Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Joan Marsh
September 23, 2020
Community Impact

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

By Susan Santana, Vice President Legislative Strategy, AT&T California

Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) is a time to reflect on the incredible contributions Latinos have made to our country’s social and economic vitality, as well as the importance of advancing cultural awareness and inclusion as a social and business imperative.

I was born in Chula Vista, Calif., a US-Mexican border town in San Diego County, where hard work, the importance of family and celebrating the Latino culture are community values. My grandparents immigrated there in the late 1940’s from Mexico. Our bicultural lives included being bilingual and the ability to switch from Spanish to English with the sort of ease often seen in border towns. My dad owned an electronic repair shop and my mother worked for a middle-school. I spent my summers working at my dad’s shop learning compassionate business practices that included sometimes letting customers pay what they could, when they could and with what they had on hand (including oranges or tomatoes). From my mom I learned humility and the importance of treating every person regardless of who they were or where they came from, with respect. Unknowingly, my parents bestowed on me qualities that have proved immensely helpful in various aspects of my professional life.

Like many Latinos, my extended family played a significant role in my upbringing. Their contributions to our country came with sacrifice and included my grandfather’s service in WWII, my tio’s tour in Vietnam and my papi’s and brothers’ service in the Army and Air Force. The patriots in my family served with honor guided by their commitment and sense of duty to a country they loved. My family also valued and was committed to education and particularly to students from lower income households where resources are scarce and information is limited. The challenges presented in our classrooms today are unprecedented and teachers have been at the forefront of making sure our students continue to learn. The contributions made by classroom heroes like my sister, aunts and cousins who switched to online teaching without hesitation this year, should continue to be celebrated.

Along with contributing to the rich fabric of our country, Latinos also enrich our country’s economy. Having the largest racial or ethnic minority population in the U.S., Hispanics in 2017 contributed $2.3 trillion to the national GDP. There are 4.7 million Hispanic-owned businesses, which combined contribute over $700 billion to the American economy every year. But the coronavirus pandemic is having a disproportional impact on Latino communities, and Latinos across the country are suffering. According to the Brookings Institution, job and wage losses due to COVID-19 have hit Latino adults the hardest and 33% of Latino parents/primary caregivers have either seen their business shut down or have experienced significant drops in revenue.

I’m proud of my Latino culture and fortunate to work for a company that values its diverse workforce as Latinos make up 15.9% of AT&T’s employees in the U.S. Inclusiveness is built into AT&T’s company culture, and diversity at all levels of our workforce is critical to our success. Consistent with those values, AT&T signed the Hispanic Promise, a first-of-its-kind national pledge to hire, promote, retain and celebrate Hispanics in the workplace. In addition, we recently committed an additional $10 million this year to create economic opportunities and foster upward mobility for underserved communities who face long-standing social inequities and higher unemployment, all of which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now is the time to act. Let’s champion awareness and inclusion of Latinos, and Latino communities and businesses. There is no doubt that 2020 has been a challenging, chaotic year. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, tragic instances of racial injustice, extreme weather events and natural disasters, it is more important now more than ever to practice inclusion, to lean on each other and to lift up our Latino communities. At AT&T, our core value to Stand for Equality has never been more relevant, not only inside AT&T but outside, as well. It is a business imperative to champion equality, diversity and inclusion in every aspect of our business. We live in turbulent times and listening to each other’s stories is important to further our understanding of who we are and where we came from, but we must do more. Let’s help advance our social justice by championing inclusion of Latinos in the workforce and Latino communities and businesses across the country. I am honored to work for a company that shares my values of inclusion and social justice, and where Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated, not for 30 days, but throughout the entire year.