SeriesLIVE

Monica Gil

Immigrant Archive Project
Monica Gil, a first-generation, senior marketing executive, shares her parent's immigrant story, and explains how despite being born in the United States, it's the Mexican culture and values that have come to define her.
Show transcript
00:00
The other day, someone asked a question about, are you a Latina
00:03
or an executive first?
00:06
And without a doubt, I'm very Latina, very Mexicana because
00:09
I think that the cultures, the values that I carry have allowed
00:14
for me to be a strong and effective executive.
00:23
Let's begin with your uh your name and nationality Monica
00:26
Hill.
00:27
I am Mexicana from Santa Barbara, California.
00:31
So you, you were born where Monica?
00:32
I actually was the only one born in the United States in Santa
00:36
Barbara.
00:37
But my 11 brothers and sisters were born in a small Pueblo in
00:41
Zacatecas, Mexico.
00:43
The last I am the last of 12, last of 12, go back to your childhood
00:52
here and share just some of your, your earliest memories.
00:56
Um If I look back at my childhood and my early memories growing
01:01
up, I always remember a very vibrant household.
01:04
Uh 11 kids with myself.
01:07
Number 12, my parents um I remember the mornings where we wake
01:10
up in the morning and there was three girls on one full bed,
01:15
two on top, on the bunk bed and two on the bottom.
01:18
And we would sit there and we talk about like the night before
01:20
what we did and our routine every Sunday was to get up, go to
01:24
church.
01:24
You couldn't do anything until you have the whole house clean
01:27
But that memory that I recall the most is when we were all at
01:30
the table.
01:31
I don't know how we fit, but we were drinking fun.
01:34
We were having fun with the coca-cola.
01:37
And that is just the one thing that I recall the most of just
01:40
growing up and the conversations, you know, you're a little
01:42
kid growing up with siblings that are a lot older than you.
01:46
And you want to hear their curiosity about what they did about
01:49
what guy they met or what dance they went to.
01:52
But also if I look at back at growing up, that is what instilled
01:56
culture.
01:56
What instilled family in my life would instill still the unity
02:00
that I seek for, whether it's with family or with friends.
02:04
It's that um emotional connection of just what feels like
02:08
home.
02:08
And I kind of think about that often, you know, before we jump
02:12
back in, I'm thinking, ok, so you guys can't go to church until
02:14
you clean the house.
02:15
I got 11 brothers and sisters helping you clean the house.
02:18
So you're in church by 6 30 in the morning.
02:20
Give you five minutes to clean the house with a crew of 12.
02:23
Actually.
02:23
No, because the men still didn't do anything.
02:27
And we had very, very, we had very specific Latino roles in
02:31
our household.
02:32
The women cleaned the inside of the household and the men did
02:35
all the outside work throughout the trash.
02:37
I was just talking to my brother the other day and we were laughing
02:40
because I was telling him, how is it that in college I was still
02:44
doing your bed and I couldn't go out unless we finished all
02:48
that house work.
02:49
Um But, you know, I do like those memories because they're
02:53
funny.
02:53
And now that we're adults, you kind of look back and you think
02:57
you know, I've been cleaning your household forever and
02:58
you still say, oh, I'm not gonna do it, but you actually still
03:01
do it um as an adult.
03:03
And there's just a lot of stories like that.
03:04
I mean, I think about uh when my sister got married to a non Latino
03:11
So the first white guy, if you will, that came into connection
03:15
with our family and he was, didn't understand why the men had
03:19
to eat first and why the women had to serve them.
03:23
And I remember my sister was, you know, had grown up here and
03:26
she, he came in and he says, um, can you please get me a tortilla
03:30
And she looked at him.
03:31
But the reason he said it is because my dad was in the room and
03:34
she knew that there was no way he was gonna say no.
03:37
Uh So you think about those things and you know, we've come
03:39
a long way quite a bit to say the least.
03:43
I'd say.
03:44
I'd say what drove your parents to, to come to the US?
03:49
You know, I think what drove my parents to come to the US is pretty
03:53
much what other immigrants face.
03:56
Uh, you're living in a small where there's one man, one church
04:01
one telephone, uh, water some days, no bathrooms, uh, outhouses
04:06
Uh, who isn't gonna want to get a better life, want to have a
04:09
better life for their kids and their families.
