Latinos are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States and are projected to make up 28.6% of the nation’s population by 2060. From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the U.S. celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month.
The language used to describe the month varies (Hispanic, Latino, Latinx), but at INL, we’re using the terminology Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Month to be as inclusive as possible.
Learn more about the terms Hispanic and Latinx in the resources section at the end of the article. Regardless of terminology, the month celebrates the cultural influences and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Three employees give us a window into their heritage and the impact Idaho National Laboratory has had on their lives.
Meet Ryan Petersen, Senior Counsel at INL
Ryan Petersen has been senior counsel at INL for about a year and a half and is currently also acting Labor Relations manager. In these roles, his focus is on labor and employment law and interfacing with the labor unions. “It’s been a positive experience working at INL. People have been friendly and open since I started,” he said.
Petersen earned his undergraduate degree in political science and economics and his law degree at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. After graduating, he originally looked at working at an energy law firm in the Washington, D.C., area, but rethought those plans when he realized the lack of work-life balance. “When I was interviewing, an associate took me back to their office and I noticed a bed in the corner,” said Petersen. “I asked him about it and he said they work such long hours that many of the associates have beds in their offices and stay there overnight.” Petersen was looking for a better quality of life and ended up finding a position in Idaho instead.
He worked at several businesses in southeast Idaho before coming to INL and has been very happy with the work-life balance he’s found here. “Many attorneys are putting in 50- to 60-hour weeks or more. Working INL’s regular schedule makes it much easier to plan for myself and my family,” he said.
Petersen spent most of his childhood in Logan, Utah. He’s half Bolivian (his mother is originally from Bolivia), and growing up he didn’t really notice cultural differences with those around him. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” he said. “To me, having a mother who spoke several languages and the cultural influences of Bolivia was normal because that’s all I knew.” It wasn’t until he was older that he started picking up on the cultural differences between Bolivia and the U.S.
“My mother grew up in a society with a very distinct class system and set expectations for each class,” Petersen said. His mother was fortunate to be well-educated and had strong expectations to perform, succeed and live up to high expectations. He said her upbringing influenced how she raised him to work hard and set goals. “Without an end goal, it’s hard to find the best place for you. It’s important to love your job, but not to leave it up to chance. Know want you want and work to meet that goal,” said Petersen.
One of his biggest realizations about cultural differences came when he moved from Utah to New Mexico. “In New Mexico I noticed many of the community leaders were Hispanic. This was the first time I’d seen Hispanics in those leadership roles,” he said.
Although other aspects of Bolivian culture were woven into his upbringing, for Petersen, his strongest cultural connection to his Bolivian heritage is through food. His favorites are cheese empanadas and saltenas.
Petersen obtained his pilot’s license a few years ago, and in his spare time he enjoys flying his small, single engine plane throughout the west. “The world’s a lot closer with an airplane,” he said. He also took up marathon running and ran his first marathon in Banff, Canada, last year.
Petersen has been happy during his time at INL. “I’m inspired by INL leadership,” he said. “The best leaders are respectful, fair, polite and honest. It’s amazing what problems are solved by their kindness.”
Meet Angelica Guzman, INL Policy and Assurance Manager
Angelica Guzman affectionately describes herself as “the intern who never left.” She is currently the INL Policy and Assurance manager, where she oversees reviews of internal controls, subcontract invoice reviews, cost accounting standards compliance, funds-in administration, funding determinations and assessments of general accounting practices.
Guzman started at INL in 2009 as an intern in the internal audit organization, but without the encouragement of her Idaho State University tax professor, she wouldn’t have even applied for an internship. “I was a nontraditional student and my goal was to get my Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. I had no intention of doing an internship,” she said. Guzman was concerned that an internship would slow her down and keep her from achieving that goal. She is grateful that she took the internship opportunity with INL because it led her to a fulfilling career where she can help people and work with colleagues who she trusts. Plus, she was still able to earn her CPA.
Guzman spent most of her childhood in the city of Galeana in Michoacán, Mexico. The small town in a valley between mountains was very remote, and she grew up in a traditional Mexican family that was strict and worked a lot. “I remember at school during recess my older sister and I would go home and clean, iron, or do household tasks. We always had to work when we were home,” she said.
