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Facebook researchers share stories of resilience for Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month

Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate and honor the Latinx community, elevate underrepresented voices, and hear people’s stories of resilience. As a company, Facebook is celebrating by launching new app features, providing resources and support for Latinx small business owners, and adding new Latinx-focused content on Facebook Watch.

To mark the end of Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked four Facebook researchers to share their own journeys and how they celebrate their roots. Through their stories, they illustrate the value of mentorship, intersectionality, community, and resilience for underrepresented minorities in the research community.

Celebrating your roots

At Facebook, we encourage everyone to bring their authentic selves to work. For Nicolas Stier, Co-Director of Core Data Science (CDS), that sense of pride was inspired by his peers in academia.

“I’m an Argentine-born Latino who moved to the U.S. at the end of the nineties. As a new immigrant and a young person, my first reaction in a new culture was to try and assimilate as much as possible. That first reaction allowed me to get a sense of my surroundings, the norms, and the culture of the people around me. However, I eventually noticed people around me were from a diversity of countries and cultures. This reinforced pride in my own culture and made me want to share who I am with my new friends. After all, my identity and roots are an important part of me, and they have shaped my values in life.

“As I was in college pre-internet, I had a very incomplete understanding, to say the least, about how to pursue studies abroad. I had the luck of meeting an Uruguayan-born academic who had been invited to teach a class in a Latin American Computer Science Summer School. After some time working together and exchanging emails, he saw my potential and offered to cover housing and give me a stipend so I could spend six months with him and his group doing research in France. Through that experience, I came to understand that things are indeed possible if one works hard. That gave me the courage to apply to PhD programs in the U.S.

“Celebrating Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month and other diversity-related events is important because it brings us closer together and helps raise awareness of other minority groups and their perspectives. As a company, we must continue to increase diversity so Latinxs and other underrepresented minorities have a stronger voice.”

Finding your voice

Fostering an inclusive environment is an important part of reaching our “50 in 5” goal, which aims to increase our workforce to at least 50 percent underrepresented people by 2024. Marisol Martinez Escobar, a UX Researcher at WhatsApp, shares the important role that mentorship has played in her career so far, as well as her story of resilience.

“At my previous job, when I was starting my career, I kept following my parents’ advice: Work hard, keep your head down, don’t rock the boat. And those can be great in a way because they help to build community and relationships. But they can be barriers to success as well. I was lucky enough that I had mentors and champions who supported and elevated my voice, and told me to have confidence in my expertise, my voice.

“Through them, I understood the importance of advocating for myself and being more vocal. Because these mentors understood me culturally and where I was coming from, they were able to recognize the ways I needed to grow and offered a safe space to do so.

“I’m a queer Mexican immigrant, and I came to the U.S. when I was 19. I think the Latinx community is a very resilient group of people. I grew up seeing how my family overcame challenge after challenge with very few resources and a lot of humor. And I see this in our Facebook community as we rise to the occasion to become better people, to create a better culture inside and outside of Facebook.”

Acknowledging the intersections of identity

Latinxs are the largest ethnic minority in the U.S., with Hispanic, African, and Indigenous heritage rooted in North, Central, and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Pablo Barberá, Research Scientist at CDS, comments on the diversity inherent in his community.

“One of the aspects of the Latinx and Hispanic community I’m proudest of is its broad diversity in terms of race, country of origin, traditions, and culture, and how our unique differences are embraced and celebrated.

“As someone who recently immigrated to the U.S., [I think] Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month is a powerful way to celebrate and honor past generations of Hispanic and Latin American descent, and to learn about their important contributions to the history and culture of this country. It is also a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the systemic disadvantages that many members of our community still face today, and to take action that can promote equal access to opportunities.

“I celebrate my roots by giving back to the community. In my previous position as a faculty member at University of Southern California, I made an active effort to offer mentorship opportunities to first-generation Latinx college students. I feel it is so important to acknowledge my privilege and all the help I myself received earlier in my career by paying it forward.

“At Facebook, my current research examines how we can make our platform a space where everyone, no matter who they are, feels empowered to actively participate in political conversations. In this work, embracing my roots means making an active effort to understand the diversity within our community, and how our products should consider those differences to make everyone feel welcome.”

Keeping our communities safe

At Facebook, we are committed to building a product that supports and uplifts marginalized communities, especially when safety is involved. Ignacio Contreras tells us what motivates him in his role as a UX Researcher in Community Integrity.

“A lot of my personal motivation to keep communities safe at Facebook comes from having a strong sense of community myself. This comes directly from my culture, where our community becomes family and we feel a responsibility to keep it safe, healthy, and thriving. My Latinx background has been an asset in what I do, but also in the way I relate to others and help them succeed.

“When I think about working in the tech industry, coming from an underrepresented group can put you at a disadvantage. There are a lot of obstacles we have to overcome to get where we are and keep succeeding. While it’s important to acknowledge that truth, we can’t let it dishearten us and defeat us, so resilience is key. Some of the most resilient people I know who inspire me every day are my Latinx peers and people from other underrepresented groups.

“I immigrated to the U.S. from Chile with my family when I was 18. As a researcher, I am naturally curious about the factors that shape people’s behavior, and culture plays a crucial role. Because I lived half my life in Chile and half in the U.S., I have personally experienced how our behavior is shaped by culture and the way we are raised. The influence of my own family and culture is evident in how I approach the work I do at Facebook and what I value in life.

“Having been raised in a different culture than the one you have to live and work in often comes with challenges, so it’s important to at least take some time during Latinx and Hispanic Heritage month to reflect on the positives and celebrate our culture and the diversity of the Latinx experience in the U.S.”

Tackling the world’s most complex technology challenges requires a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences. Diversity enables us to build better products, make better decisions, and better serve our communities.

We are proud of our attention to the Latinx experience across our apps and technologies, often thanks to the many Latinx people who work at Facebook. However, there is still work to be done. To learn more about our diversity and inclusion efforts at Facebook, visit our website.

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