by Cristina Villarreal
I am a lawyer by training, but by profession I work in politics. Traditionally, both careers have been predominately male professions. I have heard the most successful politicians are tall white men. I am a 5’2’’ Latina. I am aware that the odds are against me. Most of the time, I do not notice my race, my gender, or even my height, but there are definitely those moments where I cannot and do not want to hide who I am.
There have been many times when I have been the only Latina in the classroom, the courtroom, or the conference room. While some may see me as the “weak link,” I know who I am helps to contribute to my strengths. I can relate well to the average client, tax-payer, and voter. I can research in two languages, and I can stay connected to “the people” in two languages. I am like a chameleon; I can fit in anywhere.
There are also disadvantages to being the only woman, or the only Latina. I am sometimes called “dear,” “precious,” and “baby” by elected officials. My male counter parts are not called the same. While I know they are meant to be terms of endearment, I would prefer to be respected than endeared. I know I have to work ten times harder than anyone else to be taken seriously. In the courtroom, opposing counsel once attempted to intimidate me by taunting me while I was arguing my case. I know he would not have done that had I been a man. I was once offered a laughable salary for a job, and when I made a counteroffer, I was looked at with shock. I should note that this was by a woman. When I discussed it later with my boss, she said they had not expected me to negotiate my pay. They thought I was a “girl from the hood, who would be happy with anything.”
These experiences have taught me a great deal about the world and about myself. I have learned that disparities between men and
women exist, and that I will be judged professionally because I am Latina. I have learned that it is important to speak up. I should know my worth and expect others to know it too, and if they do not, then it is ok for me to tell them. I must be the biggest advocate for myself, and if I cannot advocate for myself, then I have no business advocating for a client or taxpayers. I have also learned that cultural expectations often make me want to be overly accommodating, but it is sometimes necessary to put myself first.
Finally, I have learned the value of having strong Latina mentors and colleagues who I can turn to when I feel like a lonely Latina in man’s world. They remind me that I am never really alone and that we are making a difference for Latina girls across the world with every obstacle we overcome.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.