Breaking Cultural Barriers to Foster Belonging
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Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano, host of Auténtico Podcast, shares the importance of having access to community for both personal and professional growth and development. Recognizing language as an essential community-driving force, Gabriela works to bring the Spanish-speaking community together in St. Louis.
“I think it's important to surround yourself with a tribe of people that really gets you, that understands where you want to go, that can support you through the good and the bad.”
Alana Muller 0:09
Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.
Alana Muller 0:43
Hello, listeners. Welcome back to Enterprise.ing podcast. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and inspired by her own experience growing up in the United States, Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano is committed to helping others. Since returning to St. Louis in 2016, she has found her voice by making a difference in her community with a focus on small business support, economic development and language access. She's a business owner, podcast host, writer, runner, Mizzou and Lindenwood graduate, and proud mom of amazing children who inspire her to make the world a better place. Gabriela, welcome to Enterprise.ing podcast.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 1:20
Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.
Alana Muller 1:22
Well, I'm delighted to have you. And I have to say, from one podcast host to another, it's super fun to have you on today's program. Tell our listeners about your podcast Auténtico. What do you cover on the podcast? And why did you start it?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 1:36
Yeah, sure. So we started, and there's been various iterations of Auténtico, but we started the podcast because, as a Latina professional, and just as a Latina, in general, in St. Louis, we saw that there was a gap. And we wanted to meet that, right? By providing access to education and resources for bilingual Latino, small business owners and professionals, while also helping them form strong partnerships, and also create community, right?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 2:05
Sharing their stories and the lessons learned from that, so that maybe other people that are going through similar situations could kind of take those lessons and do better. And it was really important for us also to showcase the bilingual side of it. And so you'll find on our podcast that we often talk in Spanish-English or Spanglish, and it's been really just an exciting opportunity to raise our voices, and to give a voice to the Latino community in St. Louis.
Alana Muller 2:34
Well, I think it's fascinating. I listened to some of your podcasts. And first of all, I love the music. Yes, like I was dancing. In fact, our producer here at Enterprise.ing podcast caught me dancing a little bit to your show. So I loved that. And I did notice that bilingual nature. And you know, it's funny, my son speaks Spanish, I speak some Portuguese. So I was proud of myself when I could pick up on a little bit of the language as primarily an English speaker myself. How has that worked for you? I know that you talk about the interest in language access. The way that you use English, Spanish and as you describe, Spanglish, which I love, how has that worked for you? And what are your listeners saying upon hearing that?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 3:11
I mean, for me personally, seeing things in the language that I started speaking with, which was Spanish, just helps me create, or helps create, a sense of belonging for myself, right? So I always tell the story about, there's a bank here in St. Louis, that even though they don't have the best customer service, but they greet me with signs in Spanish. I just always want to go there because they have a language that makes me feel like I belong there.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 3:38
And it's been really interesting, during the pandemic, especially when you started to have, in my opinion, finally see an interest in government and the city and in health services and other organizations focused on language access. So I feel like we were kind of ahead of the curve when we started doing this, you know, back in 2016, through our first iteration, and then in 2017, formally as Auténtico podcast, because I do think that language creates a whole other sense of belonging.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 4:12
And it's not always about the Spanish language, but the cultural meaning behind having that, right? Even the songs. You said that, you know, the music was making you dance. Well, we ask our guests, what are the songs that they identify with? Because as you may know, Spanish is spoken in like 23 different countries. And so our Spanish is different, even though it's the same language.
Alana Muller 4:35
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 4:36
Some words mean the same thing for maybe Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, but not the same thing for Colombians and Venezuelans. Right, as an example. And so, as the pandemic happened, it was just, for me, it was reinforcing to know that language access was important. That language in essence, is a part of who we are, right? Even in English, they speak a different English in the south than they do on the East Coast, right?
Alana Muller 5:06
You're so right, you're so right. Well, and just the way that you describe it as a way to foster belonging, I think you hit on something really important there that as we come together as a community, I do think the way we overcome loneliness, the way that we understand each other better, and, is through that sense of belonging. And the way that you've identified language is one of those keys to bringing people together is really very beautiful. So thank you for the work that you do on the podcast. I think that's great.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 5:34
It was a cool collaboration, right? Because Auténtico podcast already existed, but we were able to collaborate with St. Louis Public Radio in 2022 on the "We Live Here" Auténtico podcast, and so being able to do the post-production edits, and being able to add the music really made a big difference.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 5:55
One of our hardest episodes was the one that we did for Tacos la Jefa, about the amazing birria that they have. And it was hard because we wanted to convey not just the message and the tone, but the real meaning behind the words. And we couldn't do it by translating everything that they said. And so we really intentionally left the original Spanish in there, and then did some minor summary translation. So that was really cool. Also, I mean, it wasn't easy. As much as we love Spanglish and Spanish and the bilingualism piece, it's still hard to do correctly.
