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 Rosemarie Valdez, Regional Communications and Marketing Program Manager for the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico. We spoke with her about Hispanic Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.
Why is Hispanic Heritage Month important?
It is important to celebrate this month because we owe this to ourselves. If we don’t celebrate it, we continue working tirelessly every day without recognizing our contribution to everyone who surrounds us. We have to recognize what we have contributed so far; from our family members, neighbors and communities to the lives we touch across the country. We need to make people aware of what we have done in our society, who we are, where we want to go, who we have impacted and who we will impact next. It will also remind future generations of the people who walked in their shoes before them and paved the way so they could have an opportunity to contribute positively to their community.
How does your Hispanic heritage influence your work with the Red Cross?
My Hispanic heritage influences the “how” I do my work more than the “what.” The dedication and the commitment that I put in my day-to-day work is a representation of my heritage. The personal investment that I put in my work with the people we serve is the same investment that I put into my personal relationships. The “Dios te bendiga” or blessings I have received from people we serve when we are out in the community are as genuine and profound as the blessings I receive from my mom every day when I talk to her on the phone before I get to work.
Describe your experience during Hurricane Maria.
When people ask me about Hurricane Maria, I have to take deep breaths and gather my thoughts, since it is still an open wound to all of us Puerto Ricans that lived through it. It has been the biggest challenge I have faced yet; full of learnings and experiences that I never imagined I could go through. However, what has been the most amazing thing is that I was able to experience the most genuine and sincere expression of what being a humanitarian is. I saw it through our volunteers, who had experienced personal losses, and even lost their homes, and still helped others during that critical time.
I also saw this in the faces of the people we served who I hugged, cried and laughed with. I carried cases of water to the survivors I spoke with on the island and did a lot of interviews to make sure that everybody outside the island who was watching could see what the Red Cross was doing to help. I tried to be the best storyteller I could be, just to make sure that I was being truthful to what we were experiencing and what the Red Cross was doing to reach and help the most people we could. We went through a lot of hardships, but we all learned in the process. Today, we all are better; I am better because of it. And I am extremely grateful that I get to do this work for a living. I get to do good and help people as my current life mission, and I am so glad it is through an organization like the American Red Cross. As a humanitarian organization, we are all just regular people doing what we are supposed to do every day in our communities.
Where is your family from?
My family is from Ponce, Puerto Rico, which is in the southern part of the island. However, I have been living in San Juan for more than 15 years. I was born here in Puerto Rico, but I consider myself a great Caribbean mix since my dad is from the Dominican Republic and my mom is from Puerto Rico.
Why is your Hispanic heritage important to you?
It is important because my heritage is a combination of what my parents are, what their parents were and what has been carried on for centuries. It is important to me because I love who we are. I love the depth of our traditions. I love the strong bonds that tie us together as a family. I love how we express ourselves through music, food and art. I love how resilient we are when we face challenges or hurricanes that strike us to our core. I love how we get up and fight every day to be better and do good.
What special point of view has your Hispanic heritage given you?
My heritage has allowed me to see different perspectives since I have been able to spend time with my family in the Dominican Republic and here in Puerto Rico too. This mix of cultures has allowed me to see how we all interact, how we relate to one another and how we connect. The warmth I receive from both cultures is the same feeling I want to share when I interact with different people in my work.
What does it mean for you to give back?
For me, to give back is cyclical, never ending. Every day I feel someone helps me and I also help someone. Whether it is grabbing something that someone dropped on the floor or stopping everything I have in a moment to be there for the people I love in a really difficult time. I also think that we shouldn’t have to realize we are giving back while we are doing it because it should be an innate action for all humans. So I like that we give back without recognizing it in the moment.
What is one thing you’d tell your 20-year old self?
To not be too hard on myself when I fail. To cry, get it out of my system, but then realize that maybe that was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Like Rosemarie, you can make a difference with the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/careers to search for opportunities.