This National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re proud to bring you the “Mucho Gusto!” or “Nice to meet you!” series of weekly interviews featuring members of NSA’s Hispanic and Latino (HLAT) Employee Resource Group (ERG). Our interviewees embrace what we share in common and celebrate what makes us unique, in keeping with the year’s theme, Todos Somos. Somos Uno: We are all. We are One. This week, we’d like to introduce you to ERG member Vivian Hernandez.
Where are you originally from and what would you like to share about your upbringing?
I was born to a Puerto Rican father and a Costa Rican mother, but my ancestry goes back to Spain. I was born in San Turce, Puerto Rico, and spent the first year of my life in Costa Rica while my mother was working out the kinks to come to the U.S. We eventually moved to Miami, Florida where I grew up. I was the only child and we didn’t have any family in the U.S., so my parents made lots of Cuban friends who became like family. I remember all the parties we had growing up enjoying every special occasion, holiday, or the “just because” party. We had a lot of happy times dancing, eating fabulous foods from various countries, and just coming together. Growing up in South Florida was great because no matter where you went, you were able to speak in your native language (Spanish) and everyone treated you like family. Growing up in Miami also meant going to the beach a lot and playing dominos while you were there. It also meant many Disney trips, visiting Parrot Jungle, and going to the flea market (those from Miami can relate).
What does this year’s NHHM theme “Todos Somos. Somos Uno: We are all. We are One” mean to you?
The theme means that we put aside our biases and our differences, and we unite together as one to celebrate our diversity which makes us who we are. This couldn’t be better demonstrated than the annual Calle Ocho event which takes place in Little Havana in Miami. It’s a massive Latin American carnival event that attracts millions of people. The carnival extends close to twenty blocks or more and brings representations from numerous Latin American countries proudly displaying their dance/folklore, music, and delicious foods. All these people unite together to celebrate the Latin culture no matter where you are from.
How has your ethnic heritage shaped the person you are today, personally or professionally?
Latinos are hard workers and I saw that firsthand in my home. My mother was the epitome of hard work. She came to this country determined to give the best of herself. I remember going to the eyeglass company where she worked as a manager and watch her work ethic. On those rare visits, she taught me that same work ethic as I helped on the assembly line putting glasses into boxes. I just thought it was fun. Watching her throughout my life has shaped my own personal work ethic and taught me to appreciate every opportunity presented to me.
How did you come to work for the Agency and what part of your job do you love the most?
Before coming to the Agency I worked for the Hollywood Police Department in Hollywood, Florida. The department was in need of a polygraph examiner, and I volunteered to go to school so I could take on the task. However, budgetary issues did not make that possible. At the same time, my husband, who was also in law enforcement, was looking at positions with the federal government because he was planning to retire in the future. I began helping him look and I came across the Polygraph Examiner position with the Agency. We kicked around the idea of moving for the job and I applied. I went through the process and was hired. I recently moved to NSA Georgia and into a Counterintelligence Investigator position after four years in Polygraph. The move was the best thing I did. I love my new position because I wear different hats, I work investigations, and it’s never a dull moment.
If I handed you a magic wand, what would be your ideal workplace in terms of diversity, equality and inclusion? What does that look like for NSA as a whole?
My ideal workplace would be working with individuals who recognize that we are all diverse and different, and who will respect those differences regardless of each individual’s background. This could also translate to NSA as a whole: because of our differences, we have different perspectives, experiences, and ideas that can come together and make us better as an Agency. I must say though, I already work with a great team of people!
What advice would you have for aspiring NSA employees?
My advice is to have a vision and set goals or milestones. Embrace what it means to work hard and collaborate with others. The journey is not accomplished alone, yet, connecting with others and being open to new ideas and knowledge will help you succeed in your walk.
Extra question: If you could pick one word to represent what NHHM means to you, what would it be?
To start a career journey at NSA like Sandra, visit NSA.gov/careers or intelligencecareers.gov/NSA for more information on employment opportunities.