Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2021
Host Jacquelyn Burns-Rucker speaks to Melissa Diaz-Rosario, TCU's Service Center Manager in Whiting, IN, about growing up as a first-generation Hispanic American, coming to work for TCU and serving members of the Hispanic community in Whiting.
Jackie Rucker: Hello. Welcome to TCU diversity talks, where we use difficult conversations to promote understanding. I'm your host, Jacquelyn Byrnes Rucker. Today we are talking with Melissa Diaz-Rosario. She is service manager at our Whiting, Ind. location. Hey, Melissa, how are you doing?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: I'm doing well. How about yourself?
Jackie Rucker: I'm good. We are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, and I wanted to talk to you and get some information about your background, what you do for TCU, and a little information to share with our team members. So welcome.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Thank you. Thank you for asking me to be here. Yeah, I was super excited. And when I was asked to speak during Hispanic Heritage Month, I felt like the luckiest girl because I'm like, Yes! I get to showcase who I am. I don't have to filter it. I don't have to hide my accent because TCU loves it.
Jackie Rucker: That's cool. One of the things we want to do is make sure this is a place where people can be their authentic selves. I'm glad you feel that way. So, tell me, because a lot of people think, you know, if, like, if you're Hispanic, it's either Oh, that means you're Mexican or that means you are from Spain. What is your cultural heritage and descent? And then, also, I want to talk about those labels in terms of Hispanic, Latin, whatever.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Sure. I am first-generation here. I was born in Chicago. My mother was born in Mexico. My father was born in Mexico as well. And my mother came into this country, probably in the sixties. My grandpa started working for U.S. Steel and then brought his 11 children over here and raised them. And so, my mom did go to high school, college. All that good stuff. And then she met my father here, you know. We're from a part of Mexico where, of course, it was conquered by the Spaniards.
Jackie Rucker: What's the city? I'm just curious.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: It's Guadalajara.
Jackie Rucker: Oh, okay, I've heard of that.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: So of course, it was conquered by the Spaniards. And you know, you can see in my mother's side of the family the features, you know, very thin nose, very long face. I don't have the long face. I have a round face. But yeah, I just, I don't know. Even though I was born here, I always just felt like I belonged in the Mexican community because I grew up in Chicago, you know? I never really felt like I had an accent. And then when I moved to Porter County, that's when I started, you know, hearing people say, "Oh, where's your accent from?" And I'm like, Wow! I never knew I had one. And so that's when the whole Latino, Latina, Hispanic, Latinx came into play and people started asking me questions. And personally, I don't mind.
Jackie Rucker: Before you moved, though, because I'm assuming your community was similar to you. And so, you weren't having to deal with that. Nobody was questioning where you were from or anything? Is that correct?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: That's correct. So yeah, when I was about, oh, maybe first grade, we moved to East Chicago from Chicago, Illinois. And so everyone looked like me. They were either Hispanic or black, you know? And so I just never felt out of place. I never felt like I had an accent. I never felt like I had to express who I was.
Jackie Rucker: Okay. And then once they started asking you, what is the difference? Like, where are all those different titles and descriptions come from?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: I honestly couldn't tell you. I know the Latinx is something from the newer generation. I have a son that's in college and that's what they use. I don't get offended. I know there's other Latinos that may be like from Central America or South America, and they feel like they're not Hispanic. I don't know what the history behind that is, but I don't get offended.
Jackie Rucker: Do you have a preference of what someone says when they're around you?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: No, not at all.
Jackie Rucker: We are using Hispanic Heritage Month primarily because on our DEI website, the resources that we're using are coming from the Library of Congress. And that's how they have it labeled, is Hispanic Heritage. So just so everything aligns, that's what I've been using, but I'm very curious because even like with us, there are people who say black, there are people who say African American, depending on how old they are. There are, in my lifetime, we have been called colored, we've been called Negro, Black, African American and I had to adjust each time. So, it's really strange to me that these monikers that have been placed on us keep changing. So really curious about that.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: It doesn't really bother me. I think it's just evolved throughout time, you know? But for example, I was just in Mexico earlier this year, and I go to an ex-pat community. And when they refer to us, you know, other Americans, we call each other American. But when I was there, some of them were getting upset. Like, America is the biggest country (when America is really) the United States, it's Central America, it's South America. They wanted people to be very specific. So, then I learned that I had to say that I'm from the States.
