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Actress Sofia Vergara arrives at the Los Angeles World Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Magic Mike XXL' at TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on June 25, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Latinas brand identity and the power of your Hispanic accent

Actress Sofia Vergara arrives at the Los Angeles World Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Magic Mike XXL' at TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on June 25, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Actress Sofia Vergara arrives at the Los Angeles World Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Magic Mike XXL’ at TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX on June 25, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic) She has made her Hispanic Heritage a selling point of her professional career.

We want to incorporate our Spanish heritage as part of our own brand identity but how can we sell this concept if we are so different?

In a recent panel discussion, one of the ladies in attendance shared her story, leaving the audience in thought initially but then, immediately after, provoking a reaching and vibrant debate. The reaction was not only due to the fact that her experience was very compelling but also because it resonated with others in the room, a room full of naturalized American citizens from Latin-America, Eastern European, and also some African countries. I have to say that most of them were women – a few men too – brave and determined, very used to leading from the trenches.

The story is as follows: Juana and her younger sister, Debby, started a business in fashion design and currently they are trying to create their own label. Juana immigrated to the US in the 80s crossing the Mexican border with her widowed mother. Debby, however, was born and completed her studies in the United States.

They are sisters, but they don’t look alike. Besides having different family names, their body language and physical complexion is very different, and while Juana still has some difficulties speaking English in public, Debby, as happens to most third generation Hispanics, barely speaks Spanish.

After her introduction, it was clear that Juana was having problems coping with change and dealing with her emotions. “We want to incorporate our Spanish heritage as part of our own brand identity but how can we sell this concept if we are so different?” she asked the audience. “And how can I help my sister if my English is not good enough?” she concluded, almost in tears. Juana´s story would give us themes for a few columns but I will concentrate on talking about identity and accent since I have had similar experiences.

What happens to Juana is very common among people who navigate within different cultural identities. We often face the question: Who are you? What part of your identity is stronger? What do you prefer to be, this or that? Well, it is not a matter of what we choose to be. We don´t even need to choose. From my point of view, it is much simpler than that. We just need to acknowledge our roots. For a leader, a manager, or an entrepreneur – to everybody, actually- the ability to reflect how we got where we are gives us a bigger global picture. Our learning adaptability will reflect our past, nurturing our creativity. And this is priceless in this multicultural world.

Through the years, I learned that the question, “Who are you?” is much related to, “Where are you?” Where are you as aWHO ARE U in Latina brand person, as a professional, physically, ideologically, spiritually…in that particular period of time in your life? We all change and evolve to become the sum of multiple “who’s”. One perhaps with more influence than others, but at the end, all of our accumulated identity “who´s” count and are present, consciously and unconsciously, when we take action and make decisions.

Exactly the same thing happens with accents. Natasha, a British friend with Bangladesh background, who works as a conflict mediator, often tells me that when her negotiations get stuck – “I deliberately use the power of my British accent when I want to make my dark skin invisible”.

Today we will not talk about the geography or pigmentocracy of accents and how they affect us, positively or negatively, in our public profile. However, as we all stated in that meeting with Juana, the best way to control the perception that others may construct of us, through our accent, is embracing it. As my speech therapist, Judith Weinman, often tells me, “Our accent is like an oral fingerprint containing a lot of information that we give away when we speak, and those that are listening to us decode and interpret”.

We all have accents, and any accent acts like a muscle of our identity, stretching or relaxing our power in view of others. It’s true, in a way, it’s our social label. However, unless it’s imperative for work, instead of changing it, it is better to embrace it. As we all told Juana, “Don’t worry about your accent.” Speaking one or more languages is, per se, an achievement. It is better to concentrate on how we talk, what we say, and when.

