Graphic designer Crystal Herrera tried to fit in — until she learned to stand out.

By Kara Corridan

September 29, 2022

Crystal Herrera, a graphic design manager in Prudential Communications, is Mexican-American. But she doesn’t speak Spanish.

Her mother, who was white, died when Herrera was only 8. Her father, whose parents grew up in Mexico, wanted his children to fit in as American and American only. He didn’t want them to explore their Mexican culture at all.

“’You’re never going to need Spanish’,” Herrera remembers her father telling her and her five siblings. “’Just learn English. That’s how you’ll get a job.’”

“He couldn’t have been more wrong,” Herrera says with a laugh in the video above.

In it, she candidly shares the angst she felt growing up in Minnesota, often feeling like she wasn’t Mexican “enough” because she is also white — and doesn’t speak Spanish.

“One comment that sticks out is, ‘Oh, you’re like the Taco Bell version of Mexican,’” Herrera recalls.

She married a Nicaraguan man and in 2015, they had boy-girl twins. The following year, the high school in her town was vandalized. Graffiti with slurs including “#whitesonly” had been scrawled in the bathroom.

Herrera was shaken. “If my kids were in high school, how would I talk to them about what just took place?” she wondered. She also considered the privilege she experiences simply by having light skin, and the fact that her children could someday be racially profiled.

“They look Hispanic and have Hispanic names. Suddenly all this pride in my Hispanic heritage came bubbling to the surface,” Herrera recalls.

The incident at the high school propelled her to take action and get involved in the Hispanic community. Previously a “passive” member of the Juntos business resource group for Hispanic employees at Prudential, Herrera took on the role of site lead in Plymouth, Minnesota. She helped organize substantive events like a discussion about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and worked with Human Resources to help build an ethnically diverse talent pipeline in the Plymouth office. Today, she serves on the board as head of design, responsible for rebranding Juntos and creating its current logo.

“I’ve wanted to do more. Not only so that I could say to my kids, ‘Mommy’s doing this because we’re Hispanic and we’re going to create change,’ but I felt it was my responsibility at Prudential to do that. If I do nothing, then I’m essentially contributing to the problem.” 

Herrera thinks of the little girl who always felt like an outsider and realizes how far she’s come. “I know who I am in a very different way than I was when I was a kid. I’m Crystal. I’m way more than just my race.”

Herrera working on the logo for Juntos

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