I make people comfortable until I don’t. What that means ultimately comes down to stories—the ones I tell and the ones I don’t. I can prioritize the comfort of others at the expense of my own by withholding details of my background. This makes it easier for people to see me as a leader, both in client meetings and within my own agency. But the uncomfortable truth of my story is that I was adopted. I have never fit into a simple demographic box; in fact, one might say I was given away. Being given away sounds scary, awful and evil, maybe. But what if being given away means being gifted a different and new opportunity?
I was born in El Salvador during a civil war. Against unlikely odds have I found myself where I am. I was adopted and raised by a single mother who invested her love, time and money in my future. I received a great education—including two private art school degrees—and I have a loving and supportive family. I am lucky to have what my family has given me. My responsibility is to pay that forward. And as I do so, the tension of my life’s experiences live on in every brand I help build or perception I help mold through my work.
Talking about class, gender, race, disability and religion can be uncomfortable. It is especially difficult for the people behind the brands that fight hard to avoid cultural complexities. But we must overcome that discomfort and examine our relationships to these issues to come to greater mutual understanding. Having honest and forthright conversations will engage more people in the process of creating the world around us, whether it be through technology, architecture, cities, ads, fashion or other cultural touchpoints. We need more and different perspectives engaged in shaping our world. We need to question what we thought we knew about power and influence. We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
A greater responsibility
In the advertising, design and branding industries, companies pay us to influence how people think about themselves and how they spend their money. In meeting the expectations of our clients, we also design and shape the culture around us, including how people see the future and how they fit into it. That is a huge responsibility. We wield tremendous power. The people involved in building brands have a responsibility to push back against the status quo.