This Latinx and Hispanic Heritage Month at Airtable, we are very excited to share a bit about one of our coworkers, who is both Latina and Hispanic! Without further ado, here is an interview with Paola Cordovez Cerededa, one of our amazing Customer Success Managers.
What is your name, role, and pronouns, and how long have you been at Airtable?
My name's Paola, my pronouns are she/her. I am a Customer Success Manager at Airtable and I have been here for about a year and five months, which in startup years is like a decade!
What is your favorite thing about working at Airtable?
My favorite thing about Airtable is, hands-down, the people. And don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the product. I have no coding skills, but I can come to Airtable and feel like a wizard. If I have a cool idea I can just make l things happen. Every time I work through a formula and it works, or an automation does its magic, it's the closest I can feel to having the power of a software engineer, which I really, really love. I always think, "Sorcery!" whenever I do something really cool.
But what made me want to join was the people. I remember my onsite was just the most fun onsite I've had, because it didn't feel like work. It just felt like I was hanging out with friends, answering challenging and fun questions. And then I sat down to lunch with a bunch of people I had never met before and I just felt like I belonged. I remember leaving Airtable and texting my parents being like "If they don't hire me, I'm going to stand outside and cry until they do. I really, really want to work here." Everyone is compassionate, everyone is so humble, everyone is so freaking smart. I am constantly intimidated by people I work with, and then you talk to them and they're the most sweet, down-to-earth people—but you look at their CV and you think "You're incredible."
What’s an interesting fact about you?
My family is a melting pot. I think it's really hard for people who meet me to know where I'm from. Some great-great-, whatever the math is, grandparents ago, my family came to Ecuador from Spain, England, and Lebanon. So, I'm all-in-all a combination of those three places.
My last names are very Spanish—Cordovez Cereceda. And I identify as Latina. I also think that because my family came from all over the world I was always really interested in cultures and languages. My parents always talked to me about my family in different countries, and I always thought, "When I go meet them I want to talk to them." So, I ended up learning a few languages along the way.
Do you identify as Latinx or Hispanic or both? And why?
We have shared cultures, shared history, even common challenges. ... I think that unites us, more than what word you're using to represent us.
I may be really wrong about it but I use them interchangeably. I feel Latinx and I feel Hispanic because I don't like the idea of those words being seen as opposites. I feel as close to Spain, which is an ocean away, as I feel to Brazil, where they speak a different language, and we all have shared history in some way. I also think that it's confusing for people to know the difference sometimes. The definitions are so nuanced and can be so different depending on who you're asking. Even if you Google it, the answer is not consistent, and I prefer to focus on how we are all similar regardless of what word you're using. We have shared cultures, shared history, even common challenges. If you look at the things people in Latin and Hispanic countries are going through, we have very similar paths and I think that unites us, more than what word you're using to represent us.
What is it like being a Latinx/Hispanic woman in tech?
There's such a big feeling of having to prove yourself, as a Latinx/Hispanic person in tech. Especially as a woman, I feel a certain privilege to be where I am. I understand that I have had great opportunities in my life, and I understand that not everyone has, so I feel a lot of pressure to create a path and really prove that I can do things, and help other Latinx/Hispanic women get to where I am.
We can be as great at our jobs as everyone else, but there's always this feeling of having to prove yourself, as opposed to coming into a room and people already assuming that you're going to do the job well. I think it’s not uncommon to hear things like, "Oh, maybe your English isn't as good,” or, "I'm not sure if a university in Ecuador is as good as a university in the U.S." I don't come into a room and I feel like I necessarily have the respect I deserve. I feel like most of the time I have to earn it—prove everyone wrong. It’s honestly very hard sometimes. I'm not even speaking about Latin women specifically. Being a foreigner can be really hard. It's not your country, and I always have this thought in the back of my mind of, "I don't know if tomorrow I won't get my visa and I'll just have to go home." So being abroad has always been very emotionally tiring in some way.
I also think people underestimate what we can do. Maybe you’re not sure if my English will be good enough or if we can do the job, but we can, and also we bring the value of being able to navigate a complex multicultural environment. I can talk to you in English and Spanish, I can navigate multicultural and bilingual settings, and I can think like other cultures. I left my country and moved here, so I can definitely adapt to situations. So yes, we definitely can do the job, and be so great at it.
To me, Airtable has been the most supportive company I've worked for. It's the first company that I've worked for in my career where I feel like they have my back. Not even just immigration stuff, but in general. I go to them with things that are worrying me and the answer is always, "We've got you. We're your family, we'll make it work.” It's never been a question of, “Are you good enough to stay?”—it’s more of, “We wanted to hire you, and we want you to be here, and we're going to help you be here."
What does "Unity in diversity" mean to you?
"Unity in diversity," to me, means that we have so many differences but we have so much more in common. When I moved to Mexico I quickly learned that we used totally different words for a few things, which led to some awkward exchanges for sure. But, even though it's a different accent and we may use different terms, I felt at home. I think it's because a lot of the things that make Hispanic and Latinx people Hispanic and Latinx go beyond, "Do you speak Portuguese or Spanish?" or, "Are you born in Spain?” or, “Are you from Latin America?" It's really about things that matter to you. We all have this big sense of community and family. Our families are huge, it's like a running joke, right? I have like, a billion cousins and I know them all and we talk all the time in a family WhatsApp group with like 50 people and we chat every single day. It's this whole idea of, "We have a shared history." And, it doesn't always intersect among every single country, but it comes across in the things that we eat, in how we value community, in the way we approach life, in how we think about the world.
We are also united in how resilient we are. You're constantly striving to do something better than your parents did. And despite all the challenges, we're still here and we're still strong. And I feel like that's unity. I will be traveling around the world and I will see a Brazilian person or a Spanish person and I just gravitate towards them because I know we have things in common. When I first moved to the U.S., I was in my dorm room on my own and I heard people speaking Spanish outside and I bolted out of my room and I was like, "You speak Spanish?! I speak Spanish!" They're still some of my best friends. It turned out they lived in Mexico, so we are very, very close to this day. I wouldn't do that in English, I wouldn't just go up to someone and just be like, "You speak English? I do too!" It's not the same.
What’s your favorite Latinx or Hispanic food?
I know it's super common, but to me, fried plantains are the world's best thing. Specifically patacones. There are so many ways to cook them. It’s plantains that you cut into thick pieces, you fry them once, and you take them out, you smash them, and you fry them again. It is the happiest thing in the world.
When the plantain is green, they're savory, so you put salt and I put a slice of cheese, like thin white queso fresco. I know in the Dominican Republic they put ketchup on them, which threw me off when I lived there but ended up being delicious. In Ecuador, patacones is the savory twice-fried plantains, and maduros is the sweet version. But every country calls them something different. Every country also says that they invented them: "They're mine!" "No, they're mine!"