Alana Muller 6:32
Yes, you're absolutely right. One of the things I know about you is how connected and committed you are to community. So my question to you is, when it comes to helping others, what is your superpower? And how does it manifest itself in the work that you do in the community?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 6:46
Well, I don't know about superpower, but for me, connecting people is really important. And as much as I don't like networking, I really think that's kind of where I'm really at my best, meeting people, getting to know them. And really being able to connect them to either another person that they could collaborate with. I feel like I see the connection points between two different people so clearly, that in my mind, a lot of times I just go into coaching mode when someone is talking to me about their business, or maybe you know, something that they're working on. So I would say that that's my superpower.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 7:22
And I think it comes from the lack of not having that growing up, right? Up until, not too long ago, let's say within the last 10 years, I didn't have that ability or that sense of what it was that I was missing. And it wasn't until I really moved to southwest Detroit, that I realized that it was those connection points that I felt like I wasn't a whole person.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 7:46
And then to be able to come to St. Louis and not necessarily recreate it, but find community in the same way was also really reassuring. And so I mean, what drives me to continue to help people then, to really make a difference in St. Louis, is that people helped me along the way, right? Like growing up, we were very poor, we benefited from many organizations. And I just feel like it's my responsibility to continue to give back if I can.
Alana Muller 8:14
Well, I think that's great. And the way that you were able to identify, A. the catalyst that led you to understand the importance of that. But I do think there's some superpower nature there to see those connections and to anticipate the goodness that can come from building those connections, and that you want to be the person that brings those connection points together. So I think that's critical. And I have to agree, you know, networking is my business and I think it's really important. And as a friend of mine says that networking is nothing more than friends helping friends. And I really think that that's what you're doing, so keep on! I think that's fabulous.
Alana Muller 8:50
What is something that you're working on professionally, that you're particularly proud of? And who are some of the key players involved in the effort? You've talked a lot about the podcast, are there some other projects that you're working on that have really sort of been meaningful to you?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 9:02
Oh, my gosh, so many of them. I often joke about all the many hats that I wear, but I love it, right? And so I think especially during the pandemic, getting more involved in the community really helped my sanity. So as much as I'm doing it to help people, selfishly, I'm doing it because it helps me, not only the joy, but the sense that I belong and that this is my purpose, in a way, is really growing as I've been able to do more and affect more change in St. Louis.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 9:31
But, you know, around language access during the pandemic, my friend Lourdes and I created STL Juntos, which is a nonprofit specifically focused on language access. So in the beginning, our work was around making sure that everything was in Spanish, which there was no translation at the very beginning, right? The stay-at-home order came out in English and no one knew what was going on except English speakers, which is fine if we only had English speakers in the country, but especially in St. Louis, that population has been growing.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 10:02
And traditionally that population are the essential workers. So the people that we most have the contact with did not know what was happening, they did not know to stay home, they were not sure about isolating. As they started to get sick, they didn't know how to heal themselves or where to go for help. And then as the pandemic took various turns around the vaccine, and food access, and all of that stuff, so we were very pivotal, I feel, in St. Louis, to advocate but also provide language access in St. Louis.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 10:35
And because we speak Spanish, we were advocating for Spanish access, but we worked very closely with the city health department, county health department, the International Institute, and a lot of other entities, which is something that I'm really grateful for is St. Louis's collaborative nature. Everybody understood that we were working toward the same goal.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 10:55
And so it was really important, I think, for all of us to do that, because we were learning as different languages were being developed, or were better resourced we were learning what was working. And again, the issue of not just the language we speak, but the cultural definition or intention behind that was also very important. And so, like I said, during the pandemic, and even now we've transitioned and where we fit into the ecosystem. Another project that I'm really excited about is being an author. So I was able to participate in, actually right before the pandemic, we launched our anthology, where I spoke about networking, and then everything got shut down like that next week.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 11:36
But even during the pandemic, I wrote a chapter for the G.R.I.T. anthology, which has been really exciting just to see the continuation of books that come out, and the people that are represented, because again, it's all about telling our stories, right? Through our stories, I really feel that we can connect with others, and we can share our lessons learned.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 11:59
So those have been really two additional projects, on top of the work I do with businesses, that is very exciting to me, again, selfishly, I love being a part of that journey and the growth. And so people thank me all the time and I'm like, "No, I'm thanking you for allowing me to be a part of your journey." But it's almost like having kids, right? That they're a small business, they have this idea, they're thinking about what they want to do. And as you see them progress and grow and scale, it's just so exciting to be able to cheer them on. And you know, when they do have questions, or they need resources, to be able to support them.
