Written by: Jorge De Jesús & Maya DeJoie
Our latest conversation amplifies the voices of our Hispanic and Latino staff: Andrea Olivera (Junior Art Director), Chad Villarroel (Account Director), Denise Monasterio (Account Director), Eduardo Sarmiento (EVP/Creative), Jorge De Jesús (Senior Copywriter), and Sue Raaz (Senior Digital Art Director). Representing Venezuela, Bolivia, Spain, Peru, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, their life experiences are a testament to the true diversity that exists with being Hispanic or Latino.
The stories from this group are as interconnected as they are different, with appreciation for community at the forefront of their values. Whether their current realities were shaped by the impact of communism, dictatorships, and failed governments in their beloved home countries or less extreme circumstances, they all remain determined in achieving the best life possible for themselves and for their families.
Hispanic culture is widely embraced though food, music, and communal traditions that carry through the generations, but our staff reminds us that its pride and joy is deeply rooted in resilience and belief. Belief that we do what we can for each other because it’s what’s right. Moving beyond politics and regimes to encourage personal pursuits meant to expand views of the world.
How do you affiliate with your Hispanic/Latino heritage?
Sue: I’m from Venezuela and arrived here in the States three years ago. I had been to the States before and went to an American school when I was nine, but I was 14 or so when I learned English. [Our family] also got in touch with American culture during that time through holidays like Halloween, Easter, and Thanksgiving, so I kind of always felt that connection to the culture.
I always imagined I would go to school in the States but never actually live here because I’m so connected to Venezuela. I really tried to stay in my country, work for my country and give it my all, because I felt that it needed me, but it got to a point where it was pretty dangerous. So, our family decided that America was a safe place to start over. While that was going on, I found out that I was pregnant, and that made me rush the decision even more and leave everything, understanding that would probably mean we would never go back. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but we are lucky to have a second chance to freely live and maintain our culture in the U.S. It is something that connects us with our origins. At home, we try to maintain our customs, food, music, traditions and connect with our family even if they are all in different countries.
Chad: My dad is from Bolivia, centrally located in South America. He moved to the U.S. when he was 17 or 18 to pursue an education and tennis professionally – so he’s been here for over 50 years. For all intents and purposes, he primarily identifies as an American and with American culture. I think, in many ways, part of that stems from challenges he faced growing up in Bolivia, their corrupt government, lack of resources, etc. I think that, when he came [to the U.S.], he was just so overwhelmed by how much better it was here that he immediately saw himself as American. So, there aren’t many aspects of the [Bolivian] culture that we really have now.
There are moments where I feel Bolivian. When I’m around my dad and his family, they’ll speak Spanish and make some of the authentic dishes like salteñas. Hearing the conversations and those smells coming from a kitchen are moments where some of that culture bubbles up.
Denise: I was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our family has been there for generations. We identify as Spanish, but also New Mexican. When it comes to identifying with my heritage, being from New Mexico is a big thing, and it’s something I hold on to. I moved to D.C. in 2007, and it was a complete culture shock. But I really try to infuse our Hispanic and Spanish culture and traditions here at home with my kids.
Andrea: I’m Hispanic-American. Both of my parents are from Lima, Peru and moved to the U.S. shortly before I was born. In Peru in the late 80s, there were rising MRTA terrorist groups, and it became difficult and dangerous to continue running the family business. So, the whole family moved to America. I was born in Miami, but we established ourselves in Jacksonville a couple years later.
At times, when I was younger, it felt strange identifying as Hispanic or American. Around Hispanics, I felt I wasn’t “Hispanic enough” because I wasn’t raised in Peru, and my American accent is strong. Around Americans, I was only considered Hispanic. I have since really embraced and feel proud to belong in both cultures. While I wasn’t raised in Peru, I was raised by the Peruvian culture in the states.
Eduardo: I was born in Cuba, and I came to the U.S. by myself when I was 26 years old. I don’t always like talking about nationalities because I think that limits the individual, but when I talk about myself, I say I’m Cuban-born and American by choice. I appreciate and love the culture [of Cuba], but I wanted to evolve and create my own family [in the U.S.]. There’s a lot of intentionality behind moving to a different country and behind my decision to be in America. I express that I am Cuban-American because I bring both of those cultures together while embracing many other cultures.
At home, we only speak Spanish. My son speaks English, Italian, and Spanish. I want him to be able to communicate with our family that’s still in Cuba and have direct access to his roots. We also maintain the food, culture, and language at home.
