Be Defiant with José Antonio Tijerino

Be Defiant with José Antonio Tijerino

We are highlighting a previous episode of the ¿Quién Tú Eres? podcast, where we explore the conflict we often face between "professionalism" & being our authentic selves.

In this episode, we have a powerful conversation with José Antonio Tijerino, a proud immigrant from Nicaragua who has become a national voice by speaking up on different issues such as diversity, immigration, creativity, and youth empowerment.

José Antonio currently resides in Washington D.C. and is the president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, a national non-profit which focuses on education, workforce, social impact, and culture through innovation and leadership.

Throughout this conversation, José Antonio tells us a story about adjustments. A story about how he had to find ways to adapt when he felt inadequate in different stages of his life and how these events led to him becoming the empowered leader he is today by ceasing to negotiate his identity and embracing himself.


These are some of the episode highlights:

"What is my name is an important statement in so many ways." -José Antonio Tijerino

José Antonio comes from a family who has named their sons Juan Antonio or José Antonio for generations. And as a nickname, they are called either Toño or Toñito. But once he arrived in the United States at the age of 6, other people decided to change his name. At school, they called him Tony instead of Toñito because it was easier for the kids to pronounce. And at home, his parents reinforced this because they wanted him to feel like he belonged in this new country, with new people and a new language. But, unknown to José Antonio at such an early age, he was already learning to deny parts of himself to fit in.

At that age, with so many life changes, and his parents doing the best they could to help him in this transition, José Antonio didn't know he could choose to be called the name he was given. But for many of us, the decision to change our names to make it easier on others and fit in is a conscious one. And it can seem like an innocent thing to do, but our names are the first form of identity we have. And when we change it to make others comfortable, we suppress something that is part of ourselves.

So while we may have, at times, to explain or repeat ourselves, it is worth the effort because as we embrace ourselves, we teach others to honor who we are, our culture, and our community.


"It gets easier when you get older... I'm so comfortable being me." -José Antonio Tijerino

As a Latino in his late fifties, José Antonio is confident in who he is and comfortable showing up as his authentic self. But that wasn't always the case.

As his younger self, José Antonio kept many things to himself, even at work, because he still did not know himself well enough. But as he grew older, he gained the confidence to stand up for himself and others because he was no longer trying to figure out who he was. He already knew his stances and who he was, so there was no room for negotiating his identity.


"That was a defining moment for me because I was now not representing myself. I was now representing everyone I knew." -José Antonio Tijerino

The moment that everything started to click for José Antonio was back when he was a teenager about to go on a date with a girl.

When he went to pick her up for their date, she asked him to pretend to be Italian because her parents might not accept him for who he was. At that moment, facing the decision to deny himself, he saw how that was not right and that he didn’t have to feel ashamed of who he was. And this was the event that led him to realize how he had denied himself, his family, his country, and his community before in different ways without being fully aware of it.

Later on in his life, José Antonio continues to remember this particular event. It serves him to remember that he represents everyone, not just himself. And that all of us carry the responsibility of showing up as our authentic selves and speaking up for those we represent, especially if we have the privilege to be in decision-making rooms or platforms that allow our voices to reach many at a time.



José Antonio stands up himself and others with confidence!

Listen to this episode to learn more about his journey: Spotify & Apple Podcasts

Learn more about Antonio on LinkedIn and on the Hispanic Heritage Foundation website.

Have a story to share? Let us know here for an opportunity to be featured in the podcast!

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