As we are gearing up for our Fierce Urgency of Now Festival for young professionals of color, the Chamber's Marketing & Communications Coordinator Lydia Zepeda shares her experiences as a young professional of color while living in Boston.
Growing up in rural (and predominantly white) Maine, I became numb to the fact that I looked very different than my classmates; that I wasn’t white like them. It even got to the point where I was almost living a dual life: at school, I would pretend I didn’t love speaking in Spanish to my parents, or dancing, or singing along to my father’s rancheras while eating breakfast on the weekend. And then, like a switch I would go home and become Lidia, not just Lydia.
It wasn’t until I moved away to Boston for my undergraduate degree that I realized just how much of my heritage I had willingly and unknowingly stripped away from myself because I had wanted so badly to fit in.
About a month into my freshman year at Emmanuel College, I discovered the campus Latino organization. It was then that I realized that my culture, my parents’ accents, and my experiences struggling to accept my differences weren’t just unique to myself. I found Latino brothers and sisters who faced similar struggles. Those experiences bonded us and helped me regain a part of myself that I had lost.
H.U.E.L.L.A.S. (Helping Unite Emmanuel Latinos Lead and Achieve Success) truly helped me embrace who I am. Had it not been for my support system at Emmanuel College, I would not have been able to make a home for myself in Boston. I surely would not have stayed after graduating, nor would I have chosen to stay and pursue a career in Boston.
I no longer shy away from hiding my culture. How beautiful it is that I have two places to call home? I feel proud to be a Latina, and I feel proud to have been surrounded by mentors, friends, and family who have guided and shaped me into the strong Latina I am today.
We rise by lifting up others. – Robert Ingersoll
With more than 48% of Boston’s workforce being classified as millennials, and more than 43% classified as millennials of color, it is a business imperative that our city becomes an environment where all young professionals feel welcome, are able to build a career, and reach their full potential.
I had the privilege of finding my community as a freshman in college, but I know that not all newcomers to our city feel that way.
The moment I felt like I belonged in #MyBoston, was in the midst of H.U.E.L.L.A.S’ annual event, Latin Explosion, which kicked off the end of Hispanic Heritage month. Each year hundreds of students and families gathered in our student center to celebrate the various cultures on campus. As I looked around the packed room, surrounded by hundreds of my Latino brothers and sisters, it was then, that I realized that mis raices are in fact beautiful and important contributors to what makes Boston special.
“As a light skinned Latina, I know my experiences are far different than Latinos darker than me, or of a black woman, a Muslim woman, or as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. But one thing is certain, just as I have made a home for myself in this incredible city, it should feel like that for everyone else too.”
When I began thinking about launching a new hashtag for City Awake, the Greater Boston Chamber’s platform for next generation leaders, I couldn’t help but think about my love for this city followed by a rush of sadness when I realized that my own privilege blinded me from seeing that Boston isn’t always welcoming to people of color and other communities who may feel and/or be marginalized.
After hearing and reading about our city’s reputation for being a racist or isolating city for people of color, I wanted #MyBoston to become a safe space, where everyone can be open and honest about the good and the challenging things they have experienced in Boston. And through that, I wanted this conversation to continue to develop into a sound-off for real change.
Boston felt like home when I embraced my roots. #MyBoston isn’t just in East Boston, when I go to eat pupusas with my family and I truly feel like I have a piece of El Salvador right in front of me. #MyBoston is a place that feels like opportunities are endless and everyone is cheering you on- and it should feel like that way for everyone.
If you are like me and want to be a catalyst for change in Boston, I encourage you to come out to this week’s festivities for our Fierce Urgency of Now festival. Together we can make our #MyBoston visions a reality.
Share your #MyBoston vision!