04:11
So I think my father was always ahead of his time, despite having
04:17
a third grade education, he was always looking for the future
04:21
What's next?
04:22
How do you take care of your 12 Children?
04:24
And um, he actually had an opportunity through the Bracero
04:28
program.
04:29
So he came in 1961 which was the tail end of the Bracero program
04:34
um, and was able to work in the cotton fields to uh wash dishes
04:41
at uh uh at a local, a golf course.
04:43
And I think having seen the life that he faced here versus the
04:47
life he changed back, he had back in, in Mexico.
04:50
He decided to bring the entire family and we did in waves.
04:54
Um, from what I understand, he came in 1961 and then he brought
05:00
the three eldest women who were over 18, um and was able to get
05:05
them um naturalized here.
05:07
And then he brought the rest of the family in 1971 and I was born
05:11
here, must have been very difficult.
05:14
I mean, not only to raise so many Children, uh, but to be separated
05:18
from them for, uh, for a time as you look back, how, how did they
05:22
deal with that separation?
05:24
Well, I hear most of it from my sisters, their separation of
05:27
having left the rest of the family and I think they remember
05:31
the day that they left and they threw a big for them in the ranch
05:35
So you know how those go the ranch, everybody shows up.
05:38
Um And they played the song.
05:42
So they recall a lot that memory of hearing the play as they're
05:45
leaving.
05:46
Um And it was, it was difficult for them.
05:50
I mean, to be here in a different country where they don't know
05:54
a word of English where they're living with uh other cousins
05:58
who are more acculturated and have, don't really identify
06:02
with the Mexican culture for them to have to completely adapt
06:06
see things that they've never seen for the first time in their
06:08
lives to see African Americans.
06:11
That was something new for them.
06:12
They didn't get the culture, they didn't understand why they
06:15
were different.
06:16
Um And for my mom to have to be by herself raising the rest of
06:21
her Children um expecting a visit from my dad every march which
06:25
were La Fiesta de Rancho San Jose.
06:28
So I think when I hear back about that all I can think about is
06:32
their strength and their ability to maintain a unity despite
06:36
being far.
06:37
And I think that that's what's so unique about us as a family
06:40
is that we may not always be together.
06:42
But when we hurt, when one of us hurts, we all hurt whether you're
06:45
in Mexico, whether you're in the US, whether you're in L A,
06:48
whether you're in Santa Barbara, uh we all still feel very
06:52
connected to each other despite being away, you were, you
06:57
were born here uh to immigrant parents.
07:00
How, how do you, how do you self identify?
07:02
How do you, how do you see yourself despite not being born in
07:07
Mexico?
07:07
I identify myself as Mexicana.
07:09
Um I heard the other day someone asked a question about, are
07:13
you a Latina or an executive first?
07:17
And without a doubt, I'm very Latina, very Mexicana.
07:20
And the reason I say that is because I think that the cultures
07:23
the values that I carry have allowed for me to be a strong and
07:28
effective executive.
07:30
So when I look at how I identify myself, I think it's my Latina
07:34
ness if you will, that has quite frankly made me uh given me
07:39
the ability to be successful in my company, in this country
07:42
with my family.
07:43
It's that, that I take with me everywhere I go.
07:47
And when you say your, your Latina, what fits within that context
07:54
what, what part of you is that Latina that Mexican that you
07:57
refer to?
07:58
Oh my Latina is everything.
08:00
The minute I walk into a room, look at me.
08:02
I got big hair red lipstick.
08:03
II I we I use uh sauce uh in my work when I take it in um I'm very
08:10
non-traditional in corporate America.
08:12
Um So I think it goes from everything from my parents in my look
08:17
to the fact that when I'm in uh a, a corporate culture fighting
08:23
for a cause, it's those immigrant experiences, it's those
08:27
stories that I have to take with me into my job.
08:30
Whether it's thinking about my father who was a gardener his
08:32
entire life, whether it's thinking about um my sister Teresa
08:36
who cleans houses for a living, delineating the lines between
08:40
the haves and the have nots when it's uh thinking about my mother
08:43
who's raised her 12 Children.
08:45
Um Now fighting Alzheimer's, I have to be able to take those
08:49
stories into my job.