Alana Muller 12:34
I love that. And I have to tell you, I knew that your name sounded familiar, but you've just highlighted something for me. And the importance of connection is that I also contributed to the G.R.I.T. analogy, anthology, rather, and the Growth collection. So I love that we have that in common. I'm so glad to learn that. So congratulations to you. So you're a bestselling author is what you're telling me.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 12:54
I am telling you that, I mean, it's been a great opportunity not just to be an author, right? I think for a lot of people I know it's on our bucket list. So that was amazing. But also the connections that we're able to make with the women that participated. So you were in the first book, maybe that's why we haven't seen each other.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 13:10
Because I know that Jennifer Bardot, who put together the books, has been really intentional about connecting women and giving us a voice and providing other opportunities to kind of grow our professional development, but also grow those things we're afraid to do, right? Like for me, it's public speaking, believe it or not, and being visibly in an auditorium. And then here I was speaking at The Sheldon in front of hundreds of people for a project. So it really has been way more than I anticipated when I signed up to do the chapter.
Alana Muller 13:45
Well, that's so fabulous. And so I do hope that our listeners will go check out those G.R.I.T. anthologies, there are several now. And so I feel proud and just the fact that our community, in fact, has been built, and both in person and a virtual way, I think is a really beneficial outcome of not just that project, but of the pandemic. So congratulations to you on that.
Alana Muller 14:06
I want to sort of flip the question around. I asked you about some of the projects that you are most excited about and most proud of. On the flip side, we all face challenges in our business. And we've talked a little bit about the pandemic and some of the challenges there. Talk about a time when you had to overcome an obstacle and what did you do to do so?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 14:22
What I wrote about in the resilience book was that my daughter passed away in 2022. No 2021, I'm sorry. What a lot of people don't know is that my son passed away in 2020. And so rather…
Alana Muller 14:35
Gabriela, I'm so sorry.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 14:37
Thank you. So for me, I feel like those are also two like pivotal points that pushed me forward and shaped me and that's why part of my bio talks about how they're the ones that inspire me to make the world a better place because they're no longer here to do that. And so I feel like if I'm still here, and as many people as have helped me, how do I continue to move that forward? Right?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 15:03
I would say that for me, the part that challenges me has been change, right? Like divorce and moving to St. Louis, not knowing exactly what was happening. Sometimes I think it's those personal challenges that affect us probably the most, because they're the ones that are very hard to compartmentalize, right? Like, the stuff at work can be hard, relationships at work can be maybe not as great as we want. And tasks that we are asked to do can be difficult.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 15:33
But I feel like that those personal relationships or those personal issues that we have at home, whether it's struggling with daycare, so many women that I know that have little kids are just struggling with not being able to find a place to take their child or problems with our spouses during the pandemic, we realized that oh my gosh, like I knew you differently.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 15:55
So sometimes those personal challenges, I think, are the ones that really stretch us, that help us to build that resilience and build that grit because we have to make a decision about them. We have to, in a way overcome them, or at least to the point where we're saying, right? So I think that there are so many things, especially coming out of the pandemic, that many of us are questioning. Is this really what I want to do? Is this really where I want to spend my time? Is this really what I'm supposed to be doing? Like, what is my purpose? What is the reason that I'm here? So it's been a great, but also a very difficult time to really reassess and reinvent ourselves, right? Not just me, but a lot of people.
