of her favorite dishes.

Music and dancing are extremely important in Venezuela—we love a good party! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of nostalgia when I listen to old songs that remind me of living in Venezuela and singing along with my cousins. Around Christmas, we sing and dance to gaitas, our version of Christmas carols, although they sound nothing like Christmas carols. The holidays are extremely important in Venezuela, and it’s the time of year I feel the most connected to my culture. We make hallacas (similar to tamales), and pan de jamón (ham bread), which are only made during Christmas. We completely redecorate the house with Santas and nativity scenes everywhere. We sing and we dance straight through New Year’s, which is another very important holiday for us. I love all of our special traditions around the holidays. Although Thanksgiving is not a Venezuelan holiday, it’s become just as important for my family—we pretty much celebrate from Thanksgiving straight through New Year’s! At this point, I’m counting down the days—52 to go!

Fed Chavez

Fed Chavez, Faculty Support Specialist, Bolivian

What was your path to HBS?
I've worked in academia since I graduated from college. I've always felt comfortable in this arena, and Harvard is the fifth institution of higher learning I've worked for. Prior to HBS, I worked at Boston University for three-and-a-half years in a similar capacity.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
I was born in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Most of my family is from and still lives in Bolivia. We emigrated to the United States when I was 11 years old.

What's not to love about being Bolivian?! Latino culture is diverse, proud, engaging, and beautiful. I'm constantly overjoyed to engage with people from all over Latin America; there's an instant connection that we have upon saying "buen dia," or "hasta luego," and we like to share those feelings with people of all backgrounds. I love the determination in the Latino immigrant story. It embodies the origin of our nation, and how hard work can lead to a better tomorrow. It's easy to appreciate our food or our music, but what always amazes me is the embrace and kind spirit that our culture constantly radiates. That makes me proudest of all.

George Dominguez

George Dominguez, Staff Assistant in Operations, Puerto Rican

What was your path to HBS?
I came to HBS by chance. Many years ago, I worked part-time as a housekeeping contractor in Roxbury. The company needed temporary coverage at HBS and called on me. A position opened up and being that I was recently married and expecting my first baby, I took it. Not long into my time I was laid off, but another opportunity opened and I took that. I’ve been deeply appreciative ever since.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
My family is from the enchanted island of Puerto Rico. My mother is from the eastern coast, Yabucoa, and my father is from the center of the island, Jayuya.

The one thing about being of Boricua descent is how connected we are to all other cultures and how we have gotten some of the best qualities of each and made it into our own flavor. Africa, Native Indians (Tainos), and Europeans all have a link to my life and family traditions.

José Alvarez

José Alvarez, Professor, Cuban

What was your path to HBS?
I came to HBS totally by chance. My dear friend Professor Rajiv Lal was an advisor to my senior team when I was CEO of Stop and Shop. He encouraged me to explore HBS as an option as I was beginning a career transition.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
I was born in Cuba and left with my family when I was three, and we settled in Chicago. My mother was a factory worker and my dad was a baker.

Family and community are what I love about my culture. My mother was a very compassionate person who taught me and my siblings the importance of being caring members of the community. My siblings and I have always been big believers in service.

Laura Alfaro

Laura Alfaro, Professor, Costa Rican

What was your path to HBS?
After finishing the PhD program in economics at UCLA, I applied for an assistant professor position and got the job. My father had studied at INCAE, a business school in Costa Rica founded by professors from HBS inspired by President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress and his visit to Costa Rica in 1963. From my father, and his experience at INCAE, I knew about the case method. I am also the first woman from my country to get a PhD in economics (but not the first to get a PhD).

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
I am from Costa Rica, where the rest of my family lives. My husband is from Brazil. Our daughter was born in Boston, so we have North, Central, and South America all represented.

Costa Rica has had no army since 1948—we are a peaceful country and one of the most stable democracies in Latin America. We protect more than 28 percent of our land in national parks, reserves, and refuges. More than 98 percent of our energy is clean (hydro, wind, sun). We still need to do more, in particular with regards to vehicles, but overall, I would say that we have a great environmental record for a developing nation.

I am also very proud of our football team (soccer in the US). The World Cup is sacred in my house!

Leticia Garcia

Leticia Garcia, Associate Director of the HBS Leadership Initiative, Mexican

What was your path to HBS?
After completing a master’s of theological studies at the Harvard Divinity School in 2005, my interest in management education and leadership development led me to the MIT Sloan School of Management. At Sloan, I attended a course called CEO at the Crossroads and coordinated the Seminar in Leadership for the Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation in Global Leadership. Both experiences kindled an interest in leadership and leadership development. In 2007, I joined the Leadership Initiative. I appreciate the global focus of our mission and the interdisciplinary exchange that helps bridge the gap between scholarship and practice. We undertake cutting-edge research and course development projects focused on leadership and leadership development, both within Harvard Business School and through collaborations with other organizations. I arrived at HBS in part due to my curiosity and partly by chance.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
I am Hispanic. My family is from Mexico City. I was raised in Chicago and moved to South Florida (Fort Lauderdale/Miami) for 12 years. In 2003, I moved to Cambridge for my master’s.

I am proud of many of the contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make to build and shape the US. I most proud of our work ethic, and love of family and community. I think one of our most underutilized “superpowers” is our ability to build relationships. Plus, I love the foodie culture!

Sadia Jiminian

Sadia Jiminian, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Dominican

What was your path to HBS?
I started as temp in the MBA Program back in 1998. A good friend of mine worked as a staff assistant in HR and told me about an opening.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
Soy Dominicana. I was born in Santiago De Los Caballeros, a city in the north of the Dominican Republic. I immigrated to the US when I was eight years old.

I love our food, which is very rich in flavors, and using different spices which make everything taste so yummy—and our music! When a Dominican hears any music, we start moving. And as a good Dominican, I like baseball.

Walfred Arenales

Walfred Arenales, Associate Director of Finance and Operations, Guatemalan

What was your path to HBS?
I moved to the US looking for a better future but also to make my dream come true. Since I was a kid, I was always very persistent whenever I wanted to do something—I always worked hard and tried to never give up. I had this crazy idea to someday be part of Harvard University—mostly a dream in my case, because coming from a poor family I knew it wasn’t going to be easy—but not impossible. I spoke to El Mundo Boston about it.

What is your heritage and your favorite part about it?
I was born and raised in Guatemala.

I think everything about my culture makes me proud (e.g. food, music, people, traditions, family values, hard workers). The diversity just within our own people; every country is so different and beautiful. We are a very passionate and loving people, and we care so much for our family and others. I’m so proud to represent my culture and show the world what we are capable of doing. We are not just “bad hombres.” It makes me so proud to see how this new generation of Latinx is making headlines in business, education, music, politics, and more. I will close by saying to my community, “Latinos, si se puede!”

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