08:50
I have to be able to take those stories into my friendships
08:53
and even bring my those stories into my family again.
08:57
You know, I have uh 24 nieces and nephews.
09:01
How do you instill those values to their lives in this world
09:04
Which is so much different.
09:06
It's fast, it's technology, it's, it's moving so quickly
09:11
where I get kind of nervous that they are going to lose the values
09:15
that I think have made our family successful.
09:20
And that's a concern today.
09:22
And that really is a concern and, and, and, and one concern
09:26
I have through, through the project that you see is you have
09:30
you know, if you look back at the country's history, you have
09:33
wave after wave of immigrants that arrive, who are misunderstood
09:37
and mistreated and then they kind of find their way and they're
09:40
accepted and then that next generation or two generations
09:44
later, they become the oppressors of the next immigrant,
09:47
right?
09:48
So I often ask myself, you know, will there come a will there
09:50
come a time where our Children and grandchildren are the ones
09:54
you know, making it difficult for immigrants from another
09:58
part of the country here in the US.
10:00
So I think it's so important that we, we, we pass on those sensibilities
10:04
and that sense of compassion and understanding to them as
10:07
well.
10:07
I think we absolutely have to pass our immigrant experiences
10:11
to the next generations in our family.
10:13
And it's hard because they, they don't think the same way and
10:17
they think you're being, you know, oh, you, you don't know
10:20
what you're talking about.
10:21
But what I'm hoping that we instill into the next generation
10:25
is the fact that you have a responsibility to take care of others
10:29
as you were taking care of yourself through our families.
10:32
Um The values that we have, whether we, you know, we, we, we're
10:37
very observant, you learn to be very observant.
10:39
When you're an immigrant, you learn to look around and figure
10:42
out what's going on and how to, to uh navigate your way through
10:46
of systems which are foreign and different.
10:48
So, what I'm hoping that we instill in this next group of kids
10:52
that are in our family is that you have to be observant, but
10:55
you also have to do something for the people who don't have
10:58
it as easy.
10:59
And it's difficult because you grew up in this very me, me,
11:03
me generation that it's all about yourselves, but it's the
11:06
fact that we did help others that quite frankly has made us
11:09
successful as a family has made us successful in the workforce
11:14
Um And as a culture.
11:15
Um And I think that what really is lacking is a sense of character
11:21
right now, you think about our families, think about your
11:23
parents, all of our parents, um our ancestors, there's no
11:27
other group that has the values, the systems as immigrants
11:32
do the sense of character, the work ethic.
11:35
And if you're gonna be looking for a job someday, if you're
11:39
going to be trying to get that next position, it's your character
11:44
that is gonna distinguish you.
11:45
Of course, you have to work hard, of course, you have to have
11:47
to be professional, but it's that sense of character that
11:50
is going to distinguish you from the next person that is gonna
11:54
make you more marketable if, if, if you will.
11:56
Um And also that it's gonna make you a good person.
11:59
I, my dad, my mom had third grade education and mentioned that
12:04
and I, I can't think of people who are kinder who are harder
12:10
working than them.
12:11
I can't think of people who have a sense of self dignity.
12:15
You know, despite not having an education, they were always
12:18
a pro uh proud of their work.
12:20
Never ashamed of the perception that came with it.
12:22
It was me who had to learn how to deal with that.
12:25
I was the one who had a transition and say, you know what their
12:29
value system is is the right thing to do.
12:31
So.
12:32
Um Yeah, I do worry, I do worry what, as you look back, um What
12:38
are the promise of?
12:40
What are the, what, what are you the proudest of?
12:44
What am I the most proud of is, is of my family.
12:48
Um It, when you look at so many characters in a household, it
12:55
really is never about you.
12:57
You always have to make sure that the next person comes up and
13:02
is having the same vibrancy, the same outcomes as those ahead
13:06
that, that, that are doing well.
13:08
Um But I'm proudest of my family because despite living in
13:12
this country for 40 years now, they really have still maintained
13:18
a level of culture, a level of Mexican that navigates since
13:24
through both worlds that makes them successful, whether
13:27
you're uh in, in, in, in the US or in Mexico, they're able to
13:33
navigate through both.