Jorge: I am half Puerto-Rican on dad’s side and half Cuban on my mother’s side. I came to the U.S. six years ago, and it’s funny because I had to come here to finally be called Puerto Rican, since I was normally the one who had to tackle translations to English. Beyond formal schooling, most of my proficiency with the English language is probably thanks to Hannah-Barbera cartoons. Although I was born and grew up in PR, I spent a LOT of time with family members from the Cuban side so there’s definitely plenty of Cuban flavor to my upbringing. Still, home is always going to be Puerto Rico, and home has been hurting for a long time. There is still a lot of corruption, general inefficiency, and problems with infrastructure, which are among several reasons why we moved stateside. Regardless, I’ll always be proud of our Island and our people. And although I’m not a fan of the government, my Mom being Cuban and knowing her exile story, as well as those of so many family members, makes me well aware of how fortunate I was to be born in PR.
What was your experience moving to the U.S. and adapting to a new life?
Eduardo: I didn’t know English at all when I came to the U.S. Not being able to properly communicate and convey my thoughts was very challenging and exhausting at times. I remember going to a fast food restaurant, asking for food, and not understanding what people were saying to me. Experiences like the aforementioned fueled my determination to really learn the language. I learned English by going to Miami Community College, talking to people, and watching late-night talk shows every single day.
Language became an essential tool to access the culture and grow professionally, in addition to many people trusting me and giving me a hand. I always advise immigrants to master the English language, so they can flourish beyond their communities and expand their possibilities.
Sue: I still feel a responsibility to keep helping my family who are still in Venezuela and do what I can for my country. My house here [in Jacksonville] is like a bubble. Most of my family are here and we spend a lot of time together. We all speak Spanish and feel like we’re back at home in Venezuela. I do feel like the U.S. has opened doors for us, and I don’t have any regrets. I feel happy and safe, I’m grateful to worry about ‘normal’ things, and I’m glad that I’m in this position where I’m able to help others.
“It’s important to us to try to do as much as we can to explore our culture and push our children to learn about it.” – Denise Monasterio
Do you ever desire to feel more connected to your heritage? If so, how do you try to connect?
Denise: I remember asking my mom on several occasions as an adult why she didn’t teach us Spanish. I took Spanish in college, but when you’re older, it doesn’t come as easy. Her reason was that, when she was in school, there was a big push in the public school system to get away from Spanish, and they were told not to speak it. So when my parents raised us, it was more English-focused. I picked up things here and there when I was little, but I still wish I spoke Spanish fluently.
We do have lots of different Christmas traditions that are tied to Hispanic culture, and I eventually want to take my kids to New Mexico. My husband did something for me that I didn’t even know I wanted. When we got engaged he really wanted to get married in Santa Fe, New Mexico. That was one of the greatest gifts that he gave me, because our entire wedding was infused with Spanish culture.
Chad Villarroel: The language barrier really is the biggest thing, I wish I was able to speak Spanish. There is an element of being disconnected from both Bolivian culture and family. When we visited Bolivia, I definitely felt like I was missing out on something, primarily because of the language barrier.
So for me, it’s more about making sure my nephew and my new niece who’s on the way are exposed to their younger cousins who are from [Bolivia]. One of my older Bolivian cousins lived with my family here and there while he was in college, and that bridged some important gaps for my brother and I. So, making sure my niece and nephew have access and exposure to their Bolivian family is something I really prioritize.
Andrea: I’m constantly gaining more of the lush Peruvian culture. It’s a beautiful mix of Indigenous and European traditions with several other cultural influences (such as Chinese and African). This mix is what makes the food culture so rich as well. I really enjoy learning to cook the Peruvian way and my family is constantly finding excuses to get together over food.
“I feel American culture is a melting pot. It’s everyone from everywhere, and I love that. My neighbor [in Jacksonville] is from Cuba, and that would never happen in Venezuela. It’s a beautiful experience to mix your traditions from your own culture with American traditions.” – Sue Raaz
What about your culture do you value the most, and how does that differentiate from American culture?
Andrea: There are so many different cultures underneath this umbrella of being Hispanic. As a whole, I think there’s this desire to help the people around you that are in need, because I think that Hispanics have an understanding of the struggles that you come across when you first come to [the U.S.], like struggling financially or learning the language.
I’m one of four kids and my parents were struggling financially, but they took in a Colombian family and hosted them for a few weeks, and that memory is ingrained in me because they were willing to expand the little that they had to help someone else, and I believe Hispanics hold that mentality close as a community.
