Celebrating Hispanic (and Latinx) Heritage Month at TTS: An Intersection of Identity and Public Service

Members of the Latinx employee resource group share their stories of public service.
Oct 11, 2022

At the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the Technology Transformation Services (TTS) mission is to design and deliver a digital government by, with, and for the public. TTS has several grassroots-led employee resource groups that create space to share things with one another outside of day-to-day project work, including one for Latinx employees.

To advance and increase the understanding of Latinx identity in design, tech, and government as an inseparable part of American identity, we interviewed colleagues across TTS. We recently asked members of the TTS Latinx employee resource group to talk about identity and why they choose public service. Keep reading to hear what they have to say.


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Laura Godfrey, Vote.gov — Public Experience Portfolio, TTS Solutions

How do you identify?

I identify as a woman from Argentina, who has incorporated a lot of elements from the culture of the United States. After all, I have spent more than half my life here.

What is something you find yourself constantly explaining about Latinx identity?

I personally don’t use the word Latinx; it’s mainly used in this country, and very few people outside of this country use that term. This is a very diverse community, with different cultures within the Latinx diáspora. The Spanish language unites us, but even though we speak the same language, our vocabulary changes from country to country and our accents are very different. If I have to pick one thing that makes us one, it is the value we place on our family and cultural heritage.

A picture is worth a thousand words, what photograph or image best represents your cultural connection?

Laura, her two daughters, and young grand-daughter all smile and take a group selfie at the beach.

My family is my connection to our culture. This photo, where I am at a beach with my two daughters and my granddaughter, is a favorite.

How do you show up as Latinx? Why is that important to you?

I have an accent that people notice immediately and it’s part of who I am. I don’t hide my identity from anyone. I try to help and lift other Latinx/Hispanics—we are a group of hard-working, very capable individuals that sometimes don’t get great opportunities.

Why do you serve?

I’m passionate about serving the public and very lucky to have the opportunity to serve. When I worked for an international health organization and traveled all over Latin America documenting programs aimed at improving the health of people in Latin America, I learned a lot about the diversity of our culture. Working for the government takes on a different dimension. I try to make government information and services accessible to all Hispanics in the United States in Spanish. I also lead Digital.gov’s Multilingual Community of Practice. In this additional role, I get to help colleagues across the government improve the Spanish information they make available online so everyone can access it and understand it—regardless of country or education level.

What were some hesitancies you had before considering a role in the federal government?

I thought it would be too bureaucratic and a little boring. I was very wrong! I was lucky to land in this organization where everyone is passionate about serving the public. I couldn’t be more proud of being here.

What is your proudest achievement in your professional career within the government?

Many moments have made me feel good about my career with the government. But if I had to pick one, I think it’s the time I helped someone who was suffering from domestic abuse to connect with the information and services she needed. This was at a conference where USAGov en Español was an exhibitor. This person stopped by the booth and told us what was happening to her and we helped her right then and there. I will never forget that experience.


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Toni Bonitto, Innovation Specialist, Digital.gov – Innovation Portfolio, TTS Solutions

How do you identify?

All four of my grandparents have mixed heritages, but my maternal grandfather’s family left Spain for the Americas as Sephardic Jews. I identify as Black Hispanic (or Afro-Latina), as those are the two main cultures of my childhood.

What is something you find yourself constantly explaining about Latinx identity?

I was born and raised in New York City. Besides the famous nickname, “the Big Apple,” it is also known as “the melting pot of the world.” Having come from both a heritage and geographical location that is ethnically diverse, it surprises me how often — outside of New York — I have to explain just how diverse Latinx people are, from skin tone and hair texture, to religion, music, dance, and even language. For example, not only are there different dialects of Spanish, but if one’s family is like mine and has been in the U.S. a few generations, it may be less likely that you are fully bilingual and fluent in Spanish (and that that’s okay).

A picture is worth a thousand words, what photograph or image best represents your cultural connection?