13:34
Um I think when I look at my family, they still have a very strong
13:39
work ethic, a sense of pride.
13:42
Um And every graduation you have, you see this sense of pride
13:46
in them when you feel a level of accomplishment.
13:50
Um and we still will get together and we still make tamales
13:55
for Christmas.
13:57
Um We still say when it's someone's graduation and break out
14:02
with horns and, and confetti.
14:04
Um, and we're not embarrassed about it.
14:06
You know, I, I, I'm, I'm proud of every single one of them.
14:10
I'm proud of the sister who cleans houses.
14:12
I'm proud of the brother who, who owns restaurants.
14:15
Um The landscape architect, design, the teacher and I can
14:19
go on and on and I'm proud of my nieces and nephews um for still
14:23
trying to make sure that um they're taking care of grandma
14:27
Yeah.
14:29
Previous generations assimilating into the country meant
14:33
forgetting where you came from and losing the language and
14:36
the culture and the uh for our parents' generation and our
14:40
generation, we sort of have rewritten the book on that uh where
14:46
we can rock both cultures and both languages.
14:49
Talk to me a little bit about that.
14:52
See, I can't, for, for my family, I think I have a little bit
14:56
of a different experience.
14:58
I don't think for us we ever really assimilated.
15:01
Um I think we had a very clear understanding since very you
15:04
since you're very young, it is Mexican.
15:08
And that was one thing that my dad always was clear on, we were
15:11
never ashamed of that.
15:13
Um It was hard, it was hard to not be the student that, that to
15:16
to not understand what renaissance fares.
15:18
My parents just didn't understand why it was the right thing
15:22
from an educational standpoint to do.
15:25
Um So from that perspective, it was hard.
15:28
But I also remember being in classes and having to do a speech
15:32
and my speeches were always different.
15:34
They were always about my family and everybody was fascinated
15:37
with what I had to say.
15:38
They were curious because it was so different.
15:40
So in terms of assimilating, I don't think you learn how to
15:45
be part of this country.
15:46
But to me, assimilation is that you put something away and
15:50
you get rid of something else.
15:51
Uh Ever since I'm young, I, I've been Mexicana and I'm still
15:55
very Mexicana um in every aspect of my life.
15:58
So it's not something that we in that is part of my family.
16:03
Um We're very proud but we're also not like in a sense, very
16:08
showy over it.
16:09
You know, it just kind of comes naturally um growing up, it
16:12
was difficult because you didn't identify with anyone else
16:16
You, you, you were, I was a lot of times dealing with black hair
16:19
in my classes um doesn't feel too good.
16:22
And I think as you grew up, I learned to embrace my differentness
16:26
if you will and make it an asset.
16:28
Um And ironically, that's what I do now.
16:32
And my job is, my differentness is probably the biggest asset
16:36
that I can offer my company right now.
16:39
Takes time for a young woman to realize that that, that comes
16:42
with a certain amount of maturity, doesn't it?
16:45
Yeah.
16:46
I think I was a really young sometimes to, you know, understand
16:51
just be patient and that, which, you know, is a source of, you
16:55
know, anxiety perhaps now is gonna be a major strain.
16:58
You just have to give yourself time.
17:00
Yeah.
17:00
And I think patients um if you're patient at times, people
17:06
will surprise you and that happens over and over again where
17:09
people will surprise you with their actions.
17:11
Um But I think you talk about maturity in terms of coming to
17:17
a realization of your identity.
17:20
I think for me as for a lot of my friends, um it, you have to be
17:25
an adult really young.
17:27
Um when you're an immigrant, when you, when you come from an
17:30
immigrant background and we were talking about uh having
17:33
to translate when you're very young, I was five, having to
17:37
translate documents for my parents.
17:39
The pressure on you is real tough having to go to doctor's appointments
17:44
Um And I don't, I I think about that.
17:48
I i it really does make you grow up a lot faster.
17:51
Um when you're cleaning houses when you are working in uh restaurants
17:57
as a cashier, um when you are trying to balance reading a Hamlet
18:03
or Shakespeare or Great Gatsby in a room with 12, 12 brothers
18:08
and sisters walking around throughout the household.
18:11
And the only place you can really do it is the bathroom.
18:13
Not because the quietest, but that's just the place where
18:16
you're probably not gonna get, you know, uh, uh, uh, get de
18:20
deterred a lot more.
