As a kid growing up in Central Arkansas in the early 1990s, I often felt invisible and out of place. Nobody looked like me, nobody had a surname like me, and nobody else’s parents needed an interpreter—other than me—during parent-teacher conferences. That’s because other Latinos were few and far between. During that time, the Latino population in Pulaski County was a mere 2 percent.
As I got older, I realized that my entire family felt the same way. We were insulated and didn’t have a deep connection with our community. This became even more apparent as I entered high school and made friends with kids whose parents knew everyone in town. The mayor, the police chief, the county sheriff, the football coach—the list goes on. When I enrolled in college as a political science major it became even more apparent just how important relationships were. A mentor even told me that the world revolves around relationships.
One day, I was volunteering at an event where I had the pleasure of meeting former US President Bill Clinton. It was 2016, a presidential election year. The room was packed with Arkansas’s political elite. Senators, former governors, rising stars, major donors, and me, handing out cocktail weenies. I had somehow managed to talk myself into this volunteer opportunity. But I didn’t care. I was in the room.
Towards the end of the evening, President Clinton came up to the area where I was volunteering. I got extremely nervous and hoped he would walk right past me. He didn’t. He stopped right in front of me, extended his hand, and thanked me for volunteering. He then asked me a question that froze me in my tracks, “Who are your parents?”
I waited for what seemed like an eternity to answer. “They are, they are. . .” I stuttered. “You don’t know them, Mr. President, they are from Mexico.” It was all I could think of to say. Noticing my visible awkwardness and discomfort by the question he responded “Great, they must be so proud of you. Give them my best.” His comment put me at ease. We made small talk for another minute or so and he walked away. Nobody works a room like the forty-second president of the United States.
In small-town America, instead of six degrees of separation, we have negative two degrees, so asking who your parents are is a way to connect with someone. They will often know them or at least someone that knows them. I was determined after that night to work tirelessly and intentionally at developing and growing my network.
A mentor once said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I had done the preparation. I had finished college and graduate school. Now I just needed the opportunities. Those would come as I got more involved in my community and grew my network. For the past ten years that is exactly what I have been working towards.
As a banker and as the chief community outreach officer at Encore Bank based in Little Rock, Arkansas, my world revolves around relationships. Here are several networking tips for rising Latinx professionals that I have picked up from mentors, colleagues, and life experiences.
Find Your Mentors
We often only think of mentors in the workplace such as a supervisor or boss who you learn a trade or industry knowledge from. But life mentors are just as, if not more, important. I have three mentors. A spiritual mentor (my priest), a financial/business mentor (a successful entrepreneur), and a career/banking mentor (my boss). Mentors not only advise you but oftentimes are the ones who open the most doors for you.
Don’t Be Scared to Ask For an Introduction
It can be intimidating to ask someone for an introduction, but you would be surprised at how people have always jumped at the chance to make a connection. Humans are social creatures and making introductions is something innate in almost all of us.
When Someone Opens a Door for You, Walk through It
When someone makes an introduction on your behalf, they are not only using their time to do so but also some of their social capital. It is up to you to follow through and make them look good for making that connection. This will not only make them proud that they connected you, but also, they will be even more inclined to do it again.
Find Nonprofit Organizations to Get Involved With
Volunteering with local nonprofits is a great way to showcase your talent while giving back to the community. Pick organizations whose causes you are passionate about. Communicate with these organizations about your strengths and get involved. Your passion will connect you with other like-minded individuals.
It can be very intimidating when you are the only Latino in the room. Our core human desire is to fit in and be around people that look like us. Instead of trying to fit in, take your chance to stand out. Being the only Latino means nobody else in the room has your life experiences, culture, and perspectives. Share that in ways that are not pretentious and combative, but rather in ways that provide value and insight.
Build a Bigger Table
One time, during a board meeting, a fellow board member quipped that I must “feel good about being the only Latino on the board.” I paused and told him “No, I don’t.” Although I was proud to serve and share my community’s perspective and needs, I told him I would be prouder if I were able to get more Latinos on the board. As you grow your network, it is incumbent upon you to provide opportunities for other Latinos. As a community, we are stronger collectively than individually.
Thanks to platforms like LinkedIn, Google, Zoom, and others, making connections has never been easier. However, technology is not a substitute for human interaction. Use those platforms to enhance your outreach. The business world is full of people not realizing their full potential because they lack relationships that can open those doors. Your network is your net worth, so grow it.
Miguel López is the chief community outreach officer for Encore Bank. In his role as chief community officer, Miguel leads Encore Banks’ community outreach team and strategy across their fifteen markets. Miguel’s accomplishments have landed him on many lists in state and national publications, including a list of the 250 most influential leaders in Arkansas. Miguel was also recognized by the Independent Community Bankers of America as one of its 40 Bankers under 40 and Hispanic Executive magazine as one of its 30 Under 30 Latino leaders across the country.
Miguel is active in his local community, serving as vice chairman of Goodwill of Arkansas as well chairman of the Excel Center school board, the state’s first and only adult high school.
Miguel is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he completed a master of public administration, a graduate certificate in nonprofit management, and a bachelor of arts in political science.