My grandfather was the first in his family born in the United States. He served overseas in the U.S. Army during World War II as a sergeant but this photo of him in uniform was taken shortly after he enlisted. He and my grandmother met at a United Service Organizations (USO) event after the war, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My grandfather was the first in his family born in the United States. He served overseas in the U.S. Army during World War II as a sergeant, but this photo of him in uniform was taken shortly after he enlisted. He and my grandmother met at a United Service Organizations (USO) event after the war, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Special shout-out to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)— thanks to the ongoing digitization of their vast array of records, I was able to find copies of his dad’s (my great-grandfather’s) 1918 Declaration of Intention [to become a citizen], 1921 Petition for Naturalization, and 1922 Oath of Allegiance.

How do you show up as Latinx? Why is that important to you?

Having such a diverse background allows me to share perspectives that don’t seem to have been common in government. As individuals, I see how we are helping to improve digital products and services for the public, but as a cultural group, we are also helping to ensure that our government, as a whole, becomes more diverse, inclusive, equitable, and accessible. Over the last eight years, I have been happy to be part of a work culture that is increasingly intentional in how it can better serve the public, actively working to improve not only user and customer experience, but representation in our national workforce—which I think will be an important factor in improving the public’s trust in government.

Why do you serve?

Most of my tech career has been in the private and non-profit sectors. I especially loved the nature conservation organizations that I worked for, but I always wanted to serve the public, too, in some capacity.

What were some hesitancies you had before considering a role in the federal government? 

There was no hesitation; both sides of my family have served in the U.S. military or government for many generations. I started as a contractor to launch Digital.gov in early 2014, and accepted the offer that came at the end of that year to transition to an FTE (full-time employee) in early 2015. As one who is a descendant of enslaved Africans, Indigenous peoples native to this hemisphere, and European and Caribbean immigrants, my hope is that through our work, I can help make a difference for all who call, or wish to call, the United States their home.

What is your proudest achievement in your professional career within the government?

Since it launched on February 14, 2014, the growth and impact of Digital.gov across the federal space has been a point of pride.

Our mission is to transform how government learns, builds, delivers, and measures digital services in the 21st century. Our very small but mighty team manages multiple Communities of Practice, and produces news articles, evergreen guides and resources, and live video events (including monthly calls with the U.S. Web Design System and annual full- and multi-day summits) on a variety of technology, content, design, policy, and professional development topics so that our fellow feds can expand their skills and improve their products and programs to better serve the public.

When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, Digital.gov was able to pivot from in-person and hybrid events to fully virtual ones to continue to serve our customers; federal employees. In 2021, we hosted 65 events with a total of 16,157 attendees; event satisfaction scores averaged 4.5 out of 5. Our email marketing and social media outreach helped grow Digital.gov’s communities to more than 25,000 members and Twitter followers to nearly 56,000. In 2020, our website pageviews doubled to over 1.1 million and has been consistently in that range for the last three years.


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Austin Hernandez, Product Design — 18F

How do you identify?

It depends on who’s asking. Generally, I select boxes for Latinx, but familially and culturally I am 100% Tejano. If people want to talk about racial identity, I’m mestizo, which is someone who is mixed-race through Spanish colonization and is genetically mostly Native American and Iberian.

What is something you find yourself constantly explaining about Latinx identity?

We don’t all speak Spanish, or the same dialect of Spanish. That doesn’t make you more or less Latinx.

A picture is worth a thousand words, what photograph or image best represents your cultural connection?

This is a photo of me as a baby with my grandpa in 1987. We are both smiling as he plays the guitarrón and I try to dance. In addition to serving in the U.S. Army Reserve and working in civil service until retirement, my grandpa was a mariachi. He played a number of string instruments and sang in mariachi bands at large formal events, religious services, and tourist attractions well into his 80s until he passed away from COVID-19 complications in 2020.

This is a photo of me as a baby with my grandpa in 1987. We are both smiling as he plays the guitarrón and I try to dance. In addition to serving in the U.S. Army Reserve and working in civil service until retirement, my grandpa was a mariachi. He played a number of string instruments and sang in mariachi bands at large formal events, religious services, and tourist attractions well into his 80s until he passed away from COVID-19 complications in 2020.

