Podcast Transcript

Hispanic Heritage Month 2021 - Part 2

Jackie Rucker: Hello. Welcome to TCU diversity talks, where we use difficult conversations to promote understanding. I'm your host, Jacquelyn Burns Rucker. Today, our guests are Angie Salazar, who is the branch service center manager for our St. John's location, and Veronica Sims, who is the branch assistant service center manager for our Balcombe North office. Angie, how are you doing?

Angie Salazar: How are you, Jackie?

Jackie Rucker: I am doing great, Veronica. How are you?

Angie Salazar: Pretty good, thank you. How about you?

Jackie Rucker: I'm doing good. I'm so happy. You ladies are able to take time out of your busy day to talk with us about TCU and Hispanic heritage. I did a podcast with Melissa Diaz Rosario, and one of the things we talked about, Melissa and I when we were putting this together, is that a lot of times when it comes to Hispanic heritage, people think that it just means you're Mexican, which is not true. It's a broad spectrum of different ethnicities and cultures. Can you guys share a little bit about your background?

Angie Salazar: Yeah. So I'm Puerto Rican. So pretty much my parents, my grandparents, .... I was brought up in a big Puerto Rican family. My father is from Puerto Rico. He has 15 brothers and sisters. My mother's parents were from Puerto Rico. My mom is Puerto Rican, obviously. And you're very correct. I think that there's a lot of miseducation when it comes to the Hispanic culture.

Jackie Rucker: Now tell me this. Did you grow up stateside or did you spend time in Puerto Rico on the island?

Angie Salazar: So I've definitely visited like my family in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican culture is a very prideful culture, so it's always been a part of my home. But I was raised here. My father came to the states, probably when he was about 13 years old. He left to get work here. So he's worked ever since. You know, he came to the states and he met my mother at a young age and they got married. And so he happened to find another Puerto Rican out there. And so I was born and raised here, but definitely always been very much in my culture. I've visited my family and, you know, they are a big part of my life.

Jackie Rucker: And Angie, one of the myths that I've heard over the years is people think that if you're from Puerto Rico, that you are not a U.S. citizen. Can you clarify that for us?

Angie Salazar: Absolutely. So I feel like that's probably one of the biggest misconceptions. It's like, you know, they're like, "Oh my God, what are you going to do?" and I'm like, "nothing." So basically, Puerto Rico, was owned by Spain back in the eighteen hundreds, you know, Spain and America fought for Puerto Rico. And n 1952 is when Puerto Rico became run by the United States of America, becoming a commonwealth. So basically, our representative is the president of the United States. And then there's a governor that actually runs Puerto Rico

Jackie Rucker: And then people who are of Puerto Rican heritage, whether they're on the island or in the states, have citizenship.

Angie Salazar: Yes, we now have citizenship. Yes. So that is a huge, huge misconception, I do believe, and I feel like people just don't know a lot about it. And that's why I'm here. I'll share all of it with you.

Jackie Rucker: And then, Veronica, tell us a little bit about your heritage as well.

Veronica Simms: Sure. So I am from Argentina. I came to the states twenty two years ago. So I was born and raised in Argentina. The majority of the population there, they actually come from either Italy or Spain. So we had a lot of influence from Europe, especially from those two countries where they came with culture, like Angie says, we're very family oriented. We're very close, close ties with family members as well. And so, yeah, so I have to agree. When you mentioned the misconception, people believe that - or they assume that - we are from whether it's Mexico or even Central America. But there is also a lot of immigrants from South America as well. And this is something that they're not too familiar with or don't associate that.

Jackie Rucker: So when I was talking with Melissa, one of the things that she said to me was that when she goes to Mexico or there's other places where she goes, people here just think America is the United States. They don't think of all of the Americas, that there's North America, which also includes Canada, that there's Central America and that there's South America. And so I thought that was interesting, too, that the United States mindset is kind of like, "This is America, and the rest is something else." So I thought that was interesting because she said people will ask her to clarify where in America is she from? And so then she can say the United States to clarify that, so it's just a different way of looking at things. We also talked about the the terminology that's used when it comes to heritage. Some people, like, for African-Americans, some people say African-Americans, some people say black. It just depends on who you're talking to. And for Hispanic culture, I've heard the term Hispanic. I've heard Latino, Latina, Latin X, and I'm just curious, do you guys have a preference? Do you have any thoughts on that and why it keeps changing? I kind of have an idea of why it keeps changing with African-Americans, but just curious.

