Celebrating my heritage didn’t come easily

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Editor’s Note: From September 15 to October 15, the U.S. celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. The month recognizes the unique and myriad contributions of Latinx people even if it doesn’t take into account the challenges within the vast community regarding the origins and use of the word Hispanic.  First declared National Hispanic Week by President Lyndon Johnson, the mid-month date coincides with the national independence days of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Similarly, Mexico celebrates its independence day on the 16th, Chile on the 18th, and Belize on the 21st.

At RPG, our core cultural building blocks are authenticity, belonging and compassion. Without a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, these are empty words.  In 2020, many people experienced an awakening and began to recognize that conversations about race and social justice are critically important conversations for us to have everywhere. The Diversity Movement reminds us, “when companies downplay demographic differences, they actually increase underrepresented employees’ perception of bias from white colleagues and reduce engagement at work.”

As part of recognizing and celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Racer Rikki Camarillo discusses what the month of observation means to her.”

What motivates you?

I enjoy the excitement of trying new things. You never know what rabbit hole your curiosity will take you down, or what gratification a new interest will bring you down the road. The love of shared interests has brought so many different people into my life. Whether it’s a new hobby, a new language, or a new destination, I like to look at these as low-risk investments with infinite returns.

Who has served as an inspiration in your life?

My son is my inspiration, and I get emotional anytime I speak about him. He is so positive, humble, and kind-hearted. Always eager to help others, he is the most selfless person I know. He’s everything I aspire to be, and I’m very proud of the young man he’s become.

Can you share a story that taught you a valuable life lesson?

Long story short, there was a foreign affairs pilot program for enlisted Marines that I applied for while I was in the Marine Corps. The initial requirements called for a college degree, and at the time, I had not yet earned my degree. I hesitated to apply out of fear of rejection, but one of my mentors encouraged me to apply anyway. Luckily, due to my language skills (one of my low-risk, high-reward investments), I was accepted as one of the first enlisted Marines into that pilot program, which is still going strong.

This opportunity took me all over the Middle East, experiencing and learning so many new things along the way. I’ve met some of my very best friends there and had I not taken the chance to apply, I would have missed out on some of my best memories.

So, I am a big believer in taking chances. The worst anyone can say is no, and I’d rather try and fail than never try at all.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

This is a tough question. I imagine the standard answer would include something about celebrating pride. For me, celebrating my heritage didn’t always come easy.

Growing up as a mixed girl (Black & Mexican), I was always pressured to make a choice. For many, depending on their own ethnicity, I didn’t fit their definition of Black or Mexican because I didn’t act, look, or speak a certain way. Most of this was in the context of immature children, but it came from adults, as well. I remember being introduced to the one-drop rule when I was a kid, which I thought was an odd conversation even in that day and age. That idea was always hard for me to accept given at the time I lived with my immigrant father and surrounded by my Mexican family members. At the end of the day, I don’t like being told what I am, or what I should be.

For all the reasons above, this designated month doesn’t hold a lot of significance to me. Aside from this opportunity, I don’t typically discuss my background due to fear of odd looks and tests to prove my inclusion. Additionally, with the many national days and various awareness months, these celebration months can feel a bit ”market-y” to me – like a check mark on a content calendar. I look forward to the day when we organically amplify and celebrate everyone all year-round.

But that’s just my personal view. So, while these may not be a highlight of my year, I’m always down to celebrate anything and everyone.


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