This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Hispanic men and women who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross fulfill its humanitarian mission in communities every day. This week, we’re highlighting AJ Suero, Regional Communication Program Manager of the Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania Region. We spoke with him about Hispanic Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.
How and why did you get involved with the Red Cross?
Ever since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico (back in 2017), I felt a strong desire to help people. My church sent a group of volunteers down, and I was disappointed that I was not able to do anything to help. I told myself that I really wanted to find a way to serve the community, and a year later I was here.
How long have you worked at the Red Cross?
I celebrated my one year anniversary back in August. I’ll never forget my first day. Instead of participating in an orientation, I was sent right away to respond to flooding in the region. I hit the ground running, and have been serving people ever since.
Why is your Hispanic heritage important to you?
I feel profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in a Latino household. My earliest memories are a mashup of two distinct cultures which make me a Hispanic-American. On Saturday nights for example, we would watch the Golden Girls and then flip over to Univision to watch Sabado Gigante. I grew up understanding how to connect with people who had come from different walks of life, and that skill is so vital to humanitarianism.
Why is Hispanic Heritage Month important?
I believe that Hispanic Heritage is about cultural identity. We gain a better understanding of ourselves through our connection to our culture. There are so many different nationalities – Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Salvadorian, Guatemalan, Colombian, the list goes on and on. All of them are different in subtle and not-to-subtle ways, but to many outsiders we are all one thing. The beauty of Hispanic Heritage is that there is so much diversity even within a room of Spanish speakers.
How does your Hispanic heritage influence your work with the Red Cross?
My heritage is a huge component of my work with the Red Cross. In my city, and my region, I strive to connect as many people as I can to the mission of the Red Cross. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet Latino business people, media members, students, adults and seniors who can recall the impact of Cruz Roja on their life while still living in their country of birth. There’s an instant connection – a familiarity and a sense of comfort when someone knows that you are Latino, and there is also a great sense of pride on their part in knowing that there are Latinos serving in a very visible position.
What does it mean for you to give back?
Giving back is a way to honor those who have contributed to my growth and professional development. Sometimes it can be as little as a smile or a word of encouragement. The things that seemingly don’t cost a lot can go a very long way, especially when someone has gone through the worst day of their life.
What is one thing you’d tell your 20-year old self?
I would tell my 20-year old self to spend more time studying people and less time playing Madden. Methods and technology change, but human nature is driven by the same basic hierarchy of needs.
How would you encourage others to get involved with the Red Cross or in their communities?
My advice would be to do what you can. Some people can donate, and that is always welcome. Others may not have that flexibility in the budget, but can volunteer. There is a feeling unlike anything else when you are able to touch the mission of the Red Cross, either by helping staff a shelter, or helping at a blood drive or helping a family that’s been through a traumatic event. When you can go to sleep knowing that you’ve helped someone – that truly is the greatest feeling in the world.
Like AJ, you can make a difference with the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/careers to search for opportunities.