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VIBE brings Hispanic Heritage Month to life at Commerce

For those not familiar with it, Hispanic Heritage Month – which lasts from September 15 to October 15 – began as Hispanic Heritage Week, established in 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson. It was created to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain or Latin America. Ronald Reagan officially extended it to a month two decades later so that the date range not only included the independence anniversaries of seven Latin American nations, but also the Dia de la Raza holiday, on which the ethnic and cultural influences of Latin America’s Hispanic heritage are celebrated. 

At Commerce Bank, the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month is led by the members of VIBE, one of the bank’s four employee resource groups (ERGs).  VIBE (which stands for Value, Inclusion, Belonging and Equity) is dedicated to raising awareness of multicultural perspectives. Ramona Roth, a member of the bank’s talent acquisition team and one of VIBE’s co-chairs, says the month will focus heavily on education around Hispanic culture. 

“We’ll be sharing a lot of facts and information about Latin American history, influential leaders, meaningful quotes,” Roth says.

“Empathy starts with understanding, so sharing this kind of information brings all of us a little closer. It helps us learn that we have a lot more in common than we realize.”
Much of the information, she notes, will be shared via an app that serves as a “virtual water cooler” for Commerce team members. 

Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Hispanic Heritage Month programs will be virtual. “It will be a great month, but it’s a little bit of a shame we can’t have a get-together,” says Roth. “Hispanics love to celebrate, especially with food, and I would have loved to create an event where we gather, eat and learn. Hopefully we can do that next year.” 

Celebration is a big part of Roth’s appreciation for Hispanic Heritage Month. She says it comes from her own heritage; her paternal grandparents immigrated from Mexico and settled in Texas, where they raised 12 children, including her father.

“To me, this month means family, it means faith, it means food, it means fiestas.”
"I love to celebrate, and I appreciate any opportunity to do that in my work – whether we’re cheering on small successes, milestones or diversity. Celebrating multicultural diversity makes us wiser about what is both common and different, and it inspires value, inclusion and belonging. Having the opportunity to live this specific principle, as part of VIBE’s mission and Commerce’s values, is why I joined VIBE in the first place.” 

Roth has only been with Commerce since early 2019, but she knew even before she started that it was going to be an ideal fit for her because the company’s values so strongly aligned with her own. “Many companies have websites that say awesome things, but they don’t always walk the walk,” she says. “Commerce is a company that walks the walk. Their focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, their stance as a welcoming place for all, and their level of involvement in the community – those were big reasons why I joined the team.” 

That alignment is part of what drew her to a leadership position in VIBE, despite being a relative newcomer to the company. “It’s been exciting to see VIBE grow from something that was very informal into an official group with more than 350 members in less than a year,” she says. “We’ve done a lot already this year. We celebrated Black History Month in February with some great speakers, studied a book focused on career advice for women of color, created an educational series tackling the topic of  racial injustice, volunteered in our community and much more.  We are all in different places; VIBE’s events and series are designed to meet each team member where they are in their own personal journey.”   

Patricio Cordero, who is another of the VIBE co-chairs, believes these ongoing efforts have helped raise awareness of cultural issues. He’s looking forward to the programming the ERG will put forward during Hispanic Heritage Month; as a native of Ecuador who came to America 20 years ago, it has special meaning for him. 

“It’s really cool that Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated here in the U.S. to recognize Latinos who are making a difference,” Cordero says. “We’re contributing to the economy, sports, everything. And it’s important to the Latin American community to be recognized and supported.” 

He appreciates Commerce’s strong support for VIBE because, in addition to education and awareness programs, the ERG also gives people opportunities to talk about difficult subjects around race, regardless of their background. He will often encourage team members to join VIBE or participate in its events even though they don’t identify as a person of color. 

“Many people think they shouldn’t join if they aren’t a person of color,” he says,

“but participating can increase their understanding so they can be an effective ally or ambassador, and that’s needed as well.”
He adds that at Commerce, because the importance of allies is recognized, all team members are encouraged to join any employee resource group they have interest in. 

In order to further increase understanding and empathy, we created the VIBE 2020 Pledge, designed to encourage all team members to play an active role in addressing issues of inclusion and celebrating the differences that every person at Commerce brings to the table. To date, more than 650 team members have taken the pledge “It’s a way to help us all hold ourselves accountable,” says Cordero. 

Like Roth, Cordero is relatively new to Commerce, having joined about a year ago. And like Roth, he quickly got involved in VIBE at a leadership level because he’s passionate about providing tools for people to share their experience, challenges, obstacles and points of view. It also gives others an opportunity to understand his background better. 

“VIBE is all about education, and it’s about never being ashamed of who you are,” he says. “I’m proud to be Latino, and I just want to make a difference.” 

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