An Olympic swimmer from Panama, a youth mentor born in the Dominican Republic and a district manager who returned to his native Puerto Rico to help after Hurricane Maria explain how they celebrate their unique cultures – and how where they came from shapes who they are.
Eileen: Passing on pride and heritage to the next generation
Director of strategy, Global Supply Chain, Seattle
Eileen, 40, represented Panama in three consecutive Summer Olympics as a swimmer, proudly carrying her country’s flag during each of the opening ceremonies. In the pool, she was nicknamed “La Sirena de Oro” – the Golden Mermaid.
She finished her collegiate career at Auburn as a three-time national champion. She’s spoken in front of the United Nations as a youth ambassador, the first Panamanian woman to do so. And the national pool in Panama City is named after her.
But perhaps her biggest and proudest title to date?
“My identity as a mother, a mother of two wonderful boys.”
Eileen feels a great sense of responsibility to pass on the language and culture to them, but sometimes, living in Washington state, her heritage can feel far away. So they try to travel to Panama, celebrate the Mes de la Patria (month of our nation) every November and eat Panamanian food – sancocho, empanadas and ensalada de fiesta, a potato salad for special occasions.
Eileen joined Starbucks in 2018 after working in logistics for 13 years in the telecom and automotive industries.
“I feel a huge sense of pride knowing that both my children have their two identities as American but also as Panamanian, that they are proud to be from Panama, that they are proud to speak the language – the Panamanian Spanish – and that they are proud that they are part Latinos living in America.”
Alexis: Giving back and embracing connections through coffee
District manager, Denver
Alexis, 39, is so passionate about Puerto Rican coffee that for the last 25 years, since he’s moved away, he’s had his family ship him beans from the island. Preparing Café Colao’ using the traditional method, strained through a piece of cloth, is part ritual and part identity.
It’s a “humble way” of making coffee, he says, that takes him back to his grandmother’s kitchen and reminds him of how coffee is consumed in Puerto Rico – five or six times a day in smaller cups, a quick break to connect with other people.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, it decimated many parts of the island and wiped out an estimated 80 percent of the coffee industry. Alexis spent five long days worried for his family before he was finally able to connect with them and learn they were safe. Several years ago, he returned to Puerto Rico to help plant coffee starts with other Starbucks volunteers.
“It was just honestly a super emotional way to give back to the island. … Culturally, we are very passionate and proud of our coffee. It’s like our little secret … The hurricane took a lot, but we’re not going to let the coffee industry in Puerto Rico be one of them.”
Lorena: Honoring her roots by helping others thrive
District manager, Boston
Lorena, 35, is working with local mentoring organizations and the Mayor’s office to help young people from tough backgrounds develop leadership and job skills. She’s motivated by the memory of how the community supported each other in the small town where she grew up, in the Dominican Republic, and the many peers and leaders who encouraged her during her career.
“I know that I couldn’t have done it alone. It took a village, and I want to be a part of creating that village for others.”
Lorena moved to the U.S. with her family, in search of better opportunities after her father died. But as a young mother, she experienced moments of self-doubt, thinking she’d disappointed those around her.
When she joined Starbucks as an assistant store manager 14 years ago, she worked for a store manager – a “tremendous leader,” she remembers – who believed in her and gave her the space to work through her mistakes. She found her confidence, embraced her community and started to “dream bigger than I had ever allowed myself to dream before.”
Today, she’s enrolled in college through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and is helping raise money for mentorship organizations, such as Mass Mentoring Partnership, through the company’s Neighborhood Grants program. She wants to move into more leadership roles to show others what’s possible.
“What brings me joy is seeing people just be proud of themselves, seeing people try something that they never thought they could do or accomplish, and seeing that light bulb just go off… it’s about making a bigger impact and changing people’s lives.”
See how Starbucks supports the Latinx community
One of our core values at Starbucks is to create a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome. That is one of the reasons why we have long supported both our DACA partners and all Dreamers.
In partnership with the Coalition for the American Dream, we have advocated for Dreamers and encouraged Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to provide a permanent legislative solution for Dreamers.
Explore this resource to learn how you can stand with the Latinx community
This free To Be Welcoming course from Arizona State University focuses on biases affecting Latinx peoples in the United States, introducing different terms, concepts, and conditions affecting Latinx experiences.