In my liberal pinko-commie state (that's desperately slashing education and medical benefits to children and veterans) it's Cezar Chavez day. In a state where there are more hispanics under the age of 18 than any other ethnicity it's probably a quietly underrated day. Ironically Chavez was from the state of Arizona where people perceived to be "brown" are losing their rights every single day. Even here, latinos are a silent soon to be majority. They do not serve in public office in the numbers you would expect, perhaps a result of their not achieving political parity as a voting block quite yet. Despite the ever increasing numbers you won't see them in your university system or working as educated professionals alongside you. However I see signs of hope in community events, in the homogenizing culture that brings us all together and pulls us all away from our roots so we can be closer to one another, and in days that are used to recognize what this silent near majority has contributed to our society and our culture.
As an engineer I thought it would be worthwhile to drop a line in recognition of people who don't get recognized except on days like this where we are reminded to think of them. It's a failing of mine as well and no holiday or single point is going to bring us to parity but one day is better than no days.
On that note, here's a snippet from a magazine last year on three Latina Engineers. They all work for AT&T and as far as I can tell are computer engineers, but besides being featured on a "women of color" magazine cover where would you expect to see a Latina engineer so prominently featured? Shayla Rivera is a somewhat well known comedian but also does keynote speaking events as the "funny rocket scientist". She backs this up with an aerospace degree and years of experience with NASA and the space shuttle program (of course she left the field, leaky pipeline and all).
If you're looking to get involved there's the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Of course you might be somewhere where the local chapter doesn't have much going on, so you can always start your own thing. I attended an event at Northrop Grumman a few years ago and was impressed to hear they have a whole lot of internal employee groups that are run by the employees and for the employees and encouraged by management (of course this was outside looking in, I don't want to paint an over-rosy picture). I've read a few stories where one woman decided she'd take a few other women at her university out for lunch once a month just to pick their brains and get their perspectives. I'm impressed by this and impressed by the groups at Northrop that had started recreation groups but also people of color groups and latino organizations within the company. It takes a lot of guts to network and stand up and be proud when you are probably "the other" in your professional environment so kudos to those folks.
There's also the Mexican American Engineers and Scientists society and the National Society for Hispanic Professionals which gives this good advice for mentoring latino students. Ask yourself if you've done your part this year and what you can do better in the future. Could you make a group where young people can get involved and network? Could you participate in groups like this that already exist and volunteer your time? If you're in a position of power have you thought about mentoring young students who don't look like you even if they haven't explicity asked you? If you're in a position to hire have you made sure you've done what you can to recruit from underrepresented groups and stood up for minority candidates in the hiring process?
Here's to a year where we make strides and make this world a better place for everyone. We can't let a whole crucial group in our society to be forgotten and ignored day after day whether by ignorance or self-interest. This is our community and by working together we can make it stronger.