How do you show up as Latinx? Why is that important to you?

In our employee resource group, we talk a lot about how our appearance, name, and accents have all been used to call into question our Latinx identity. It used to be something I tried to “prove” until I realized the problem wasn’t me. It’s a lack of understanding about the diversity of Latinx identity and perceptions that are based on stereotypes and oversimplifications. It’s important for me to be living proof of all the intersecting identities to change the narrative.

Why do you serve?

I feel like I have more say in government than I did in the private sector. The product decisions I make are also often seen by more people and have more societal impact. Distributing the power of design to the people who will be using products and services is how we build useful things.

What were some hesitancies you had before considering a role in the federal government? 

I was brought up understanding and experiencing a fear of discrimination—either as being seen as “less than” and/or being unlawfully deported or persecuted. I was unsure about what background checks would bring up on extended family, and I would be denied employment. Now, I challenge myself to make these fears a strength of my unique experience.

What is your proudest achievement in your professional career within the government?

I really liked being the lead product designer on FindTreatment.gov, which connects people to state-licenced providers who specialize in treating substance use disorders, addiction, and mental illness. It serves two purposes, both of which are very personal to me. First, making it easier to find treatment facilities and quickly determine their services, costs, and availability. Second, humanizing and destigmatizing the need for mental health care and substance abuse treatments. I was responsible for visual design direction as well as interaction design. I developed several design directions, then helped a user experience researcher run visual preference testing, interviews, and usability tests. I ran workshops and meetings with stakeholders at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to talk through different concepts, mood boards, and prototypes. The team was able to overcome a ton of technical challenges and deadlines that I am very proud of.


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Edwin Torres, Consulting Software Engineer — 18F

How do you identify?

Boricua, Puertorriqueño, or Puerto Rican, and in broader audiences, Hispanic.

What is something you find yourself constantly explaining about Latinx identity?

“Are Puerto Rico’s residents included there?” I ask this question a lot. Puerto Rico’s current status makes it difficult to understand if Puerto Rico’s residents should be included when designing and building digital services. My answer is that the default should be yes; they should be included. Most federal programs that provide direct assistance to the public are available in the U.S. territories.

A picture is worth a thousand words, what photograph or image best represents your cultural connection?

Edwin and his parents and a sibling celebrate Christmas after Hurricane Maria, wearing the iconic Puerto Rican jíbaro (pronounced: he-bar-o) fashion.

This is my family, celebrating Christmas after Hurricane Maria and wearing the iconic Puerto Rican jíbaro fashion.

How do you show up as Latinx? Why is that important to you?

I love to learn from other Latinx people and their experiences. With remote work, Puerto Ricans residents are starting to attend Hispanic Employee Resource Groups with co-workers from other regions of the U.S. Puerto Ricans’ experience as residents of the territory is different, and there are opportunities to learn from other Latinx people in the U.S.

Why do you serve?

Improving digital services for U.S. territories is a goal that matters a lot to me.

What were some hesitancies you had before considering a role in the federal government? 

I wondered, “Are there more Latinx people? How is their experience?” Since I joined, I’ve been trying to help other Latinx people to learn more about the civil service.

What is your proudest achievement in your professional career within the government?

I co-authored a 10X idea to improve digital services for the U.S. territories.


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Rebeca Lamadrid Villarreal, PIF Executive Director — Presidential Innovation Fellows

How do you identify?

New American, Mexican and American, Latina, Hispanic …

What is something you find yourself constantly explaining about Latinx identity?

The two last names! As well as the many differences in language, race, and culture within the latinidad.

A picture is worth a thousand words, what photograph or image best represents your cultural connection?

My family is what represents my cultural connection. This is my dad who always picks me up from the airport and welcomes me home to Monterrey, Mexico.

My family is what represents my cultural connection. This is my dad who always picks me up from the airport and welcomes me home to Monterrey, Mexico.

How do you show up as Latinx? Why is that important to you?

