Instead of hiding what makes you different, it's far more powerful to own those attributes and channel them in ways that add unique value to society. Minorities like me may feel more inclined to try to fit in to avoid discrimination; but I've discovered that if you are comfortable in your own skin, others will be comfortable with you. If they are not, it's their problem, not yours. By owning your differences, and even the sense of discomfort they can engender, you are far more likely to contribute meaningfully to our world.
Your unique "how" - the habits and values that guide you - are often informed by influences of which you may not be aware, but frequently those principles and qualities are rooted in your upbringing. For me, that includes my childhood in Mexico City where I was born and raised until I was sixteen. This Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to share some of the most meaningful ways that my Mexican heritage has shaped both me and the organizations that I lead.
Firstly, my Mexican upbringing has taught me the importance of lightening up and having fun. Latin people tend to not take ourselves too seriously; we know how to laugh at ourselves, and we do it often. In Mexico, it's almost a compliment when someone pokes fun at you, because it's considered an act of camaraderie and affection. My Mexican heritage has helped me to bring levity, warmth, and sense of humor to the cultures of every organization I lead.
In the work environment, an ability to laugh at yourself helps you to receive critical feedback without taking it personally. This in turn allows you to grow and constantly improve. It puts setbacks in perspective and helps you to brush off defeats, learn from them, and move on. Especially during these challenging times when people seem more rigidly attached to their points of view and more unforgiving of those who don't share the same perspectives, it's critical to remind one another that we are all in this together. Few forces can break through the tension and bond us together better than a good joke or laughter.
It was also in Mexico that I learned foundational lessons about the importance of building bridges across perceived divides. Mexico welcomed my father after he survived the Holocaust as a young boy and teen. In my insular Jewish community in Mexico City growing up, my mom regularly scheduled playdates for me with the Christian kids in town. She wanted me to understand the importance of human interconnectivity - the kind that transcends differences like race or religion.
My father's story and my childhood experiences informed a life-long mission that has fueled every social enterprise I've created - from PeaceWorks to KIND to Empatico, and from OneVoice to our newly launched Starts With Us. Growing up as a confused Mexican Jew, who has since become a confused Mexican American Jew who never fit clearly into a category, has helped me to overcome superficial boundaries throughout my life.
Across every enterprise I've built, I have sought to instill the same values in my team - to champion diversity of thought and compassionate, curious connection among teammates, especially in the face of our differences. As a leader, I strive to relate to every person I meet, and every team member with whom I work, first and foremost as a fellow human being. These qualities have proven invaluable to creating a culture in which team members feel comfortable disagreeing with one another respectfully. This in turn strengthens all of us.
Lastly, who ever met a Latino who didn't love food? Almost all my favorite memories from growing up revolve around food. I recall coming home for lunch to prepare tacos and spinning the "Lazy Susan" at dinner as everyone grabbed for their favorite dish. I still feel the warmth of sitting alongside the farmers on my grandfather's ranch as we gathered under the hot sun to enjoy Barbacoa.
My genuine curiosity about food is reflective of my earnest inquisitiveness about the cultures behind those foods. Food is a powerful way to connect with people and to understand one another's unique "how." My passion for food has helped me to launch KIND products that meet a high bar for deliciousness and quality. More than a decade since launching KIND, I now have the fun of bringing my Mexican heritage together with my love for food to create SOMOS, plant-based foods from the heart of Mexico.
To my fellow Americans with Latin roots, I urge you not to hide the ways your heritage has shaped you, but to embrace them to the fullest. As has been my experience, those distinctive qualities can help build formidable cultures and ultimately fuel your success.