One of the reasons I was most excited to join the Peace Corps was the expectation that I would be surrounded by like-minded peers, it is safe to assume that it takes a certain type of person to serve.
As a Latina I fall into the 29% of PCV’s whom identify as minorities although a majority of volunteers (62%) identify as female. During my time working with Williams-Sonoma I was never exposed to discrimination based on gender or ethnicity; the occasional “All-American” customer would complain that they couldn’t understand my accent but that is customer service for you. I wish I could say the same for other “night jobs” I held in order to have enough money for school expenses. There were times when I was alone in a fast food chain restaurants with a male management member working the drive thru window and he offered I perform sexual favors for a raise or better schedule. Or when I tried to get my foot in the world of business by applying for secretarial positions and being offered the job if I slept with the interviewer. I never complained and chose to simply walk out that door and skip the HR complaint because I was simply too tired and spread thin to fight.
These past experiences had backed me into a corner when I was just a scared girl trying to do what was necessary to get ahead in life.
Based on the Peace Corps “rumor mill” and interactions that I have with some volunteers it is apparent they are oblivious to the birthright privileges they hold in society and how many minorities never get the chance to sit eye to eye and be part of the conversation with them.
When you hear a “juicy” piece of gossip that has to do with two volunteers hooking up and decide to share with other friends, are you taking the time to see the adverse effect that this might have. To someone like me, who has been sexualized time and time again in the professional atmosphere it might be extremely culturally and personally insensitive. Different things empower different people, there is absolutely nothing wrong with consensual acts between two adults but there is a problem with the way different people perceive these interactions. For some it might feel like a harmless piece of gossip because the social effects they would receive is close to nonexistent, but that is not the reality for many Latina women. How could you feel otherwise if you’ve never been subject to the level of embarrassment a minority has had to endure?
During group meetings with 17 different volunteers experiencing 17 very unique experiences, voicing your opinions can be hard. I would consider myself someone who likes to contribute to group debates especially when I have substantial documented field work to back my claims. I also have a reputation for having a very tell it like it is attitude and dry sense of humor. I take immense pride in ruffling the feathers of people who have never been confronted with new points of view. In the work place, voicing concerns and speaking openly is often praised for males and deemed bossy and out of line for women.
Other times, opinions are brushed off to the side because it makes some feel uncomfortable. Maybe the real question we should be asking is why it makes some so uncomfortable when presented with the blatant advantages and tolerance threshold over other peers?
In a past meeting while trying to voice a concern over a peer review I got literally hushed about 3 times by a male volunteer who had already contributed a fair amount of feedback. Everyone watched awkwardly as 2-3 male volunteers blatantly spoke to voice their concerns even though I was making consistent active attempts to voice my findings. It caught attention of a member of administration who finally stood up for me and said I had patiently been waiting to speak. The peer review kept on going even after the incident was acknowledged and we just moved on and I was backed up into a corner yet again.
Exercising my right to be part of the conversation with privileged peers is something I have worked very hard to achieve and am never going be apologetic or sugar coat the realities that I face.
My point is that not all women or men like to take on leadership roles, but I happen to be a Latina woman with a big mouth who is a business professional with a background in management. I am not asking men to speak less, or women to speak more I’m asking for a level playing field. I have to admit that one expectation I had about my Peace Corps service was not to have to deal with this kind of discrimination. For a long time I was embarrassed to talk about the things I had to put up with to reach my professional goals but I’m finally in a position to represent minorities and actively address the hurdles we face everyday. My beliefs and experiences aren’t intended to make anyone feel bad I just so desperately want privileged Americans to become aware of some of the problems minorities face .