Angie Salazar: I think personally, it just depends on what someone's comfortable saying. Like, I know if I'm saying, you know, I always use a certain African-American because I just don't I don't feel like black is like, I don't know. I just like, Yes, I could say it, but I just feel it's more respectful if you say African American. So I've always said that. But I think, you know, everybody is different. I think for Hispanics, the majority of the time, you know, you hear, like Latina. Everybody always thinks I'm Mexican, like a lot of people who are Hispanic know that I'm not Mexican because I guess they could tell by my features. But if they're not Hispanic, they automatically assume that we are Mexican. One of the main things, you know, in Puerto Rico, like it's more like bodicua and bodicua is a name for Puerto Ricans, so it's it's a very strong name. So if I were telling someone, you know, what I am, I'm going to say I'm bodicua. You know, the older generation, like my father or, you know, like people from the island or the campo, which we call it the island, you know, a lot of times it's like jibaros, you know, it's just a term that we use that probably we would understand and a lot of other Hispanics would understand, but not really, you know, Americans.

Veronica Simms: To me, I guess, I just identify as Hispanic. I don't really use the term Latina per se. It doesn't mean that I do not feel that way. It's just that I believe it's more generic just to address myself as Hispanic, and what I feel comfortable with. Something that I have to say, too, is sometimes because of my accent people won't think I am Latina or Hispanic. They will assume that I'm more like European. They ask me - I mentioned this to Angie before - they will say that I'm from Macedonia or Serbia or somewhere in Europe. They don't associate my ethnicity as Hispanic.

Jackie Rucker: Wow.

Veronica Simms: So yes, I get that quite often. Not that it really bothers me at all. This is just the perception that the other person has. But I get that quite often. But yes, I do identify myself as Hispanic.

Jackie Rucker: So how did you both come to TCU?

Angie Salazar: Well, I came to TCU...this upcoming year in May will be my five years here at this company. I used to manage another bank, and one day they came in and they said, "You know, we're closing this place down." And I'll never forget the day because, as they walked in, they had smiles on their faces. And I'm just like, "What am I going to do? I've been here so long." And I don't know. I still had a position, but it was to manage an entirely different type of team that was going to be more like a floating team, kind of like the floats. I just, you know, I like being at one location. So I just went online and I started looking up places and I saw Teachers Credit Union. I wasn't really familiar with Teachers Credit Union at all. And so I applied, and that's when I got the position. I started originally in the Hammond location. This May, I came to the St. John Branch.

Jackie Rucker: Okay, what about you, Veronica?

Veronica Simms: So I started 10 years ago in our Chesterton location. I was a member rep there, and then I transitioned to Valpo South as a lead teller at that time. And then I moved back to the platform. And I started this role, like I mentioned, this year in 2021. But I don't have a lot of banking experience. I worked for different commercial banks abroad as well for several years before coming to the states. So I always been involved in the financial industry.

Jackie Rucker: So, at TCU, we pride ourselves in striving to be a place where people feel that they belong. And that's how we want our corporate culture to be where people feel like they belong, and they can bring their whole selves when they come to work. They don't have to put on a different persona when they get to work. Do you feel you can speak to that at all? Does your culture or heritage impact how you do your job?

Angie Salazar: I don't think so. I mean, I like that I'm bilingual because I'm able to communicate with everyone. And then being in management, it kind of opens it up a little bit more for me because I get to take care of, you know, whether it's a difficult situation or whether I'm doing alone or whether I'm doing accounts, it doesn't matter. I can have those conversations. So being bilingual does help me a lot, but I don't feel that I've been challenged in any way here.

Jackie Rucker: So, I mean, so basically, you can be yourself when you come to work.

Angie Salazar: Anyone who knows me, I'm very much myself. I am all about being myself, whether you like it or not. Angie, I'm going to tell you, Angie is Angie. You're going to give what you get. I don't care. Sometimes my mouth gets me in trouble, and that's all right. But I'm very, very outspoken.