Good work ethic has been key in Guzman’s family because that is what brings food to the table. Guzman’s father grew up extremely poor and told his children stories of remembering feeling sick from hunger. He even had a brother die from starvation. From the time he was 14, her dad began working in the fields in the U.S. He taught himself how to read, write and do simple math, but never was able to finish a full grade in elementary school because he was pulled out to work for part of every school year. To this day, Guzman’s parents want to feed everyone who comes to visit at any time.
Once her dad obtained his green card, he brought Guzman and her family to Idaho Falls in the Osgood area. She was 14 at the time and didn’t speak or understand English. “Since my dad wasn’t able to get an education, his goal for his daughters was to finish high school and learn the language.” All of his daughters accomplished that goal, and in the case of Guzman, she continued on through college. “My dad is why I still wear my high school ring,” she said. “It meant so much to him, and he never dreamed I’d be where I am today.”
The Mexican culture at the time was very protective of daughters, but because hers was a family of four girls, Guzman’s parents raised their children to be independent and ensure no man could take advantage of them. “Life wasn’t easy, but it shaped me. Today if I’m told I can’t do something, I work extra hard to accomplish it to prove them wrong,” said Guzman.
Guzman and her family still feel connected to their Mexican roots. “Many people value family, but family is extremely important in Mexican culture,” she said. “When we’re having a celebration, we put everything else aside and focus on family.” She feels a particular connection to her heritage through food. “We celebrate Thanksgiving, but we don’t have a turkey. Instead we have tamales and other traditional Mexican dishes.”
Guzman is proud of her accomplishments, and although people tell her she’s overcome so much, she sees herself and her journey as normal. “We’re not victims. Everyone has challenges. I’m just being me,” she said.
Outside of work, Guzman spends time outdoors with her two children and husband, camping and riding four-wheelers. She said, “Ultimately, the words I live by are Eleanor Roosevelt’s: ‘Do what you feel in your heart?to be right.’”
Meet Jose Rodriguez, Nuclear Facility Manager at the Materials and Fuels Complex
Originally from Ashton, Idaho, Jose Rodriguez spent time as a Navy aviation mechanic and heavy equipment mechanic before joining INL in 2007 as a nuclear facility operator. “I actually forgot I applied for the position, and I was about to take a job in Alaska, but I got a call from staffing and had the opportunity to tour INL. I was fascinated and jumped at the opportunity,” he said.
Since that time, Rodriguez worked as a nuclear facility operator and shift supervisor and is now the Nuclear Facility manager at the Materials and Fuels Complex. His workdays are long, waking up around 3:30 a.m., going to the gym, getting into work around 5:30 or 6 a.m. and leaving after his 12-hour shift, but he loves it. “It’s always dynamic and the people I work with are great. That’s what makes it worthwhile,” he said.
Although originally from Idaho, Rodriguez’s family lived in Mexico for several years while he was young. While living in Mexico when he was 9 years old, he already knew how to read, write and speak English, and became an impromptu English teacher in his class. “I’d grown up speaking English and could help clarify and explain some of the usage. Many words in English have double or triple meanings. For instance, right (the direction), right (correct) and write (compose),” said Rodriguez.
Most of Rodriguez’s ancestors have Aztec heritage, and many speak the Aztec language. His parents grew up in the mountains of Central Mexico very poor and learned to live off the land. “My parents got their citizenship and immigrated to the United States. They’re some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met,” he said. “My dad always wanted to give us the world and for us to achieve anything we wanted in life. He taught us to work hard and get an education so we didn’t have to work as hard as he did.”
In addition to the drive he learned from his parents, Rodriguez also remembers a good friend and mentor who helped steer him in the right direction. “He was blunt and would tell me when I was doing something wrong, but saw my potential and helped me get on the right track,” he said. “From him I learned that integrity is important. Tell the truth and give people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”
Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids and taking in all that his current hometown of Mackey, Idaho, has to offer. “I make sure to balance work and the time I have with my family. We love to hunt, fish, sled and go four-wheeling,” he said. He still carries on many of the Mexican traditions and values he had growing up and looks forward to the day he’ll be able to throw a quinceanera for his daughter.
In both his work and home life, Rodriguez embraces all different cultures. “It’s important to be welcoming to everybody,” he said. “People from different backgrounds provide insight that we’d never see if we didn’t look outside of ourselves.”
- Defining Hispanic versus Latinx
- Hispanic Heritage Month Facts & Figures
- Hispanic Heritage Month Timeline
Social Media Campaign Posts — #HispanicHeritageMonth