A little advice on how to pleasantly deliver messages in English, with an accent:

  • Do not speak too loudly. To Westerners, a loud voice indicates anger, poor education, and does not create a comfortable atmosphere to interact and debate. It makes us also less credible.
  • Do not interrupt. Sometimes, hearing is more important that being heard. It will improve your strategic reaction, and your levels of intuition and empathy. Besides, if you understand, then you can insist on being understood.
  • Don’t speak fast, otherwise nobody will be able to follow you, you will need to repeat and will lose influence in the group.
  • Try not to speak flat, in a monotone, if you want to attract the interest of others.
  • Sound enthusiastic, especially if you are trying to persuade your audience.
  • Be concise and add some stories and humor into your speech. It helps to engage with your listeners, and if your English is not perfect, it is a good trick. People will remember your eloquence rather than your mistakes.

I would add just one more thing: Be you. Being genuine is always a guarantee for success.

Latina entrepreneur waiting in an airport

5 Valentine’s Day ideas for Latina entrepreneurs on a business trip

Latina entrepreneur waiting in an airport

If you are a Latina entrepreneur who travels frequently for business, chances are you might be away from your loved one on a special occasion like Valentine’s Day. Many people are on a business trip by that time; you are not alone. Being lands and seas apart on this very day can be daunting for most couples.

Eating alone on Valentine’s Day when you are travelling for work, with an extremely love-charged aura in every restaurant you visit and a huge crowd of couples all around would make you miss your loved one even more. You’d probably avoid looking at people holding hands and kissing. It might just trigger second thoughts about your new career, or regret having accepted this new position in which you need to travel for business constantly.

Before you just swear not to travel again, here are some real life ideas that will suck the glam out of you. It just takes a little bit of preparation but can be done

1. Be open to a sweet surprise and trust your better half
Five years back, a friend of mine was really upset about her business trip because she had to be away from her hubby on Valentine’s Day. However, after coming to her hotel, when she unpacked her suitcase, a heart shaped box of her favorite chocolates awaited her with a handwritten note on top. She still finds that note and box of chocolates to be her favorite Valentine’s Day gift of all times.

2. Hotel accommodation team could be of help
If you won’t be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day together with your significant other, there are no obstacle for showing how much you love and care for him/her. Five days before their flight, call the hotel staff where your “better half” will be staying. Ask them to make a customized special arrangement right before he or she reaches the hotel. When they’d open the door, they’d have a surprise gift, rose petals, hand-written card and a scent of his favorite perfume all around the room. Here are some nice Valentine’s Day gift ideas and a reliable shipping service that will send your gift ahead of time. Make sure the hotel knows they will be receiving it.

Romantic still life with champagne, strawberry and roses for Latina business woman

3. A mighty escape
A couple I know, married for more than twenty years, really wanted to spend time together on Valentine’s Day. Knowing they both would be away on a business trip their separate ways, they simply planned a long weekend gateway, starting from the business places they were working at and meeting each other at a location they have longed visiting since they started dating. They hired a local travel agency to make the arrangements and coordinate their respective trips and stay. Now that became a really special celebration for the couple who long intended to visit that place together.

4. Communicate love through cyber space
Taking advantage of all the ways we can connect over the Internet these days using our phones or tablets -I’m crazy about my new IPad!-  traveling couples might decide they can simply spend the evening talking to each other. Most important is keeping the conversation romantic! Keep it out of the everyday domestic routine or telling each other about work. Talk about what made you fall in love with each other or just simply go down the happy memory lane of your relationship. Dare each other to remember first kiss or first date, first funny encounter with the in-laws or any other comforting memory. Order room service with champagne in each other’s hotel room and drink, eat or let your imagination play your evening together!

5. Go a little out of the way to make it happen
If you know you both will be traveling at the same time, dare your spouse or significant other to prepare a mutual surprise. Count on the hotel crew to help you prepare yours, they are always willing to help on these special occasions. If there is a time difference, plan to have it at a time that works for both. It can go from staying in to taking each other out to a local restaurant, a spa and massage session, ordering each other’s favorite meal or buying tickets to a special event.  Combination of all these options is also accepted!

Facial massage in beauty spa for Latina business woman

Now what do you think would be your best options?

Do not get upset if everything doesn’t run the way you expected. The unpredictable can also be fun! Just keep in mind that Valentine’s Day is a celebration to pamper yourselves and to show each other’s love; do not try to run the occasion as you run your business!