Recently an article in the Washington Post entitled, “Black and Latina women scientists sometimes mistaken for janitors,” was brought to my attention. The Nano-Bio blog editor and INBT science writer, Mary Spiro, asked me if I would be willing to write a response to it. After considering this topic and my experience in the States, I cannot say that I have felt stereotyped due to being a female Hispanic scientist.
Although stereotyping is a more profound issue, it is not completely unreasonable. Let me explained myself: I recently defended my PhD work at Johns Hopkins University and in the five and a half years that I have spent here, most of the janitors are blacks including a few Hispanics. When I would walk to lab, I could hear construction guys talking in Spanish all the time. Unfortunately, this stereotype is sometimes our current reality. This could be partly explained from the fact that some of us come from developing countries, and it is difficult when we come to the States to be up to speed with everyone else who has been born and raised here. This gap could be due to a variety of factors, such as the lack of education, the cultural differences, the language barrier, and even the influence of our family.
One of the reasons that I have not felt particularly stereotyped is probably because when I moved to the States 13 years ago, I came to New York City, which is known as the melting pot of this country. I went to City College of New York and out of a class of 30, there was only one person originally from the States. Everyone else was from somewhere around the world.
After arriving to the US, I was aware that I was coming from a developing country, and that I needed to work hard to succeed, which I would define as getting educated. When I decided to come here, I moved without my family and without knowing any English and I feel that the most important thing that made me succeed was the great desire and determination to learn and get educated. This determination probably made me so focus on achieving my goals that I never really thought about being stereotyped or discriminated even when this could had been the case.
Looking back, I can only say that yes, I worked really hard, but I have been extremely fortunate to be able to earn a PhD from one of the leading Universities. Now, do I think it is fair that women, in particular Blacks and Hispanics, are stereotyped or even discriminated? Of course not, but the issue here is greater than this. Stereotyping and discrimination depend on several variables. For instance, geography, demographics, education, and income all play a role.
I have Hispanic Engineer friends who work in different industries in non-traditional roles, and I have observed that the ones who work in New York City are less likely to be stereotyped or discriminated than the ones elsewhere. Do I think that as women we should support each other and create societies that inspire and help us navigate the system? Of course yes! Motivating and helping women pursue a career in the field of science will help increase the percentage of women in these challenging positions. Over time, this will lead to a greater representation of the number of blacks and Latina women scientists, and this current stereotype and discrimination will eventually vanish.
About the author: Angela Jimenez recently completed her PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular engineering in the laboratory of Denis Wirtz, associate director of INBT and Vice Provost for Research at Johns Hopkins University.