Veronica Simms: In my case again, I don't restrain myself for who I am to actually perform my job, my duty. If anything, I think it's an advantage. I think it's something that is a plus. I can use my second language to really reach out to a different segment or assist more members. But I don't feel like I have to hide or restrain myself from, you know, what my personality is to be able to fit in. Again, I take it as a plus, as an asset, and this is something that I utilize a lot at work.

Jackie Rucker: That's good, and that's what we want. We want people to feel when they come to work, they can just be themselves. Because, actually, you can be more productive when you're comfortable in the environment. And that's what we want. We want people to be comfortable and feel like that they belong and that their culture and heritage is welcomed in the organization. Can you tell me about your branches in terms of what is the community like? What's the the ethnic breakdown of the the areas? I mean, Angie, you're in St. John, right?

Angie Salazar: Yeah. So, originally when I started in Hammond, I felt like it was more a minority base when it came down to our members. You know, a lot of minorities, you know, Hispanics, African-American. And then as I came merged over to St. John, it's majority Caucasian. I mean, you do get some Hispanics, but it's not many, but it's nice to see the ones who walk through the door because you're able to communicate the way you communicate with them. And I think that they're appreciative of that. And then, you know, pretty much, I would say the majority of our members are Caucasian.

Jackie Rucker: Veronica, what about your area? You're in Valpo.

Veronica Simms: Uh-huh. In Valparaiso. Well, the majority is white, non-Hispanic population in this area. I can see that is members that are Spanish speakers and they come here or they call a lot of times and they need assistance over the phone or in person. But that is just the minority. It's not really a big segment. I would think it is less than five percent of population.

Jackie Rucker: Ok, so if we could wave a magic wand right now, what would be something you would like to see us change or do with regard to diversity?

Angie Salazar: I think that there are so many things we can do, but we have to have the resources. What I mean by resources is, you know, if we're going to advertise to, you know, the Hispanic culture or whatever it is. I mean, we have to have everything that aligns with it, whether it's documentation, whether it's marketing material, we really don't market that whatsoever. So I think that that would help a lot with Teachers Credit Union. I don't know, sometimes I think we just kind of forget that there's people here that speak Spanish. I know at my branch there's not a lot of people who need a Hispanic person here to speak to them. But I think originally, I think that would definitely help if we can do things like that to kind of market to, you know, everyone. And not just Hispanic culture, but I mean, a lot of different cultures. Like, we don't have those things to actually advertise to those communities. We can go there and market it. But when they want something to leave with we don't have that.

Veronica Simms: I can add to what she's sating, too. A lot of financial institutions, they do have that option to switch to Spanish right there on the website. And I think this is something, too, that they have that capability to switch over when it comes to language so they have that option to really get the same information just in their native language. But I think you have to be concise, feel a thing, at least in the area that in the community that I work and live, I think we have to change to improve that. I feel that they need to see diversity more like an asset instead of a subtract. I feel sometimes the community feels that it is not necessarily something good or they hear the Spanish - could be Spanish or it could be another language - I just feel that they sense the threat of it, and I wish the community would really realize that is not really the case. You know, we perform better. We benefit a society if we can really just combine all the benefits of the different cultures and knowledge. I know you mentioned just for TCU, but I think that if we have that magic wand when it comes to the community, I think we could do much better if we change the perception of that. It's an asset, not a threat.

Jackie Rucker: I agree. In the bias training that we did - both of you guys were in that - there are studies that show that when you have diverse people working in an organization or in a community, it actually improves business performance because you've got more innovation, you've got creative, different types of ideas, and it enhances your problem-solving ability as well. So when something comes up, if a problem arises, you've got people who can look at that situation from different aspects and be able to share different potential solutions. And you come out with a better solution when you've got a diverse team working on it. So I agree with you 100 percent. What questions should I have asked you that I didn't ask?

Angie Salazar: I think, like, for us, we want people to know who we are. And it's like, I think the biggest misconception originally is that we're Mexican. And, you know, even when it comes to our food, our culture, our holidays, all of that, it's just so different. And I just, you know, sometimes it's like nobody really knows, but they just automatically assume. And I feel like that's probably one of the biggest things is that the Hispanic culture is so huge and people just really don't know who we are. You know, like, our food is more like Caribbean, you know, European, African. We're more of the Caribbean type. You know, it's a tiny little island with a lot of great people.

