Put on Your Big Hoops: It’s Juneteenth, America

For too many years, I left my big hoop earrings in the drawer. 

As a first-generation born Puerto Rican growing up in The Marble Hill projects in The Bronx, I learned English by watching Sesame Street and struggled to find my place in American society while being raised with Puerto Rican traditional values. I have also worked since I was 13 years old — in restaurants and food services, higher education, health care, retail, non-profit, accounting and management.

While I am not Black, I can speak to the prejudices and unequal treatment I have received in the workplace that correlate to my cultural, ethnic, and racial makeup. Respect in the workspace is vital to one’s identity as a productive member of society. If you don’t receive the same respect as your white counterparts in the workplace, it creates a narrative that you would be great as long as you were “less you.”

Finally, at 47 years old, I found my soul’s workplace, a place where I can express myself freely and not be interrupted to be told “You know you sound just like Rosie Perez.”  A place that encourages honest discourse, engagement, and disagreement. I’m not met with “Oh, you have that Latin temper” when I’m sharing my opinions and views in a firm manner.  My 30 years of work experience is met with acknowledgment, respect, and fair compensation, and I am not overlooked because I don’t fit the mold with my curly hair, pigmented skin, red lipstick, and hoop earrings. 

Jasmine Villanueva Big Hoop Energy
Jasmine Villanueva, Founder of Big Hoop Energy

For too many years, I left my big hoop earrings in the drawer for fear that I would be viewed as unprofessional. The world has taught me that big hoop earrings connote a lack of class and refinement, unprofessionalism, and low intelligence when worn by a person of color. “The bigger the hoop, the bigger the ho.” A white woman can wear hoop earrings and be considered fashion-forward.  I wear them, and they say “Ugh, that’s so trashy and ghetto. Leave that for out there.”  

Yes. I have heard statements very similar to that. 

The only intention behind those words is to humiliate and marginalize the person into compliance. Commenting on how we choose to express ourselves diminishes our self-worth and creates self-doubt about our place at the table. But we are not asking for a seat at the table anymore. We are building our own. In an effort to destigmatize big hoop earrings and celebrate the diverse feminine power that they represent, my daughter Jasmine recently launched Big Hoop Energy, an apparel fashion line that empowers all women to live big, bold, and unapologetic lives.  

As many Americans are waking up from a deep sleep of complacency and inaction regarding systemic racism and the fatal consequences of living black or brown in this country, it’s time to celebrate Juneteenth — a day to recognize the final abolishment of slavery in the United States. People who recognize Juneteenth will choose to honor that day in a way that is meaningful to them and spotlights the African American experience in this country.  

Slave labor is what built America’s framework, so it is ironic that Juneteenth does not warrant equal status with other holidays, such as Independence Day or Christmas, for which employees are given the day off with compensation. Equality in the workplace is an ongoing tug-of-war in which people of color are always having to pull that rope so much harder to just be considered. Change is long overdue — in the form of wages, respect, recognition and, yes, a day to celebrate one of the most pivotal turning points in this country’s history. 

Good Cause Creative, where I am the Director of Operations, will be closed for Juneteenth. We strive to create a workspace where people of different cultural, racial, and religious identifications know that we see them. We recognize our responsibility to create an inclusive environment that allows everyone to be fully authentic, both personally and professionally.  

When people say they “don’t see color or race,” it concerns me. That statement says to me that you don’t see me and all the beautiful threads of my being that make me unique. Different isn’t bad. Different is an opportunity to explore and educate so that we are able to broaden our perspective and make life richer, sweeter, bolder. 

Closing our business to honor Juneteenth is a small step in the ongoing effort to bring national recognition of its importance. We want to encourage our team to take the day to reflect, learn, and honor the Black experience in this country. As a team, we are encouraged to take part in measurable actions that support Black Lives Matter, and we support legislation to make Juneteenth a paid holiday. 

It is time to create workplaces that celebrate cultural differences and see diversity as an essential asset versus a liability. This change is long overdue and it will take honesty and commitment from each one of us — big hoop energy and all.    

 

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