Hispanic Heritage Month: Juan Enrique Arreola
At GTreasury, we embrace the richness that diversity brings to our team and our world. This month is a time to honor the achievements and artistry that have shaped our society in profound ways. It’s an opportunity for us to learn, share, and celebrate the voices that have woven an integral part of our global tapestry. To kick off this month, we are honored to share our interview with Juan Enrique Arreola. Read below to discover more about Juan’s unique heritage, insights, and life experiences.
Q: Can you share a personal experience or story that reflects the significance of your Hispanic heritage in your life or career journey?
A: I’m a dual citizen, but most of my childhood was spent in Mexico. I immigrated to the U.S. and finished up high school here, so I was first generation. Personal identity was a challenge during those teenage years. The difference between where you come from in your childhood and then where you end up as an adult makes you wonder, as a Hispanic and a Latino, “What am I? Where do I belong?” For that reason, I think it’s really common for Latinos and Hispanics to dig into family history. My background is a mix of global ancestry touching all major continents, but predominantly Spain and the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico. The thing that’s unique about Latinos is there’s such a mixing of cultures. There are people with Spanish, European, Latin American, and indigenous bloodlines that are all intertwined. To be Hispanic isn’t just one thing, it’s to be a global citizen.
Q: In what ways do you believe your cultural perspective brings unique strengths and insights to the projects or initiatives you’re involved in?
A: Being bilingual and multicultural, my brain thinks in two different languages and my experiences are based on mixed traditions. Because of this, I don’t think in a straight line. Instead, I think in a spider-web formation, especially while problem-solving. There are many paths you can take to get from point A to point B. If I fail along the way, my brain immediately jumps to the next possibility, and I think multi-dimensionally about how to bridge the gap. So, there’s a very non-defeatist and unconventional way of thinking that comes with being multicultural; it’s a perpetual state of growth. At GTreasury, I focus on solving difficult foreign currency and interest rate problems for clients. My foreign currency and interest rate journey started when I was six years old in Mexico during the 1980s, a time when inflation and foreign currency fluctuations were rampant. I would receive 5 pesos for my allowance every Sunday and would look up FX rates to figure out where the U.S. dollar was at because the prices of the USD to the Mexican peso were impacting how much candy and arcade tokens I could buy. Outside of the U.S., FX is a constant thing that people think about because it impacts their livelihoods so directly. I can still remember the USD:MXN rates from the late 80’s – that’s how I learned to multiply and divide, well before I learned English.
Q: Have you faced any challenges or biases related to your heritage, and how have you navigated or overcome them?
A: When I first moved to the states, one of my first teachers refused to call me by my name. In Mexican and Latin cultures, it’s common to go by your first and middle name – for example, I am Juan Enrique (distinguishing me from my father, whose name is also Juan). So, I introduced myself as Juan Enrique to my teacher. He completely anglicized my name and called me John Henry instead. When you’re young, that can really mess with you. I remember thinking, “Maybe I should just go by John Henry.” Luckily, I had a math teacher who was a Latina woman herself, who completely course corrected and said, “There’s no way I’m letting you call yourself that anglicized name.” I also struggled with going from being a straight-A student in Mexico to struggling in America due to the language barrier. The same teacher that refused to call me by my name tried to push me into ESL (English as a second language) classes. I could see that this group of students would not have the same opportunities, so I refused to join. I stuck it out through the struggle and went from a kid who could barely read English to #3 in my class by graduation, thanks to some great mentors. On another note, the luxury of making mistakes is not afforded to many immigrants. On more than one instance, as a minor mind you, I was illegally detained and held at gunpoint by the authorities. That taught me early that when the stakes are so high, you cannot make a mistake. Because of this, you learn how to navigate certain situations and to control your emotions when they run hot. Those experiences change your perspective, you learn that work pressure is a privilege. Furthermore, as an immigrant, you must also go above and beyond to compete with others. If the overperformers are putting in 110%, the immigrant must put in 111%.
Q: Could you share any significant traditions, foods, or customs from your culture that hold special meaning for you?
A: Mexicans have a lot of traditions but the one I love the most is Dia de los Muertos. It’s a time to remember your loved ones who are no longer with you, and it’s been amazing to celebrate with my kids. We put out pictures of our loved ones who have passed away and cook special meals for them. Your kids get to learn so much about your family history and you get to share memories of people that you love. For example, my kids and I will go shopping and get a cigar for my grandpa, special candy for my other grandpa, and pick up my aunt’s favorite cheeseburger. It’s such a special way to honor the memory of your loved ones and keep them alive. Your heart rebreaks during this time, but you must feel the grief to cherish their memory, it’s a beautiful sadness.
Q: How do you think organizations can better support and celebrate Hispanic employees beyond Hispanic Heritage Month, fostering an inclusive environment year-round?
A: I think it’s very impactful when companies sponsor employees’ memberships into external affinity groups. Affinity groups are powerful professional organizations which are especially important for marginalized groups as they focus on career development. We are in an environment where Hispanics make up such a big portion of our population, yet there is significant underrepresentation across any corporate space. In an affinity group like the Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting, you can grow your network and experience significant professional development.
Q: Are there any books, films, or artistic works that you believe provide a deeper understanding of Hispanic heritage and would recommend to others interested in learning more?
A: I think that some of the recent animated movies like Coco and Encanto have been awesome at putting a Latino in a protagonist role. Latinos are used to being seen as the antagonists in movies, so Coco and Encanto do a great service by giving a positive flavor and vibrance to what these cultures mean to so much of the population. There’s also a fantastic Academy Award winning movie called Roma which is about growing up in Mexico City in the 1970s. For anyone who is into hip hop or rap, my favorite rapper is called Residente. He has a documentary where he gets his DNA tested and travels the world, tracing his roots through the music of his lineage. He covers Asia, Africa, and more. It really speaks to how there is no single definition of being Latino or Hispanic.
Q: As we commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month, what message would you like to share with colleagues and peers about the importance of cultural diversity and inclusivity?
A: Being Hispanic or Latino is not a monolith, we come in all shapes, sizes, and varying points of view and opinions. The same way you can be different types of Caucasian, Asian, or any other background, you can be different types of Hispanic and Latino. I happen to have Mexican Tarahumara and Spanish roots, but someone else could be Germanic South American with Incan roots. To be Hispanic is to be multicultural. Hispanic heritage is vibrant and diverse within that cluster, and all that diversity just adds to the power of problem solving for organizations such as ours. There’s a quote I like which states, “You’re a unique and perfect snowflake, just like everybody else.”