In 2014, Cid Wilson, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), made history by becoming the nation’s first Afro-Latino CEO of any national Hispanic organization. The Afro-Latino identity is a deeply rooted identity among many U.S. Latinos. As Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, Cid Wilson reflects on what that identity means to him and so many Americans—and the work that has yet to be done to achieve a society where diversity is fully embraced.
Throughout my life, I have had to explain who I am and what it means to be me. As a deeply proud Dominican American, Latino, and Black man, I was blessed to be raised in a family that taught me to embrace and be proud of who I am—an Afro-Latino. In my early childhood and teenage years, I had a hard time fitting in outside of my Dominican community. While those that knew me embraced me, others questioned whether I should be included, either because I was Black or because I was Dominican American.
When the board of directors of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR) selected me as the organization’s next president and CEO in 2014, I didn’t realize until a few months into my role that I had broken new ground as the nation’s first Afro-Latino CEO of any national Hispanic organization. The overwhelming majority of people embraced me upon my taking this role. We always remember, however, those few moments when we encounter individuals whose reactions ranged from perplexity to disbelief, in a negative sense. My first year was when I interacted the most with those who didn’t understand how a Hispanic organization could hire a Black man to be their president and CEO. But that didn’t stop me from championing Afro-Latino inclusion. I am thankful that I have a board of directors who sees me for my skills, leadership, and strong commitment to Hispanic inclusion, which includes Afro-Latinos.
My experience is not that different from the millions of Afro-Latinos who live in the United States and who also experience bias, conscious or unconscious, either at their companies or in their local communities. Because I had a hard time fitting in when I was a young kid, I adapted a belief that I would stop trying to fit in and instead focus on standing out. By standing out, two things happen. First, you make others acculturate to you instead of assimilating to others. Second, you show pride in who you are.
Today, I use these experiences to share with Corporate America that Hispanic inclusion must include Afro-Latinos. I also share that companies must acculturate to us, not ask us to assimilate to their existing corporate culture, which may not be inclusive to Afro-Latinos.
Afro-Latinos experience the same challenges that both African Americans and Latinos face. We know what it’s like to be discriminated against, name-called, or the target of hate because we are Black. We know the feeling of anxiety when we see police lights behind us as we drive our vehicles, known as “DWB” (driving while Black). We know what it’s like to be called racial slurs. We also know what it’s like to be discriminated against, name called, and targeted because we are Latino.
This year’s tragic killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have led to a heightened focus on what African Americans and people of color have known for generations: systemic racism and racial injustice is widespread in our country. Afro-Latinos know all too well that being Black in America means continuing to fight against systemic racism and racial inequalities.
In August 2020, HACR hosted a webinar called Afro-Latinos In Corporate America: A Conversation On Race. It was among the most viewed webinars in our organization’s history and led to numerous companies adjusting their Hispanic Heritage Month plans to add the topic of Afro-Latino inclusion for the very first time. In forums where I spoke on these issues, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with many Afro-Latino attendees feeling that they were being heard for the first time, and those who were not Afro-Latino looking for ways to become better allies.
We must all learn about our histories, including the sad history of slavery and colonialism throughout Latin America, including its negative impact on indigenous people. By understanding each other, we can better recognize each other’s diversities, illuminate the path to inclusion, and champion an American culture of belonging for all. For millions of Afro-Latinos, BLACK LIVES MATTER!
We have come a long way, but we have a long way to go to achieve a more perfect union, where, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his “I Have A Dream” speech, everyone can “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Let us all remember that Hispanic inclusion is Afro-Latino inclusion. By being intentional in creating a culture of belonging, we come closer to a society where differences are embraced, and we can all be ourselves.