Alana Muller 16:42
Yeah, absolutely. You're so right, well, so with that in mind, you've been an advisor, a mentor, champion, to so many people. Talk about the professional advisors that you surround yourself with. So who are your professional advisors? And how have they helped you and your business grow?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 16:58
I mean, that's another piece of why I'm so excited to support others and cheer them on is because really, I didn't have advisors helping me along the way. I mean, I had not worked when I was in my first marriage. So 20 years later, I got divorced, and I had to find a job. So maybe I didn't have a reason to have those advisors. But since I moved to St. Louis, I mean, there's just been so many people that have supported me, that have cheered me on, that have really allowed me to grow.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 17:28
And so I think it's important to surround yourself with a tribe of people that really gets you, that understands where you want to go, that can support you through the good and the bad. And they don't have to agree with everything that we do, but that they're there and available to say, “Well, you know what, I don't necessarily think you should do that. But if you are, here's what I'm thinking, right?” Like, help me think through what's the worst possible scenario. Or, how can I fix it if it goes wrong? And that has been really cool to find, you know, with the group that Jennifer has created with G.R.I.T., I'm starting to get to know more of the women. I've been involved with The Mosaic Project. They have been instrumental too in my success and my progress in St. Louis, as an immigrant, as a woman, as a Latina. And just the people that I have started some of these projects with because we were both like minded, and we supported each other. And obviously, you build relationships.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 18:25
So my co-founder from STL Juntos and my various podcast hosts have been a huge part of, I would say, my upbringing in St. Louis, since I moved here in 2016. Because we think alike in the sense that we want progress, we want to help other people, we want to make sure that St. Louis is better. And that will only happen if everybody is successful.
Alana Muller 18:50
Well, and I want to go back to a point you made that I think is really important as we think about our advisors. So they're there to give advice. We choose what advice to take, what advice not to take, and one of the sort of distinguishing points that you made is that they say, you know, this may or may not be what I would recommend for you. But if you are going to pursue it, you might think about these eventualities or you might think about these particular opportunities.
Alana Muller 19:14
And so what I love about what you said is that it doesn't mean you have to follow exactly what they say, but you're going to them to glean their wisdom, to hear what they have to say, to take that in, process it for yourself, and then utilize it in the way that you see fit, and that's best for you. And I think that that is the hallmark of a good sort of mentor-mentee relationship, a good advisor-advisee relationship. So I really liked that and you know, with that, is there one best piece of business advice that you've received?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 19:44
I don't know if I have one best piece that I received, but I would definitely say, be a cheerleader for other people. Ask for help. I mean, those are some of the things that have been hard for me, but the ones that have really pushed me to the next level. And then do stuff that's uncomfortable, do stuff that's scary because a lot of us are probably, especially like I said, after the pandemic thinking, “What's my purpose? Why am I here?” Which means you're not living to your full potential, right? You're playing small. So take risks outside your comfort zone. One of the things that I really love about my tribe is I know that they have my back. So I can mess up, I can fall apart. Obviously, I've made mistakes. But I know that someone has my back. And I think that that's really important.
Alana Muller 20:34
I love it. I love it. I think that's so great. So as we begin to wrap up, there's one question that I just love to ask my guests. I've asked every single guest I've ever had. So my question is this, if you could meet one person for a cup of coffee, who would it be and why? I don't care if they're living, not living, fictional or nonfictional. Who would it be that you would go grab a cup of coffee with to have a conversation?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 20:54
Probably Supreme Justice Sotomayor. I feel like she has gone through so many different things as a Latina, as a woman, just a trailblazer. All the stuff that she's had to deal with professionally, and as a figure, a public figure. Also, I would love to just have coffee with her and kind of find out some of the things you asked me like, how do you find peace? And how do you let stuff roll off your shoulder when the world is against you? Right? Someone with such a high profile. I mean, you can imagine that even if she wasn't making a mistake, if someone doesn't agree with her, they're gonna let her know or at least the rest of us know.
Alana Muller 21:35
That is for sure, that is a great choice. I love that idea. That's a really good choice in terms of somebody to have a cup of coffee with, so I hope you get to do that. Well Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano, it's been so wonderful to have you on Enterprise.ing podcast, where can our listeners go to learn more about you and about Auténtico podcast?
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 21:54
Well, you can definitely check out our website Auténticopodcast.com. Also, we are on "We Live Here Auténtico" on St. Louis Public Radio, so all the episodes are there. But obviously, whatever people's favorite podcast platform, whether it's Apple or Spotify, any of those will carry us. On our website, we also have a list of the Hispanic Heritage Month holidays that are coming up for the rest of the year in St. Louis. So it's always a good opportunity to check out what's happening specifically for Hispanic Heritage Month and we have blogs, so, insight from some of our guests and from myself and Alejandro, or my co-host.
Alana Muller 22:35
Fabulous, Gabriela. It's been such a privilege to have you on, I'm so delighted to know you and I look forward to keeping in touch with you. Thanks for being on Enterprise.ing.
Gabriela Ramírez-Arellano 22:43
Thank you so much. I'll have to check out your chapter in the anthology.
Alana Muller 22:46
Alana Muller 22:49
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