Strangers have been superheroes in my life. Everyone we meet starts as a stranger. Friends were once strangers. Communities are built out of strangers.
Building community is important to me because it’s a space strangers choose. It’s an environment where we show up and engage — not just talk about it. Being in community through purpose is reciprocal — we give and we receive. We meet each other, as strangers, through our presence. It takes energy on both sides. There is an exchange of sincerity and respect.
People can be harmful, negatively impacting your personal life and career. Spaces are challenging to navigate without a community when you are made to feel you are not enough. Not everyone can easily identify sponsors, mentors, colleagues, or managers — strangers who genuinely care to invest in you. I’ve never fit into a box, and that’s been dangerous when people are processing categorized data to make decisions about me. When the narrative I heard in personal and professional environments was, you are not doing enough, even when I was giving all I could with the resources I had access to and doing my best, it was confusing and isolating.
Remember: You’re not in spaces to prove your worth. Pay attention to how people make you feel. You don’t have to be loyal to people or systems that treat you badly. Sometimes the blessing is in the redirection, in moving on to a space that doesn’t constantly question your worth. It’s important to learn the lesson and move forward with discernment.
Part of my survival in my professional life can be attributed to the communities I created among people who are different from me. Early in my career, I connected with colleagues effortlessly. However, later in my career, finding community in predominantly White spaces proved difficult. I was searching for my tribe at work, seeking the belonging I had once experienced. While working at Tesla I tried to find a community within each Employee Resource Group (ERG). By the end of it all, I felt alone and isolated. My friend and colleague asked, “Why don’t you create your own ERG?” I remember feeling defeated at first. Daunted by the thought of establishing a community from scratch in a corporate space. With everything on my plate, why did I also have to create what I needed? I fought myself in that moment. I reflected on creating a community at work that I could not find for myself. Could others relate? This experience led me to create the Intersectionality ERG at Tesla.
As a kid, I made friends with children who welcomed me into their communities. The Mexican and Black girls in my apartment complex. In elementary school, the boy from El Salvador, the girl whose father is White and mother is Black, and the Black girls I practiced dance routines with when they invited me over for sleepovers. I met their ancestors on the walls and in their photographs at the homes I visited. A time when friendships were innocent, connecting through our community — our city, our school, and our apartment complex.
Back then, I had a lot of big feelings without a home for them. My language, culture, and family life were different from my peers’. My mom spoke a different language from my father. I spoke quietly and kept to myself. I wanted to be invisible. I felt small. My mother later told me, “You were always a sensitive child.” My feelings, voice, and experiences were dismissed. People believed they knew me better than I knew myself. Like a puzzle, I was put in a box, and so were my feelings. I was so busy trying to survive at home and navigate my environment, that it was easier to allow people to define me. Fighting back took too much energy. My identity was attached to my relationships and environments, unaware of the possibility I could lose myself in them. Then I realized I didn’t need people to think for me. I learned to pay attention to what activities drew me in and the people I would meet in those new spaces. I was unlocking a part of myself I didn’t previously have the freedom to explore.
As I learned to break out of that box, I led fundraising events as the 11th-grade class president at my high school. In college, I organized BBQs at the beach and was part of the planning committee for multiple student conferences. After my college graduation, I joined Peace Corps and moved to Morocco for two years to do community/youth development work. After the Peace Corps, I served as the East Bay Director for the Northern California Peace Corps Association. While at LinkedIn, I established the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) Inclusion Recruiting (IR) Lead program, where I identified gaps and resources to support our talent acquisition initiatives to attract and engage diverse people while also supporting retention and providing all ERGs the opportunity to showcase LinkedIn’s global internal communities. Just this past year, I facilitated free poetry workshops open to the public and led a 100% donation-based writing workshop at the first Black-owned bookstore in Pasadena, Octavia’s Bookshelf. Each major milestone in my life has been accompanied by a safe and diverse community of strangers who welcome the connection and belonging of themselves and others.
The communal spaces I create have evolved. Throughout my personal life and professional career, I have created community spaces that are genuine, inclusive, and safe — spaces that didn’t exist for me. Connection, belonging, and authenticity are key ingredients — you can’t “fake it ’til you make it.” I share my intention, create the space, and welcome those who are interested. Creating community is bigger than me. I want to pay forward the generosity of strangers, now and tomorrow. I want to be a superhero in strangers’ lives. I want to treat the world better than it treated me. The good and bad experiences with strangers have taught me to go where I am valued. I prioritize removing myself from the wrong places and finding safety in spaces I can trust even if for a moment. Don’t stop finding or creating your community. As you evolve, your community can too.