Honoring family both near and far, product manager Monica Prudencio shares key pieces of her Hispanic story.
You know you’ve hit the work life jackpot when your coworkers and colleagues start to feel like true friends. And you know you’ve struck friend gold when your community of same-ethnicity neighbors takes you in as family.
That’s what happened to Envisionit Product Manager Monica Prudencio while growing up in Chicago, 4,300 miles from her Bolivian relatives. Monica experienced first-hand how immigrants create their own families, working to keep their ethnicity alive by honoring their heritage.
This year, as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to October 15, we spoke to Monica about her Hispanic upbringing, challenges, traditions and heroes.
First, what do you do at Envisionit? How long have you been part of the team?
I’m the Product Manager for our Engagement Multiplier client, which is an employee engagement platform for small to midsize businesses. I’ve been with Envisionit for almost 7 years.
We’d love to hear about your ancestry. Where are you from? Where are your parents from?
My parents immigrated from Bolivia to the United States in 1964. My father, a medical graduate at the time, was pursuing specialty training because Bolivia did not provide these opportunities to doctors. Originally, my parents had planned to stay for a year, but all of that changed when their hard work and determination started opening the doors to more opportunities. Four kids, six grandkids, a group of lifelong friends and 57 years later, they still call Chicago their home. I know it wasn’t easy for them, and they sacrificed so much, but I see how proud they are of their journey, how proud they are of their kids and grandkids and how much they still love Bolivia.
What was it like growing up in America for you?
I grew up like every other kid in the U.S. (oh, the awkwardness of middle school), taking it day by day, but was it challenging because my parents were immigrants? Not really. I mean I was very aware that we were “different” than ALL of the other families at my elementary and middle school because we were the only family who spoke another language, but from a very early age, I had become aware about where I could be an American (school) and where I could be a Bolivian (home), and it just worked out.
Raising my own family now, and seeing my kids grow up, I think it all comes down to acceptance.
Looking back at it all, I am blessed to have been raised not only by a loving and supportive Bolivian family but an incredible American community of kids, parents and educators that embraced me for me.
What do you love about your Hispanic heritage?
For me, there’s nothing more that I love about my heritage than family, friends who become family, food, music and being passionate about life. My parents weren’t the only Bolivian medical students who moved to the United States in the late 1960s. There were many others and they all found themselves family-less. After many years of calling on each other and supporting each other, they eventually created what is known as the Bolivian Friendship Club. Yes, an actual club!
Close to 30 families joined by agreeing to pay annual dues and to take on roles such as president, vice president and secretary (it was the 1970s). The dues were used to pay for celebrations such as New Year’s, Christmas, Carnival, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and summer vacations to cottage resorts in Wisconsin or Michigan. We would gather as any family would for birthdays, marriages and everything in between.
These other families became my family – my tias (aunts), tios (uncles) and cousins.
As kids, we shared similar experiences as being first generation Americans. And at the center of all of this calamity was food, delicious homemade Bolivian food: salteñas, empanadas, pastelitos, buñuelos to name some favorites. And there was music, most notably my Tio Juaco and his classical guitar singing playing boleros and quecas late into the night with some occasional dancing and a ton of laughing. How I long for those nights.
Who do you look up to as leaders in the Hispanic community?
There are many leaders in my immediate community, but there is only one at the top of my list: my mother. Growing up, I was aware that my mom sacrificed a lot when she immigrated to the U.S. but I don’t think I truly understood and embraced what she sacrificed until I became a mother myself. Let’s make this clear, she left her family for what she could only imagine could be a better future for her future family. It was never about her, it was about my dad and us, always sacrificing, always giving.
She continues to sacrifice and give today, it’s the fabric of her life.
I’ve been so lucky to raise my two boys near my mom. Her continual love, support and guidance (many times unsolicited, yet always welcomed) is like no other. There have been many moments, big (a graduation) and small (stopping for ice cream with the boys), where I pause and reflect about her. My mom, the woman who cherishes family more than anything else in this world, was never able to truly share the everyday moments of raising her family with her own mother because of distance.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about honoring the Hispanic past, present, and future?
The Hispanic heritage that I know is the one taught to and experienced by me. It includes my parents, my brothers and their families, my sister, my husband (who is Chilean by the way), my kids and my mini-Bolivia. It includes my American friends who accepted me and became my family and I theirs.
After I married, I struggled with the idea of “giving up my last name” but it was for different reasons than you may think. One – I like my last name and I’m proud of it. Two – changing my last name means I lose an identifier back to my parents and their story. Several years ago, I was at Costco renewing my membership when the woman behind the counter noticed my last name and started telling me her father’s story. It turned out he was my father’s patient and how my mom and dad were so gracious to her father and his family.
As parents, we often get to hear stories about our kids. But as an adult child, we often don’t get to hear stories (from random strangers) about our parents – especially if you no longer have the same last name. Nothing makes me prouder than to hear stories about my parents, who immigrated 57 years ago this month, and how they have left a long lasting impression on their community. What they created continues to be passed onto future generations, my kids and their cousins, all speaking Spanish and learning about Bolivian food and culture. It might be a little different than how I was raised but the foundation is there.
To learn more about the people of Envisionit, see our latest employee spotlight posts here.