Jackie Rucker: Yeah, because North America could also include Canada.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, and so then when I came back and I was watching the news and, you know, it's just embedded in us when we're referring to ourselves here in the States, we're always saying we're American.
Jackie Rucker: Mm hmm.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: But when you go to another country, they take it personal, like, "Oh, the Americas are huge, North America's huge. Why are you saying that?"
Jackie Rucker: They want you to specify the state you're from within the United States? Or just to say United States?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, the United States.
Jackie Rucker: Got you. But you're right, because America is huge. There's, as we were just saying, Canada. There's South America, which is a bunch of countries. It's not just states, there's a lot of countries that make up the Americas. So yeah, it's a lot to think about. So, you had mentioned that your accent, you can have your accent at TCU and it's OK. Tell me about your experience at TCU. How did you come to work for TCU and what's it like?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: I've been with TCU, this month makes two years. And prior to this, I had a Mexican restaurant in St. Joseph, Michigan.
Jackie Rucker: Wow, I didn't know that.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, I had that for five years. And that's kind of like when I had a little wake-up call because, again, I was always in the East Chicago community, and so everyone looked and spoke like me, you know? And then I went to St. Joe, Michigan, and then my customers would say, "Oh, how did you learn English?" or, "What age did you come here?" And I would get upset. But now, you know, when I look back, I say it was just their curiosity, and they just didn't know how to ask the right questions. So, when I sold my restaurant, one of my good friends, she told me, "Hey, TCU is hiring. I think you would be a great fit." So, I started with TCU. Within three months of my training, they placed me in Chesterton, which is in Porter County. And, again, my accent stood out over there. But I had a great team. And working the teller line and all that, they would also hear some comments and they would say, "How do you handle it?" And I'm like, I learned to turn it around and say, they're just curious. They're not trying to offend me.
Jackie Rucker: That's good. That's a good attitude to take, too, in terms of dealing with people. A lot of times people are curious, and they may ask a question in a way that comes off wrong. But I think it's great that you are able to take that question and not be offended by it and be able to answer and educate at the same time.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, and even for myself, when I do have a black member, I still in my mind say, do I refer to them as black, African American? So, I get it when other people are trying to think, "What should I call her?" You know. Should I refer to as Latina, Hispanic? I don't want to offend her, but neither offends me.
Jackie Rucker: I'm going to ask several people so I can find out how different people feel about it. Because it's the same with like, I don't care if someone says black or African American, but I know there are people who feel differently about it. So, it's good to have that perspective in that position. Tell me this: what's the community like in Whiting? What's the demographics of that community?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Whiting is very, very old. It was started in the late eighteen hundreds and there was a lot of European, you know, Polish, Austrian. But with time, it's become very diverse. And as the cost of living keeps rising, we have an influx of Illinois people moving out this way. And so, the older generation that has been here for a hundred years, they're kind of starting to die down. And so, you're just seeing a shift. And now I would say it's half white, half Latino.
Jackie Rucker: So then, I know that at TCU we try to make sure that we are serving our community. Are there things that you do as the service manager in Whiting to make sure that you are meeting the needs of the local community?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Absolutely. When I was transferred here early February, I'm the only one at this branch that speaks fluent Spanish. I had someone else, but she moved out of state. And so, I got to know what their needs were because before, it was very transactional because nobody could understand them. But once I got to know them and speak to them, I was able to address their needs. Some of them wanted credit cards, wanted car insurance, life insurance, invest annuities, just different things that nobody could service them because they didn't speak the language.
Jackie Rucker: I am guessing that as you are making changes - because you've only been there a few months - you are making changes to address those needs in the community, then. Is that correct?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Absolutely. Yeah. And just today, I had two senior citizens in my office that spoke Spanish and they just said, "I'm so glad you're here, because I try to tell the previous person that was in your position what I needed, but there was just that language barrier."
Jackie Rucker: I'm sure it's huge for Hispanic members of the Whiting community to be able to have someone they can speak to and have clarity in terms of getting their needs met at the credit union. And I want to mention you are also a member of the TCU Diversity Task Force, as well. And kudos to you because I'm on that committee and I've listened to your suggestions and ideas on how to make the Whiting branch more accessible for people who speak Spanish. And so, I'm sure you're going to do a fantastic job with that.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Thank you.
