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MICPA CEO Bob Doyle Discusses Hispanic Heritage Month with Michigan ALPFA President

 

Juliette Antwan, president of the Michigan Chapter of the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) and Global IT Audit Manager at Aptiv spoke with me more about Hispanic Heritage Month, which is recognized from September 15 – October 15 each year and celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 (not on Cinco de Mayo (May 5) that some get mixed up) and September18, respectively. Also, Día de la Raza, an alternative to Columbus Day on October 12, falls within this 30-day period. 

 

Bob Doyle: In what ways is Hispanic Heritage Month celebrated? 

Juliette Antwan: There are different ways, that people celebrate. Locally, ALPFA does a joint event with other Hispanic Latino organizations in the area such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan (HBAM), and several different Employee Resource Groups (ERG)/ Business Resource Groups (BRG) within larger companies. We come together for a big festivity to celebrate our culture. We teach each other about the purpose of each organization so that, we might be able to help each other. It’s also a way to highlight, some of the contributions that Latinos have made in the US, such as the 50 most influential Latina women, creating role models for the next generation. We strive to build awareness and highlight positivity, teaching our children to be proud of their heritage, not hide from it.   

 

Bob Doyle: What are some things you feel people should know about the Hispanic or the Latino culture? 

Juliette Antwan: It's a very warm culture. Most people know family is probably number one, that it's important to us, making sure that we're taking care of our family. If you visit, you get absorbed into the group. It's very natural to feels like you're a part of it and you never feel like an outsider. 

 

Also, we're very expressive. In Mexico, at the office, you greet people with a kiss on the cheek. If you're meeting somebody and they seem really friendly and expressive, they're not trying to intrude. That's just part of the Latino culture, and it might be an adjustment for other cultures to embrace. That was one of the rude awakenings coming here. 

 

Bob Doyle: How are the terms Hispanic versus Latino or Latina defined? 

Juliette Antwan: I use them interchangeably, but technically, Hispanic includes Spanish speaking countries in Latin America and Spain. However, Hispanic, does not include Brazil or Portugal as they do not speak Spanish. Latino/a, includes all of Latin America, but not Portugal or Spain.  

 

Bob Doyle: How would you say your heritage impacts/has impacted your professional life?  

Juliette Antwan: I was from a small town in Southern Mexico and then moved to American suburbia so coming from a different culture and being exposed to a new way of life, has made me more thoughtful. I pay more attention to somebody's background when talking with others and that influences how I work with people in my current role at Aptiv, especially since we’re a global company. I have people that report to me in Poland and have found their culture to be very similar to mine. When I visited Poland, I felt like I was back in Mexico in some respects, very friendly and relaxed. Having that experience has made it easier for me to understand when they share family stories or how they work. I know that the work ethic is going to be strong, but I also know that family is very important. Making sure that we're balancing work-life is important and having a similar background, makes that easier.  

 

Bob Doyle: Who are some Hispanic professionals that you admire or those that you look up to? 

Juliette Antwan: Here in the metro Detroit area, I really look up to, JoAnn Chávez, senior vice president and chief legal officer at DTE and Monica Martinez, senior vice president of National Community Affairs for Comerica Bank. I think I'm very fortunate that they have reached those high levels. I have great admiration for JoAnn. She grew up in southwest Detroit, so she’s one of those true examples of growing up in an area where there are very low high school and college graduation rates. She was able to overcome all of that and has reached a very senior level at DTE, which is amazing. They are both so down to earth, give back to the community, and are there any time you need something.  

 

Bob Doyle: For those that want to learn more about the Hispanic/Latino culture, what would you recommend? 

Juliette Antwan: Reach out to organizations with your professional interests like ALPFA to talk to people. Visit restaurants, such as the more authentic cuisine in the Mexicantown area in Detroit. When you meet somebody, don't have assumptions about one’s culture. Have a conversation so that there’s an exchange of information, understanding of what’s important, and hopefully a breakdown of any negative assumptions.  

 

Bob Doyle: What is the focus of ALPFA? 

Juliette Antwan: The Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) was the first national Latino professional association in the United States, established in 1972. There have been other organizations formed since then that are very good for each of the different professions. But we're the oldest. We have 92,000 members across the nation and 45 professional chapters. We formed the Michigan chapter in 2007, which has over 1,000 members and I joined the chapter in 2011.  

 

Nationally, the mission is to empower and develop Latino men and women as leaders of character for the nation, in every sector of the global economy. In Michigan, reaching students, especially in the inner city, has been a huge focus the last few years. The graduation rate for high school in Detroit is about 30%. And college graduation rates drop to about 6%. We help educate students on what financial aid is available and how to graduate in four years vs. taking longer, which ends up more expensive.  

 

We also offer mentorship and networking opportunities to both our professional and student members, which provides job connections. 

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