Eduardo: Immigration provides a unique perspective. It allows you to be aware of nuances and points of view that can be difficult to process without going through that change. When you change your environment, it becomes a part of you, and it also illuminates the richness of your previous country. I didn’t pay much attention to Salsa growing up, but when I listen to it now, I feel an urge to dance. I love Cuban culture, but I also love Mexican culture, and I listen to Rock ‘n’ Roll and incorporate what I think is best about America. So, I really just embrace everything that makes sense for my life at all times, no matter where it’s coming from.
Denise: When I moved [to D.C]. from New Mexico, I really struggled to find a church. In New Mexico, it’s much more upbeat…infused with music, liveliness and camaraderie. To this day, I’ve never found a church that makes me feel like the church at home. In New Mexico, we have fiesta season every year at church with the community. Here, you go to church every Sunday, and that’s where the sense of community ends. I think about it from a family perspective because it’s my husband and me, and our kids. I was raised by the community growing up, and here [in D.C.], it’s much more compartmentalized where you have a role, as a parent, or as a teacher, etc. Unless you really know someone like a neighbor, there’s not that larger, community “family” feeling.
“The life we live here in America is the minority compared to other countries around the world, and we can’t take what we have here for granted. Never let an opportunity, big or small, pass you by.” – Chad Villaroel
Outside of work, what’s an aspiration or project you are working towards?
Sue: I think that in general, being more connected to myself and connected with my creative side is something that I think was affected by the entire migration process that I lived through. Today, I feel more connected to my artistic side, and I’m eager to learn and explore new skills.
Chad: Music has always been a passion for me and something that I continue to do in some capacity or another. My band, Carmen, is starting to get back out in the world and play shows after a hiatus during the pandemic. Staying consistent with writing and performing is definitely at the top of my list of priorities.
Eduardo: A book of drawings and short poems/thoughts that I have been working on will be published at the end of the year. I’m also working on a personal exhibition of large and small works on paper around the theme of drawing as territory and drawing as a way to attend life.
Denise: I just completed my Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. While somewhat related to work, this was something I personally wanted to obtain. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but never had the adequate time to pursue it.
Jorge: Beyond being a copywriter, I am also a published author with 19 titles so far and more to come. Most of my work is in English, and something I’ve been working on is releasing more books in Spanish or having them be bilingual. I also want to share the experience of being Hispanic whether it’s in poetry or non-fiction. When people think Hispanic or Latino, they have a set image in their minds. I’d like to challenge those stereotypes by researching my heritage more and showcasing a diverse array of Hispanic and Latino characters, expanding that definition, and speaking to what being Hispanic can be like.
“At BG, everyone is reaching for the same level of conscientiousness — whether it’s attentiveness to social issues and/or celebrating diversity and inclusion.” – Andrea Olivera
What has being at Brunet-García meant to you?
Sue: Being at BG has been a completely nourishing experience, I never thought that I would be able to be in a new country and that my knowledge could help the people of that country in such a direct way! It is a great feeling. I feel that I have an impact, and my work helps people. That is why I put a lot of passion into what I do. At the same time, it has given me the opportunity to develop many professional and personal facets, grow in my skills, and feel part of a family.
Chad: I think the familial nature of BG is something that is hard to find and a huge value-add to everyone who works here. Whenever the whole team gets together, it’s hugs and good company with people who you care about and people who care about you.
Jorge: Being part of BG means that the work I do matters. By being here, I can contribute to work in a way that directly connects to Hispanic people so that the positive impact reaches further. I’m very thankful that BG pushes for true inclusivity and that beyond awards and winning contracts, people REALLY care about the work and its impact. The conversations are never about how we can win an award. They’re about how we can reach more people and create work to the best of our abilities. Winning awards is a testament to the craft and love that goes into every project, but the goal is always to do the absolute best work we can and make a difference.
Denise: I am most appreciative of the flexibility and focus on work/life balance that BG provides. I’ve worked many places where 12-hour days or having to work on weekends was the norm. At BG, I feel that there’s a focus on self-care and acknowledgement of employees’ lives outside of the office.
Andrea: I most appreciate being able to work somewhere that challenges and invites me to grow creatively but also ethically, as a person. At BG, everyone is reaching for the same level of conscientiousness — whether it’s attentiveness to social issues and/or celebrating diversity and inclusion. Until now, I’ve never worked anywhere that truly cared about my background (past professional background)— but my cultural background and my personal strengths, struggles, and well-being. It’s reflected outside of work as well— overall, I’m healthier, happier, and more confident since working at BG.
This conversation proves that, no matter the circumstances, if you dare to dream and pursue it with all you have, you will find purpose, peace, continued curiosity, and the will to continue helping others.