Jackie Rucker: Are there any questions I should have asked you today that I haven't asked?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Let's see. No, I think we're good.
Jackie Rucker: Well, we've got some initiatives that we're working on. And as we start rolling them out, I would love to have you come back and talk about things that are we're doing with the diversity task force and how they meet the needs of our local community, especially our community that's Spanish-speaking.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, and I did want to bring up, we do have St. Joseph's Community College here in town, and they're huge on international students.
Jackie Rucker: And you know what? There is that there's a committee that I'm on right now that is looking at making whatever adjustments we need to make for non-residents who come from other countries, like international students, to make it easier to get their accounts set up. So, maybe that's one of the things we can talk about once we get that signed off on.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Absolutely. Because the head coach is a TCU member and his assistant was recruited from Mexico, so he brought her over here. And he said, "Hey, I want to help her out." And then, long story short, we found out she was born in California and has a Social Security number. She just needed to get it so we can open her account. So, we helped her through the whole process. And now she can receive her direct deposit here at TCU. So then, the coach is like, "Hey, I have 20 other students that want to join TCU. Just let me know when we can."
Jackie Rucker: I am so excited to hear that. As I said, I will get you plugged into that task force, the (project management) group that's working on that. And, hopefully, we will have everything wrapped up soon so that we can get them all set up.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, and then also I wanted to add that we added that Accelerate credit card. And so, it's really helping our members here, as well. What I have noticed in the Hispanic community is that a lot of them like to pay cash for everything. And so, when it comes to getting financing and loans, there isn't that credit history.
Jackie Rucker: Right.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: And so now we have a new program that's going to allow them to build that credit history here. And, you know, a lot of my members their house is paid off, their car's paid off, but they don't have a credit score.
Jackie Rucker: We should be able to help with the programs that we are introducing now.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah. With that new credit card that we have, it's going to absolutely help that community build that credit score.
Jackie Rucker: This is probably a question for the task force, but in terms of having informational flyers, posters that are in the window, do we have those in Spanish yet or are our marketing materials right now currently in English?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, we don't have it. I think they're marketing them on our website? But yeah, we don't have a huge campaign on that.
Jackie Rucker: Ok, so as we start rolling that out, that's something that, with the task force, we should talk about what materials we need to roll out in Spanish. Those are good things to keep in mind. Marketing may have already thought about it and may have it in process, but that's something that we can follow up on.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yes. And I just think that all of us as individuals are always trying to find our tribe. And if you find that one commonality and that connection. And so, if Spanish is what's going to help me connect to my members, then bring it. You know? I'm here to help them.
Jackie Rucker: Yeah, especially as your community in Whiting is becoming younger with the, you know, the transition of people from different places. And that's good for the credit union as well as good for the community. So that is awesome.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Not only is this new Accelerate credit card helping our Hispanic community. You know, I have members that have been with us for a long time. I just had a member seventy-seven years old, never used a credit card, paid everything in cash, but nobody would give him credit, you know? And it's equivalent to like an 18-year-old. He's just starting out from scratch. So, this new Accelerate credit card is going to help him build his credit.
Jackie Rucker: Yeah. I mean, so at seventy-seven, I'm guessing, does he own a home or is he renting?
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Yeah, he owns his home, owns this car. But they never felt the need to put the money in the bank or use credit for anything. They just felt safer to have everything at home just in case an emergency happened. However, now at seventy-seven, when you're trying to travel and do other things and you need a credit card because everything's digital, who's going to give them that opportunity? Well, TCU's going to give them that opportunity.
Jackie Rucker: That's awesome. That should be a commercial (laughs). There should definitely be a commercial. Melissa, thank you so much for joining us here today. I'm expecting to have you back so we can chat about different areas, including all of the developments that are happening as we are introducing these new product lines into the Whiting community. I'm sure you're going to have a lot to share. So, thank you so much.
Melissa Diaz-Rosario: Absolutely. Have a great day.
Jackie Rucker: All right, you too. Be sure to join us again for another episode of TCU Diversity Talks. Have a great day.