What I learned from being mistaken as “the help”

I’m grateful to have a career that allows me to experience new people and new places. At times, I have the privilege of representing my organization at various international events. I’ll never forget the very first international event that I attended. I had been told that the event was formal and to anticipate joyful festivities that would last until late hours of the night. I wasn’t sure how the night would roll out, but I showed up anyhow, sporting a dark grey pin-striped three-piece suit with a purple collared shirt and a matching tie. I quickly set up my informational booth, as I usually do, with flyers, pens, lanyards, sign-up sheets, and other swag. I made a quick run to the restroom, took a look in the mirror, straightened my tie, made sure that my hard-part was on point, and returned to my table with smile, ready to greet people.

I stood by my table ready to represent my organization as I had been trained to do. However, much to my surprise, as the attendees entered the building, several of them walked up to me and handed me their coats asking me if I could hold on to them while they attended the event. I struggled hard to keep a straight face. I had dressed my best in attempt to give a professional representation of my company. Somehow, the attendees were assuming that I was the help. I held in my laughter, the best that I could, while explaining to them that I was there to provide information about my company. Each of them stepped back, embarrassed that they had assumed that I was a butler-of-sorts.

I took a moment and tried to figure out what was making people assume that I was an employee of the venue. I took a quick glance around and I got smacked upside the head with a dose of reality. The only other Latinos in the venue were either working in the kitchen or part of the wait staff. The attendees of the event were oblivious of my name, title, education, and other pedigrees. All they saw was my skin color and they assumed that I was part of the wait staff.  Here is what I learned from this experience.

  1. Most people start to form an opinion about you before you even say a word

I’ve come a long way from my days on the farm. I’ve spent countless hours investing in personal development. However, when people see my smile they don’t see a man who has earned an MBA and is working on a second graduate degree. They don’t see the time that I’ve invested working with minority groups to help individuals and communities experience success. What most people see is the color of my skin and they automatically associate it with all the stereotypes associated with the Latin community. However, before you get tempted to check-out of this conversation, let me share what else I learned…..

  1. I have the privilege of teaching others that not all stereo-types are true

I have decided to represent the Chicano community well, wherever I go. The people that mistook me for “the help,” that night, were genuinely as embarrassed as I was. However, it opened the door for us dialogue. I treated the experience as an uncomfortable icebreaker. Once they realized who I was, and what I represented, we both had a good laugh. I was able to talk to them about the services that I offer and share parts of my life story with them. They quickly treated me as an old friend and invited me to eat with them and dance the night away.

  1. I don’t want to stereo-type others

That night I had an awkward experience. However, there are people who experience things like this on a daily-basis. I have Black friends that are dismissed as being too thug, Latin friends who are dismissed as being uneducated, and White friends, who are upright and just, but yet are labeled as being racist, simply because of the color of their skin. I want to take part in putting an end to this nonsense.

Thankfully, I don’t have anything scheduled that requires me to put on my suit for a while. However, next time that I wear it, I’m not just going to assume that people are going to know who I am and what I’m all about. Estoy listo para representar a la comunidad latina con respeto y orgullo!

Hasta la Proxima! Bendiciones!!!
John Garay