18:22
So, it's one of those things that you have to grow up quick and
18:25
you have to be able to um to be flexible, absolutely be flexible
18:31
That's a great point that comes up in so many interviews on
18:34
how you're forced to grow up quick when you're, you know, the
18:38
child of immigrants in many cases, the first to really understand
18:41
the language.
18:43
Uh you, you, you're put in a tough situation, you know, you
18:46
are and you're, you, you're put in a tough situation when you're
18:49
with growing up with things that are so different.
18:52
But also I think, you know, as, as I'm looking at that kind of
18:59
the experiences of assimilating, you also, I mentioned about
19:03
the fact about being very observant.
19:05
You really have to be very observant of your surroundings
19:08
not only as a woman.
19:09
Um But I think as you're growing up and you're seeing things
19:13
around you, nobody's telling you how to do things.
19:16
So you have to figure it out and that's why I actually think
19:19
we're really great workers and why I think Latinos are gonna
19:22
save America because we're able to pick up on things that nobody
19:25
else can pick up that quickly.
19:27
Uh You observe everything around you and you're forced to
19:30
do it if you want to be able to survive and thrive in whatever
19:33
environment that you're in.
19:35
Absolutely, you recently were honored uh by two, by two groups
19:45
Uh Talk to me a little bit about that.
19:47
Why, why, why did you receive these honors?
19:50
Why did I receive the, because they didn't have anyone else
19:53
to get everybody else was out of town.
19:57
Um Why did I get these honors?
20:00
You know, it's so uncomfortable uh to, to even think about
20:06
you know, when you're seeing yourself on screen and there's
20:08
people are saying all these nice things on you and you know
20:10
your brothers and sisters are saying what in the world is
20:13
that about?
20:14
Um No, but I think that the, the the honors are I uh two things
20:20
One, I work for a company that empowers me to do good things
20:27
Um And I know that my company has enabled me to help a lot of community
20:31
groups to help a lot of organizations.
20:33
And I don't um I'm not mistaken about that when you work for
20:37
a great company, a great leader.
20:38
Um And they let you loose, you really have an opportunity to
20:41
create positive change.
20:43
And I think that that the honors come with the fact that you
20:47
that you have an opportunity to be an agent of change wherever
20:53
you go and whatever organizations that you work with.
20:56
And I think that the honors come specifically because I've
21:00
been able to share the Latino story, whether you are a, a first
21:04
generation uh Latino that has come from Mexico, whether you're
21:08
an immigrant that has come from political baggage in Central
21:11
America to the one that doesn't speak a lick of uh Spanish and
21:15
has been here for four decades uh to the Mojado that came in
21:20
uh yesterday, crossing the border in Tijuana.
21:23
It's able to take those stories and bring value into your company
21:26
And I think that the honors come with that, you're able to share
21:29
stories and you're able to tell those stories and make them
21:33
part of the DNA of your company um and the communities that
21:36
you work with and not so much just bringing your company outward
21:40
but bringing what's important to the community into your
21:42
company.
21:43
And um I feel that, you know, we, we, we've done a pretty good
21:47
job on that.
21:48
So if you could speak directly to a five year old version of
21:56
you, OK.
21:58
Young American, born, daughter of Latino immigrants who
22:01
may be watching, what advice would you give her?
22:07
The five year old love version of me is probably very similar
22:15
to the 39 year old version of me.
22:17
Um If I can give her some advice and I do have five year old nieces
22:23
um you know, we didn't grow up with dreams and not because
22:28
our parents didn't give us that, but because you were so busy
22:32
on the day to day life of, you know, siblings and family.
22:35
Um And I know it sounds corny and it sounds cheesy, but I would
22:38
tell that five year old that you can be anything you want to
22:40
be, you can dream.
22:41
If you want to be an Olympic athlete, you can do this.
22:44
Um So I think that I would encourage her to dream and uh to recognize
22:50
that anything that expectations are always going to be put
22:54
on them.
22:54
A lot of times kids don't want expectations, it's better to
22:58
have expectations on you than for somebody to have no expectations
23:02
on you.
23:03
And I think I would tell that five year old to work hard, do their
23:07
work diligently and sign their name proudly.