3 Reasons Your Cultural Background Might Be Holding You Back
Helping young Latinas become leaders and achieve their full potential is the reason BeVisible exists and why I wake up every day. But it’s not an easy job. Ever since I came to the United States from Chile, I’ve been trying to honor my cultural background while at the same time trying to overcome it so that I can take advantage of the educational and economic opportunities that this country provides.
And based on a Twitter Chat we did this summer, many of you experience that same dichotomy. Whether first or second generation Latinas, you struggle with the differences between what you want for yourself and what your family and community taught you to revere and strive for when you were growing up.
And sometimes those competing interests and beliefs get in your way.

Here are 3 reasons your cultural background might be holding you back… and how you can move forward without dishonoring it.

#1: You were taught to take a backseat

Very often Latinas are told, “Don’t get too good for your own good.” And they’re criticized for being elitists if they’re too loud and proud about accomplishing their own goals. These attitudes can wreak havoc on your confidence. Worse, when you’re applauded for keeping quiet and playing down your accomplishments, often without even realizing it, you stop taking risks and you stop yourself from working toward – or even wanting – greater success.
When that happens, not only do you suffer, but so does everyone else who could’ve been touched by the gifts, intelligence and leadership you have to share.
“I grew up being told, “tone it down a bit”. So I did. That didn’t last long.
I can’t… this is who I am.”
“As women we’re taught to not take up too much space.
Time to unapologetically take all the space we want.”

#2: You were taught to work hard and that would be enough

Working hard is great. But it’s only part of the equation. In the United States it’s expected that you work hard but that you also nurture and rely on your network to help you start, grow and advance in your career. The typical Latina doesn’t have access to sponsors and networks like her American counterparts do. She may have her own network of like-minded Latinas, but these networks don’t have the influence and power she needs to advance.
You therefore not only have to work twice as hard as your peers, but you have to find your way into networks that might not be ready to welcome you with open arms. How do you breakthrough and get your voice heard?
  1. Identify all of the places and communities where you can add value
  2. Find a mentor who appreciates your experience and who fought her way through just like you want to
  3. Invite your peers to events, support each other, and always have each other’s back
One of the most powerful beliefs you bring to American culture is your belief in your community and your conviction that you are stronger together than you are alone. Hold on to that and together you can help each other take up all the space you need to make the impact you want.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring your own chair.”
“We can find solidarity & strength with other #WOC.
We need to support each other to succeed.”
“Bring peers to events, invite them to the table, network purposefully, have each other’s back. It’s all about #shinetheory. Visibility is key – the more of us, the better. we’re probably the smartest in the room, so own it “

#3: You were taught to feel guilty for investing in yourself

Latinas cultural background teaches them that family comes first. And anyone who acts outside of that belief by focusing on her own life and career is failing in some way. You’re taught it’s selfish to want what you want because you couldn’t possibly get what you want without taking something from someone else.
This message is probably one of the most difficult to overcome. Because it’s so ingrained. But learning how to do for yourself without feeling selfish is actually a skill you can become better at. And the way you become better at is is by practicing. By identifying something you want for yourself and going after it without reservation and without apologies. Imagine that.
That’s why I want to challenge you to take the words “I’m sorry” out of your vocabulary for one week. What if you just went after you wanted without apologizing to anyone, out loud or in your head? How would that feel? What would get to happen for you?
Very often we accept beliefs without testing them. We tell ourselves we can’t do this because of X or we can’t do that because of Y. So we just don’t do it. But by not doing it, you never really give yourself the chance to test that belief. And if you don’t test it, you’ll never overcome it.
“We’re also carrying goals/expectations of our family/community.
Not just our own. I can hear my mother’s voice saying,
‘I didn’t come to this country for you to…’”
“There was much skepticism when I decided to attend undergrad across the country.
Was I too good for the local schools?”

What’s Next?

With your powerful cultural background influencing your beliefs and attitudes, how are you supposed to ignore them?
You don’t have to. You don’t have to dismiss them or be angry about them, you simply have to accept them as beliefs that were formed long before you came along. And long before you were even “allowed” to participate fully in American culture.
Your family and community believe what they believe because of their own cultural background. They aren’t trying to bring you down, they’re just carrying on what is real and comfortable for them.
The best thing you can do is educate them, be honest about what you want, and ask that they honor your experience and your goals because let’s face it, you have way too much to do and way too many dreams to be content to live someone else’s life.

Hi, I'm Anna!

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