Jackie Rucker: And the island itself is diverse. So, yeah. I have friends who are Puerto Rican. Some look like me, have afros. I mean, it's a really diverse place, but a very rich culture. And like you said, the food is different and people don't realize that. What about Argentinians?

Veronica Simms: Well, like I say before, we have a lot of influence for Italy. So we do have a lot of the same type of food, but we also eat a lot of steaks, so we do eat a lot of meat.

Angie Salazar: Sounds like we're going to have to go eat at her house.

Jackie Rucker: Yeah, that's what I'm thinking.

Veronica Simms: We do have a lot. Like I said, mostly from Italy and then a lot of steak. That's the main thing that we have.

Jackie Rucker: Is your dialect of Spanish different from, say, Angie's or Melissa's in terms of words that you pronounce and things like that.

Veronica Simms: Yes, it is. Even within the same country, like here as well, you know, in the north they speak a different dialect than the south. I come from a very big city in Argentina. And of course, things are different in the way that you're raised. So I would just identify myself more like a city girl from the way that I was raised. And so, yes, the ways that we talk and the dialect, it varies based on which part of the country you are from.

Jackie Rucker: Okay. And then, Angie, one other question for you. So were you raised in the Hammond area or did you grow up somewhere else in the states?

Angie Salazar: So I was born and raised in East Chicago. East Chicago pretty much was all minorities. My father, when he came here, he started working at the steel mill. We were a steel mill family, worked every day of his life. I don't even think my dad ever even called off, like he literally just went to work every single day. And I think as, you know, me being raised here, my father would talk about back home. But he wouldn't talk about it so much. Like, if we'd visit Puerto Rico, he would show me my grandmother's house, but he would show me from afar, like maybe from up the mountain because we have a lot of land there. As are most recently visited the island a few months ago - I was there in May - I actually went to my grandmother's house. She doesn't live there anymore. My grandmother passed away years ago. And you know, when we were a steel mill family, my dad worked every day. So basically, we weren't in a type of family that went on vacations, we didn't do any of that. It was work. And it was, you know, my mom cooked a good dinner. We were, you know, my dad came home and it was my mom served my father and he ate and it was just that type. And we went to school and then we came home and it was very, you know. So sometimes you know, seeing like with this culture here in America, I feel like kids go on vacation, they do all those different things and they have all these different stories.

And so sometimes when I would come to school, like whether it was, you know, after summer vacation, they would say, "Hey. What'd you do during the summer?" And sometimes I would have to make up what I did because I never went on a vacation, you know, because my dad always worked. So the moral of the story is that I always had some sort of resentment for my father because I felt, like, why didn't we do that? You know, and I always felt like I was deprived of something. And when I went this most recent time, I went with my cousin and he showed me my grandparents' house and then my dad - I have 15 brothers and sisters, all from the same parents - and when he showed me the house, he said, "Well, let's go to the back." And we went to the back of the house. There was a room of four walls that were outside. And he said, "That was where your father laid every night."

Jackie Rucker: Wow.

Angie Salazar: And so I said, "Man! What do you mean?" And he said, "Well, there wasn't enough room in the house for your father." And I see this room full of rubbish and just, you know, a hammock where my father laid and I just think to myself, "Wow. All these years, Angie, you're worried about a vacation. And your father gave you a beautiful home, a roof over your head, shoes on your feet. He gave me everything he never even had. I yet, I was more, you know, being around the American culture, you automatically think it's more, it's more, it's more. But it's not, you know, it's just simple and it's just like what your parents give you. So at that point, I really just took a lot of pride, and I shared that story with my father on the day of my birthday because I wanted him to know that I finally knew the truth. My father never even owned a pair of shoes. He walked to school miles away from his home, barefoot just to get to school every day. But yet, I had 15 or more pairs of shoes in my closet. I had, you know, back in the day, I mean, I had everything. So I feel like the Hispanic culture, also, we're simple people, you know. And when you come here to the states, you know, it's just so competition. So much, not enough, not enough, want more, want more. And that's not how it is on our island. You know, it's very simple. It's about family, work ethic and just being very loving and kind and helping your neighbor. And so I feel like there's a huge difference and I had to learn that. At 40 years old,

Jackie Rucker: But that's very important, though, I mean, because family and a solid work ethic and the fact that he did all of that to make sure his family was taken care of.

