Telling Our Stories: Yolanda Altomare

As we observe and celebrate Black History Month at Vigor, we want to take the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of our employees. Recognizing the unique and personal pathways each person has traveled is part of building understanding and better connections between one another. This series of interviews with Vigor employees reflects our Love and Evolution values and the ongoing work we undertake to live up to these values.

Yolanda Altomare, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Vancouver

What has been your experience that led you to Vigor?

I am a first generation Mexican American. My mom came to the U.S. at three years old and my dad at 21, when he started picking strawberries in the fields of California. As a kid we were always taught that our culture was very important, but race is just part of who you are. The schools I went to as a young child were largely Hispanic, so I didn't really know I was different until we moved to a more affluent part of San Jose Valley. When my parents moved us to an area where we got a really good education and an opportunity to go to college, I remember kids saying "you're not like all those other Mexicans on the east side."

The first time I was scared because of my race was when Donald Trump came to power and talked about Mexicans being rapists and drug dealers. I worried about my dad -- what if people attack him or start talking to him differently? I was very proud that I could speak a second language and had this background. All of the sudden I became fearful of speaking Spanish in public, for fear of people saying "we are in America." My fear was of it not being seen as a value anymore. It was scary for people to feel very negative toward Mexican-Americans.

I don't hide it if it comes up in conversation. [Our racial background] helps to shape who we are as people. I felt like I did always have to work a little bit harder -- I know my parents did. They had to work twice as hard to get to the point where we were able to have the upbringing that we did.

How would you describe your experience as a person of color in ship repair/industrial work?

There have been previous instances where I have felt discrimination. Working at the GAP in high school I had a manager that was openly racist. At a previous company, when there was a proposition on the ballot in California about immigration, my manager asked me how I felt about it in front of my team. I remember feeling shocked about how inappropriate that was.

Prior to Vigor, I have predominantly worked for IT companies. I did a lot of work in Hispanic communities and was able to leverage my background to help bring people in. Working here, I look at how we can bring a more diverse candidate pool to each position. Portland is not as diverse, so while we could be more diverse in our workforce, we are pulling from a community that isn't as diverse. We can focus on places like the military and different communities to bring in more diverse candidates, and think about it more broadly knowing that diversity goes beyond race, religion or color, and includes different types of thinking, experience and style.

I felt like I did always have to work a little bit harder -- I know my parents did. They had to work twice as hard to get to the point where we were able to have the upbringing that we did.

What was your experience in the Race Forums?

People are starting to understand that maybe there is white privilege. There were certainly people who could never quite understand that concept. There are a lot of people who don't understand that being a person of color or speaking a different language can be a detriment. Even I always thought it was mostly a benefit until more recently. That is a scary feeling. [The Race Forums are] a way we can educate people without shoving it down their throats, but instead give them different perspectives that they can do with what they want.

What does a Beloved Community look like at Vigor, and any workplace?

I think understanding and valuing who people are and how they got to that place is really important. Our experiences help shape who we are. As a recruiter, when I look at resumes and look at new talent, I want to know what helped shaped a person into who they are. When we ask about an accomplishment, we want to know what people are most proud of, not necessarily their best work success. It's one of our values -- Love -- we love each other regardless of race, color or religion. That is what Love means to me -- that you are being respectful and appreciating everyone's differences.

What does Black History Month mean to you?

We have to think about how we can value each other and allow people to understand different perspectives. How can we walk in each other's shoes? A professor I had in college introduced us to books about Japanese internment, Native American history, and Black history which started a dialogue. Learning about those different experiences helped us understand that everyone comes from a different place and brings something different to the table.