Each year, the President of the United States designates September 15 to October 15 as National Hispanic Heritage Month – a national celebration of the history, culture and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month 2011, Coast Guard Compass has asked Rear Adm. Joseph “Pepe” Castillo, Eleventh District commander, about his heritage and the role diversity plays in the service.
Written by Rear Adm. Joseph “Pepe” Castillo, Eleventh District commander.
My ancestors on my father’s side came to the United States from Cuba. My great grandfather – Papa Joe – was born to Cuban parents in Florida. He wanted to fit in, and as many immigrants did during that time, he tried his best to ensure his family didn’t look or sound “foreign.” So he wore the accepted clothing, participated in the local events and did not raise his children to speak Spanish. He subscribed to the melting pot approach of immigration – where everyone strives to look and sound like everyone else.
I submit that there is a better approach – a heritage stew, if you will. You see in a melting pot, everything loses its own identity and uniqueness. Imagine your dinner in a blender – all the vegetables, meat, salad, condiments and dessert – pureed together into the same texture, consistency and flavor. Kind of curbs your appetite, doesn’t it?
A stew is much more interesting. Ingredients retain much of their shape, but they are also changed by the presence of other components – they absorb flavors from other ingredients and create new ones. The potatoes soften and the sharp corners round off, the sauce thickens and becomes filled with small, juicy pieces of meat and vegetables. Nothing in the stew is left unchanged by the presence of the other ingredients – yet nothing is overwhelmed and left shut out. And best of all, the final product is much more delicious than the individual ingredients.
The point is: We don’t need to look alike and think alike to live and work together – we simply need to be unified by common values and goals. It would be a dull and ineffective workplace if we were all the same. The differences do make a difference. Diversity makes us stronger and leads to better decision-making – because we see more of the options and possibilities.
My ethnic background is Hispanic but that does not describe who I am. Who am I? I’m a husband, a father, a brother, a son…a boss, an employee, a friend, a volunteer. The things we do define who we are. My ethnic background is important to me, but it’s not who I am. It’s not the whole of me, but it’s a part of me that makes me different than I would be without it, and I’m richer for it.
Life is busy, but take the time to learn more about your own culture and the cultures around you – to see through someone else’s eyes; to ask questions rather than make assumptions. Strive to learn about the differences and similarities that we all share, that make us individually unique and organizationally stronger.