Angie Salazar: Yeah, and I was worried about a Disney vacation. Like, what was I thinking? All this time, my father gave me what he never even had, and it was just as simple as a roof over my head. You know, but I think that in this culture, in America it's all about keeping up with the Joneses. It's all about what's better, what's more, what pair of shoes, you know, so much competition. Even in coming from, you know, you can come into a community with lots of poverty, but people are still standing in line for a pair of Jordans, just like what? None of this makes sense. And sometimes you just get to realize, like, you get caught up. And I'm so glad that I dig deeper in my roots and then I know the truth of my culture. And that humbles me so much. I'm very, very proud of who I am, and I am very proud to be Puerto Rican.

Jackie Rucker: That's beautiful.

Veronica Simms: I don't relate to her in the sense that, in my experience, we came when I was 24 years old. I came with my husband and my daughter. She was four at the time. And I understand everything that you are saying, because the main idea is just to provide a better future for our daughter. So that was what we were trying to do. to give you an idea, this monitor from my computer, it's bigger than my TV, so I can give you an idea how amazing something so basic as, you know, as a TV that everyone, you know, says, "You probably have one in each room here in America" or something. But what I'm trying to say is life is very different overseas and you will rarely (understand that) unless you experience (it). Because, I have to say it was very challenging learning another language, raising the kids by yourself. At least you, Angie, you did have your family around. I had nobody. Nobody except for a couple of neighbors to reach out to as needed. But again, is a very difficult, very challenging, very trying times. But I guess the main goal is just to provide a better life for the future for our kids. And work is very important, of course. And family very important to try to develop the community as a society needs to to get ahead and and really succeed in here. I'm very grateful for the life that this country provided for myself, for my family, my kids. My daughter is actually going for a master's in Chicago University. My son graduated from high school, so we're really trying our best every single day and they know how important it is to be, of course, a hardworking person, of course, being a, you know, an honest person and always try their best. Your hardest. But I can relate to you because, you know, we have very difficult times as well. In the beginning, I mean, my only great time 20 years ago was just going to McDonald's for a hamburger. So can you see how different life is? But I'm very grateful fir the opportunities and the life experience that we had. For sure, change and shape your life.

Angie Salazar: But the main thing that we and I think Veronica have is our foundation. And I think it's what makes us who we are today, our foundation and our roots and our culture. I feel like we're able to diversify this entire world and we can relate to it to a certain extent. And we make sure that doesn't consume us too much because we still know where we came from and we don't forget. My daughter actually works for the company. Bianca Salazar is actually a banker for Teachers Credit Union. I brought her over because I'm like, "You got to come join TCU!" But I just feel like knowing your solid ground in your foundation and your culture and all of that, it really does help you so much because it's just, it's so much more, you know? We definitely have a melting pot here, that's for sure.

Jackie Rucker: Thank you, ladies, for sharing with us today. I really encourage you, if you've got ideas or suggestions on how we can share culture, especially once we can get over this pandemic hump and get to a point where we can do some more face-to-face things, I'd love to be able to share the richness of the cultures that exist within the credit union so that we all can learn from one another. And I really appreciate you spending time with me today on this call.

Veronica Simms: So how did you learn something from us?

Jackie Rucker: I did. I did. I learned, and right now I'm kind of hungry because I'm thinking about, "do I want this food that kind of has a Caribbean flair to it?" Or a steak is sounding really good right now too.

Veronica Simms: Oh, I'll feed you some arroz con gandules, I can make you some jibaros sandwiches, I can make you some mofongo and she can make you some awesome steaks.

Jackie Rucker: Yes, yes. So I am. I am looking forward to in the future being able to have some face-to-face events where we can share diverse foods and learn more about the cultures. So I appreciate you guys sharing with me today. And again, thank you so much for all you do for TCU.

Veronica and Angie: Thank you, Jackie.

Jackie Rucker: Be sure to join us again for another episode of TCU Diversity Talks. Have a great day.