Having been born and raised in Mexico, and now serving in government and recognizing that there aren’t many like me, makes me realize the immense opportunity and responsibility I have in representing my Latinx identity and showing up as my full self—even though that may feel heavy at times. Owning that I come from a complex and rich heritage, and that being multilingual, having an accent and a different lived experience is a super power and a perspective that matters. Encouraging and leveraging diversity of thought and backgrounds is something that creates values and ignites innovation.

Why do you serve?

There is no other career that can promise more impact than public service. In particular, It’s a great feeling to be at the center of building a modern government for the public. In 2019, I became an American citizen with a deep desire to exercise my right to vote, and now I’m serving as a political appointee. It is an honor to be part of the U.S. government and serve the public. Today, I’m the proud mom of two young Mexican Americans and I want them to be able to love and feel pride in their heritage, their culture and where their family comes from, as well as love the country that is their home.

What were some hesitancies you had before considering a role in the federal government? 

I knew the government from the grant side as I was in the leadership of an organization that runs different programs and fellowships for the government. That said, joining the government felt very different from a recruiting and acceptance standpoint. In particular, I remember the background check process being a bit overwhelming. I’ve had many visas before becoming a permanent resident and then an American citizen, so I was used to the paperwork, but there is something truly nerve-wracking about the background check process. I remember calling my dad, asking him if I should be worried about it or if it was just a worry in my mind… he reminded me how proud he was of me and he believed I would become a federal employee through my work and determination.

What is your proudest achievement in your professional career within the government?

To be here! My career in government just started earlier in 2022 and I feel very proud to serve the administration and lead the Presidential Innovation Fellows, a program that pairs the brightest minds in the country with government leaders to tackle national priorities through technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.


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Dahianna Salazar Foreman, Communications and Marketing — U.S. Digital Corps, TTS Outreach

How do you identify?

As a Latina from Costa Rica.

What is something you find yourself constantly explaining about Latinx identity?

The diversity of the Latin American diaspora. We’re all races and religions, with unique cultures and cuisines. Even our accents and vocabularies differ from country to country.

A picture is worth a thousand words, what photograph or image best represents your cultural connection?

Dahianna, on the right, is pictured with her aunt in Costa Rica making traditional tamales.

In this photo, I am making traditional tamales with my aunt in Costa Rica.

How do you show up as Latinx? Why is that important to you?

There are not many Costa Ricans in the United States, so I like to use those opportunities to teach people about my country and the diversity of Latin America. I’ve also enjoyed learning about the similarities and differences between the different Latinx cultures and nationalities that reside in the United States.

Why do you serve? 

As an immigrant and the first in my family to go to college, I sought to work in a field where I could help people in similar positions find the resources they need so they can easily succeed. As federal employees, our work impacts the public firsthand, and we’re always striving to make sure we can make a positive difference in their lives.

What were some hesitancies you had before considering a role in the federal government?

In the beginning, I wondered if my accent and background would be seen as a weakness. Now I know that they are two of my biggest strengths in representing a diverse workforce that seeks to improve government services for all Americans.

What is your proudest achievement in your professional career within the government?

Using my communications and marketing skills to ensure underrepresented communities in government and tech learn about the U.S. Digital Corps. I am proud of the work we did to recruit and hire the first cohort of fellows from 19 states and territories—83% of whom are first-time federal employees. I am also proud of the recruitment work we are currently doing for the 2023 cohort by having a presence at events focusing on diversity in tech and government, like the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Tapia conference, and Lesbians Who Tech.


Join our team

We are currently have a number of positions open for Designers—UX, Service, Content Strategy, and Product. We are opening a role specifically for bilingual (Spanish/English) UX Designers and Content Strategists to help improve services for the Spanish-speaking public. Check out open positions or register for an info session to ask questions and learn more about the process on the TTS join page. If you would like to be notified when an application is open, please join our mailing list at: join.tts.gsa.gov/newsletter.

Originally posted by Austin Hernandez on Oct 11, 2022

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Oct 11, 2022

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