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.
Enrique Lopez is an LA native currently residing in Seattle…where he works at Microsoft as an Engineer. He attended UC Berkeley with the hopes of breaking into the tech industry as a software engineer. In a world and industry where authenticity is not necessarily valued nor authentically accepted, he has worked on himself to develop an unapologetic spirit.
In this conversation, Enrique Lopez takes us on a journey through his experience between professionalism and authenticity.
These are some of the episode highlights:
Authenticity for Enrique means consistency. It means becoming self aware and asking oneself questions like, “Are we being consistent with friends, family, and relationships?". By consistent, Enrique would like to convey that it means showing up exactly as you are across the board– In other words, you should present outwardly how you truly feel, inwardly. However, that can become a challenge in higher education, workplaces, including but not limited to tech companies that are predominantly white. Enrique believes in, “being consistent as much as possible. I am someone who has always decided to do my own thing.”
For Enrique, the hardest transition was at work and school. He says, “I needed to learn that the most because I would always feel like [showing up unapologetically] would be a threat,” or in other words, the consequences of showing up unashamed and unapologetic are higher. The loss is greater.
Enrique goes on to say “When we say professionalism, we usually mean whiteness. And when we say we code switch at work means that because it's a white institution we need to switch. But we don't feel that way if it was a POC company or everyone was POC.”
Enrique believes we feel shame because of our proximity to whiteness, and like him, many of us brown folks grow up hating the color of our skin and embarrassed for being who we are. Enrique felt shame around his features, name, and language. “I'd be embarrassed if my mom spoke Spanish in public… my father was deported when I was younger” Enrique mentions. We are often oblivious to the fact that these narratives continue to be the cause of shame for Latinx communities. We are conditioned to believe that we are less than therefore, unworthy of proudly representing everything that makes us unique.
According to Enrique, Mexico is very white centered while Inglewood is more black and brown centered. LA was mostly Mexican, Salvadoran, Honduran.
As a result of Enrique’s shame, he often struggled with not wanting to be Mexican-American. Therefore, performing whiteness was not a concept he was privy to as a teen because he just wanted to be white and so, he usually showed up as the persona that resembled whiteness most.“I didn’t see it as performing whiteness. I wasn’t codeswitching. I just wanted to be a certain way. I was going about it thinking that this is who I was.”
Like many of us on election night of 2016, Enrique shares how he had to deal with so many feelings he hadn’t dealt with. This then resulted in being unable to focus or sleep. Enrique says, “I was having a lot of depressive and anxious symptoms. I couldn’t do school [a predominately white one] and I spent a lot of time alone and not happy.” Fortunately for him though, these symptoms allowed for Enrique to take time off from school to tend to his overall wellbeing. The time off allowed him to reflect and think more critically. “Giving myself the space to catch up on the things I had ignored for so long.”
As people of color, we are often plagued with so many feelings of discomfort however, we are not equipped with the tools to identify or label these feelings. We don’t know how to process our internalized racism and/or our undiagnosed mental health conditions. We don’t know what we don’t know until these conversations are normalized, especially in the corporate world.
“The biggest thing that came out of [time off] was learning to be a lot more unapologetic. You don’t feel shame when you’re being unapologetic or else you’re not being apologetic.” - Enrique Lopez
Enrique shares that in order to start feeling more confident, you have to be willing to normalize your experiences in these places. He also mentions there has to be the desire and then you get in the practice of doing it while also trusting that you’re still good.
According to Enrique, confidence is learned but it's not going to be learned if you're not trying or pushing yourself. He also believes that if we want our experiences to be normalized, we first have to normalize that for ourselves. However, in order to confidently do this there needs to be a level of safety,“If the minimum of safety, of not being bullied or harassed is not met, then I don't expect people to keep pushing themselves, especially if they are not safe.”
Enrique identifies as queer and it's an identity he’s been sitting with a lot more in the past two to three years. “I was being bullied by a former manager because I was deviating from the particular behavior that was expected of me.” On many occasions, Enrique felt like he was being told he didn’t belong so he started using these opportunities to speak up more often, which will then lead to feeling more confident and empowered to advocate for himself and others.
Enrique says, “No, I don’t need to be disrespected. No, I don’t need to pay my dues. This is the behavior that we’re taught. We still feel like we’re asking for permission to be in that space. And so we fear we can't speak up.”
Enrique Lopez inspires us to change the narrative by showing up as our authentic selves.
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