Q & A with Jéssica Oliveira

Some Thoughts on Latinx Heritage Month, 2022

Latinx Heritage Month (AKA Latine or Hispanic Heritage Month) runs annually from September 15 to October 15. EBDI co-founder Jéssica Oliveira (they/she) answers a few questions about themself, what this month means to them, and how they celebrate it.

What is your role at EBDI?

I’m one of the co-founders of EBDI, and the Director of Learning & Integration (L&I). This is one of two major work areas at EBDI, where we focus on designing and delivering interventions for our client-partners. Our small (but mighty) team of two works with the Research & Assessments consultants to make recommendations based on the data collected, and to develop training and group processes based on the most deeply felt issues at our client-partner work sites.

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What does Latinx Heritage Month mean to you?

 

I was born in Belo Horizonte, but I’ve spent most of my life in the Greater Boston area. Though my first language (and the only one I spoke for the first eight years of my life) was Portuguese, I feel most comfortable expressing myself in English. Being a hyphenated American influences how I move through the world throughout the year, but this is an invitation to reflect more deeply on the intersectionality of my identities. 

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I still haven’t decided what I’ll do this month to mark the occasion. Last year, I read This Bridge Called My Back, an anthology by radical women of color edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. The year before, I bought three books by Djamila Ribeiro, a Brazilian Black feminist philosopher. My formal Portuguese is a little rusty despite working as a medical interpreter for a couple of years, so I haven't read them all the way through. I think I’ll return to them this year. 

Is there anything in particular you wish to celebrate or share this LHM?

Yes! I’d like to shamelessly plug the release of a new report on racial justice at work co-authored by my brilliant co-founder Ahmmad Brown with Kaitlyn Ramirez Borysiewicz and Doris Nadine Quintanilla, the co-founders of The Melanin Collective. They’re aiming to release Dignity and Justice: A Brown Paper on Humanizing the Workplace for BIWOC in Spanish and provide audio recording of the brown paper in the coming months. 

I also want to celebrate the release of Care Work in Massachusetts: A Call for Racial and Economic Justice for a Neglected Sector by Anne Calef and Luc Schuester. The report highlights that while care work has forever been critical to the health and basic functioning of our society, these jobs are systematically devalued due to their being staffed predominantly by immigrant women and women of color. It provides a demographic profile of care workers in Massachusetts and pairs that with a job quality analysis for a few key subsectors.

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“Latinx” is a huge category that encompasses people with wide ranging histories and cultures. How do you wrap your arms around this category and feel (or not feel) an affinity to it?

 

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I gravitate toward the term Latinx/e over Hispanic Heritage Month because it feels most inclusive. I feel better represented by it as a Portuguese-speaking person from Brazil. There are a variety of terms used to identify folks with Latin American or Hispanic heritage, sometimes causing confusion about which is the “correct” term to use. I typically default to Latinx at work, recognizing that DEI conversations still occupy a space in American society that is English dominant. Generally speaking, I prefer Latine because it translates well into Portuguese and Spanish while still carving out space for gender neutrality in our gendered languages.

I’m proud of my Brazilian roots, but identifying as Latine created a path for me to build trust and community with people who were not from my country of origin. Growing up, my parents brought us to a Portuguese speaking branch of the Mormon Church where members were mostly Brazilian but also American, Cape Verdean, Colombian, Guatemalan, and Portuguese. Our spiritual practice taught me to combat the nationalism and racism that becomes entrenched when we focus too much on ethnicity. Identifying as Latine has also allowed me to avoid microaggressions when meeting new people who are confused by my physical appearance, and expect all Brazilian women to be soccer-playing, beach-going, Giselle Budchen types. I also struggle when ethnicity is conflated with racial identity. Brazil is a country that mirrors the United States in racial and ethnic diversity, and there is no singular “Brazilian” look. 

 

Finally, what are some foods we should all be eating this month? 


If you have expendable income, use it to support Latinx owned businesses this month! I recommend ordering some pão de queijo, a coxinha, or pastel from your local Brazilian bakery, with a side of fresh pineapple mint juice. In the Boston area, Bakes & Cakes (Everett) and Pastelaria Vitoria Broadway (Somerville) are childhood favorites. If you have a sweet tooth, I recommend a “Romeo e Julieta” pastel, made with guava paste and cheese.

Editor's note, 9/29/22: After consulting with Jéssica and listening to the wider conversation about an inclusive, gender-neutral term for people with Latin American or Hispanic heritage, we have decided to begin using the term Latine at EBDI, replacing Latinx. We agree with those in the Latine community who have pointed out that this term is both gender-neutral and more naturally aligned with the Spanish and Portuguese languages than Latinx. This change will be reflected in future publications. As always, when referring to specific people, we make an effort to use the identity terms that they use for themselves.