ORLANDO, Fla. - The assignment: "write a personal essay about what your heritage means to you."
A most daunting task when my heritage is...well, EVERYTHING.
The older I get, the more I realize it's the foundation from which EVERY single aspect of ME has grown:
My appearance... “Have ya seen the size of my hips and my hoops?”
My work ethic... “Me? tired? NO! I''ll go! I'll do it!”
My parenting style...
"Si no comes, me muero.”
“ Donde vas? Con quien? Yo voy tambien.”
“Y todos llevamos un sweater por si hay frio."
"If you don't eat, I'll die.”
“Where are you going? With who? I'm going too.”
“And we're all bringing sweaters in case it's cold."
This essay would be a book if I shared every detail of what my parents endured when they left Cuba in 1962 to start their lives here. Culture shock, poverty, language barriers, jobs that came and went, fear... so many hardships I often wonder how they survived.
But here's what I find extraordinary: they didn't just survive... they thrived.
Yes, our family's story is an immigrant story and something to reflect on during Hispanic Heritage Month, but it is also a beautiful and quintessential AMERICAN story.
I will soon mark 20 years in television news in Florida, where I was born and raised; one of the most talked about states in the country. I do the news in the heart of a place where national stories are born, a place all candidates need to win and a place that’s growing and changing at warp speed… and Latinos are at the heart of it all.
Yes, I took journalism classes, I know how to work under deadline, I know the job… but the foundation for everything I do in my career is very simply what I absorbed growing up Latina.
My stories are presented through the lens in which I was raised... with fairness, respect, compassion and love. But it's not always easy.
I have been underestimated and misunderstood.
I am an over-the-top, emotional Latina who talks too much, cares too much and loves too much and asks way too many questions.
Over the years, people in my professional and personal life have called me "too much." I talk too much, I care too much, I feel too much, my stories are too long. I pour a lot of heart into everything and some people assume that quality equates to weakness. I have worked hard to prove I am so much more than one big ball of "emotional Latina woman."
BUT HERE'S THE CATCH:
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, I was one of the first reporters on the ground there. I remember being on the plane thinking “I’m gonna be tough, I’ll show them storm damage and I’ll ask tough questions.”
And I did! I did!
I confronted the Governor about the delay in aid, I had tough questions for FEMA, but the stories viewers remember are the ones of me with abuelitas sending messages to family members here in Florida letting them know they were OK.
And maybe it was because of those trips to Puerto Rico or maybe it was because I turned 40 or because I’m a mom now, but I'M NOT SORRY ABOUT WHO I AM.
I am an over-the-top, emotional Latina who talks too much, cares too much and loves too much and asks way too many questions. And those are the exact qualities that make me strong. Those are the qualities that have helped me succeed.
Maybe what I brought to the table was exactly what they needed.
Hispanics- no matter where we're from- are at a pivotal moment right now; the numbers back us up. Our community's growth is creating an awakening: corporations, boards, cities and counties, political parties, advertisers... they know they need us. BUT they don’t know what to do with us. They may be apprehensive because we are “so much” and we are NOT easily defined and put in a box.
So, let’s show them. Let’s lead in our work places… our way.
With our hearts on our sleeves. With the love and compassion and over the top- ay dios mio... bendito- passion of our mothers and the toughness of our fathers.
I left central Florida briefly to work in Fort Myers for my first full time anchor job. During my first week, I heard chatter about how I landed the job because management needed to “diversify the newsroom.”
I called friends… “tu sabes lo que me han dicho en este lugar?”
I thought, “how dare they imply I got a job for any other reason than the quality of my work?”
I was SO offended.
But looking back, it doesn’t bother me anymore. Maybe they did hire me to diversify the newsroom and maybe doing that was one the smartest things they ever did. Maybe what I brought to the table was exactly what they needed.
So IF we ever feel that way: “Am I in this boardroom or did I get this job because Hispanics are kinda in demand right now?”
Mi gente, maybe that’s the case.
And maybe we just say, “you’re welcome.”
And then we go on to lead and own whatever role it is… our way.
Is there fear? Always.
But here’s how I get past it.
I have a mental exercise I do.
I literally take a moment wherever I am, whatever I’m faced with… and I visualize my mom.
FOUR generations in this photo: my mami, my sister, my girl, my nieces and grand nieces. ❤️ Spending the weekend with this crew is the best gift of all. 🌸 Grateful- today and always. HAPPY MOTHERS DAY to ALL who play the role of MOM. #HappyMothersDay #mothersday @wftv9 @lex.karin @alyssa.k.sharpe @luv.lyv.and.les @arleeneutin
26 years-old at an airport in Havana in 1961. She about to board an airplane for the first time in her life. She’s holding my brother. He’s 10 months old. She’s holding a small bag with a couple of items of clothing.
She had a watch but an airport official took it from her. She said good-bye to her parents, her brothers, her sisters, everyone she had ever known.
My dad was already in New York.
They reunited and rented a room in an apartment with other newly arrived immigrants. She was assigned one shelf in the refrigerator. She knew no one and did not speak one word of English.
When I visualize this and I see both my parents then and now… I become SUPER WOMAN.
Because if they had the courage to do that and thrive from that… I can do anything.
They are my greatest source of empowerment.
They are not the people I read about or saw in a documentary; they are mine.
Whatever pushed them to leave their families and face the unknown lives in me.
Most Hispanics have similar stories in their not so distant pasts. Maybe it's your parents or your abuelos. We should tap into their stories. That’s where our strength lies. It is what sets us apart. Maybe we are TOO MUCH because we come from places of strength and sacrifice some people can only begin to understand.
I am eternally grateful for that place and I don’t ever want to be anyone else.
To contact Nancy about her personal story, email her at Nancy.Alvarez@wftv.com.
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