Undoubtedly it’s going to happen. You’re going to walk into a room – a new job, a networking mixer, an interview, a classroom, anywhere really – and you’re going to be the only minority in the room. Chances are it very likely won’t be a huge deal to anyone besides yourself. You’ll look around – perhaps immediately or maybe after a while – and notice that you are the only individual in the room who might be categorized under the umbrella of diversity.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and more and more this is becoming less of a reality for many of us as many institutions work towards achieving a more diverse workforce/student body/membership base/etc. The reality, however, is that this is still happening everyday across the U.S.
For us, it’s become something we have grown to be very comfortable with over the years. Of course, I won’t say that it was always easy. The first couple of times it happened to me I wasn’t prepared at all. For some reason it seemed everyone was wondering what this Latino was doing in the room. In my mind, my vocabulary and dialect were nowhere near where they should have been. Holding a conversation past “hello” and “how are you?” was pretty much impossible. My clothes were not as nice and every time someone spoke to me I told myself they were just doing it to be nice. It was almost an unbearable feeling to be quite honest. Depending on what the scenario was I teetered between either saying nothing at all and just nodding along or finding any excuse to walk out of the room and change my environment immediately.
Still, in every environment somehow, some way I always managed to talk myself off the ledge of self criticism and self pity. I’d have to tell myself that I had just as much right as anyone else to be in the room and repeat over and over in my head “you can do this.” Eventually it got easier and the self doubt became less threatening in new situations. People opened up to me and every new experience seemed to lead to new and unexpected opportunities. Specifically in my education and personal career this was true.
It seemed the more I pushed myself, the more people got to know me, the more my abilities and skills began to define how others viewed me and my capabilities. Sure, I was still the only minority in the room in some cases, but that reality was no longer the reality in my mind and my outlook. It became easier to navigate everyday situations where I was in fact the only person of color in the room. It wasn’t that I was suppressing my ethnic identity either. Being Mexican-American is something I am very proud of and denying that in anyway is right near impossible for me. It was never necessary to do that. A lot of the self doubt was all in my head.
And I guess that’s the point of this post. Nobody ever told me how to navigate these experiences. I never read any books or heard any audio or video accounts of being the only minority in the room from others. I did my best and I tried in my own way to overcome these challenges as they were presented to me along the way. It would have been very helpful to know that others had dealt with these same situations in their own way. Who knows how many awkward and embarrassing moments that would have saved me!? Pero así son estas cosas.
So my advice if you’re going through the same self doubt, don’t let it get the best of you. Remember that who you are is not defined by what demographic you may fall under. Represent yourself well. And represent your minority well as well. The impression you make could very well impact the thoughts and feelings others have about you and others like you in the future. And don’t ever feel the need to deny who you are.
Tell the voices in your head to cut you a break and do exactly that. Just be yourself, regardless of how many others like you are in any given room.
I know that feeling all too well. I grew to like the challenge and feeling afterward. Hey, were all and only humans after all. : )