How I Turned My Immigrant Identity Into A Professional Asset

Estimated reading time ~ 3 min

Throughout my childhood, young adulthood, and even my early years in the professional world, I tried my hardest to deny my immigrant heritage.

I was born in Mexico City and lived there with my younger sister and parents until I was five-and-a-half years old. My parents were both high school teachers living fairly comfortable lives, but they wanted more – both for themselves and their children. They knew that the United States was the place to go in search of endless opportunity.

When we arrived, I resented my parents for sending me to a new school where I had no friends. I still remember walking with my lunch tray, hoping someone would invite me to join him or her.

Perhaps this is why I viewed my past as a liability. I wanted to run away from being the outsider, the foreigner, and the one who just simply did not belong. Eventually, however, I matured and learned to embrace – and ultimately champion – the very thing that I had tried so desperately to hide from others.

Nearly a decade ago, a friend asked me to imagine my dream job and, for some reason, it hit me: I wanted to write to America’s Hispanic community about public policy and politics. In that moment, I made a conscious effort to quit running away from who I was and to avoid trying to become someone I was not. My happiness depended on it.

Getting my website (geared toward the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S.) off the ground took years of hard work. But it was incredibly rewarding to build something from scratch, especially something that was so uniquely personal to my immigrant experience. Today, I am an opinion columnist writing for a number of publications about public policy and politics. And what really makes my work stand out is my unique perspective as an immigrant and a conservative. In fact, some of my best writing has come from leaning on my Mexican heritage to make sense of our country’s immigration laws and how we can foster a better working relationship with our neighbor to the south. What I once perceived as my biggest weakness is now my biggest asset.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that I am not alone in this. Other professionals in my community, most notably Arthur Brooks (the president of the American Enterprise Institute, an influential think tank in Washington, D.C.) have embraced their vulnerabilities as well. Brooks, unlike most of his Ivy League-educated colleagues, is a graduate of a virtual college. For years, he tried hard to avoid disclosing this information in the Washington, D.C. circuit of fashionable cocktail parties, but eventually decided to come clean and embrace his humble academic roots. His outsider perspective has made him a best-selling author. His outsider perspective emboldens him and makes him an essential contributor.

Now, it’s your turn. Ask yourself: What is your biggest vulnerability? What do you accentuate and what do you hide or minimize when introducing yourself to others? Write down your “weaknesses.” Be incredibly honest with yourself and explore why you fear what you do. Why do you consider these things weaknesses? Is there any way that you could turn your weaknesses into sources of strength?

These are not necessarily easy or comfortable questions. But that’s exactly the point of the exercise. If you embrace the process, it can be incredibly cathartic. Don’t hold back.

I’ve learned to overcome my fears about my identity as an immigrant and actually convert that insecurity into an opportunity to have the career opportunities I do today. It’s pretty remarkable, but when I think more about it, I realize it’s also entirely American. This is, after all, a country that thrives on people reinventing themselves.

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