Moss Adams Voices

Letizia Brentano: Si Se Puede

Letizia discusses Latinx Heritage Month, her experience as a first-generation American, and the meaning of ¡Si Se Puede!

Letizia Brentano

Letizia Brentano, tax partner and Inclusion & Diversity board member, is a first-generation American living with her husband and two children in Phoenix. Her parents immigrated from Argentina in the mid-1970s. They encouraged Letizia and her brother, Santiago, to take their education seriously and work hard in their careers. Letizia discusses the LatinX business resource group (BRG), Latinx Heritage Month, and her experience growing up as a “chameleon,” quickly switching between the Argentinian culture she grew up with at home and United States culture.

Can you tell me what Latinx Heritage Month means to you?

For me, it’s both a sense of pride and an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of Latinx people in our country. I think diversity is important in all aspects of life. When we focus on diversity, we’re exposing more people to a culture they may not otherwise know.

How has culture been central to your upbringing?

My mother and father are both from Argentina. I was born in the United States, but I grew up in a house that could have been in the middle of Buenos Aires. We exclusively spoke Spanish at home, the music played in our house was tango music, we watched Spanish television, and we ate Argentinian food.

When I did go to school, language was hard for me because I had been sheltered from American culture. I always felt like I was a chameleon because I would leave my house and adapt to American life. Then, at home, I lived in a different world.

Letizia Brentano

Did this create challenges for you growing up?

The experience of first-generation Americans is unique. My friends’ homes were very different; their parents spoke English, were very involved in the school system, and understood things like the SATs and college applications.

As a first-generation American, I had to figure out these things with the help of my teachers and my friends’ parents. My parents were financially supportive, but they couldn’t help me with things like proofreading my college essays. Navigating the path to higher education is a common obstacle for first-generation Americans.

What challenges did being a first-generation American present in your career?

I have a fear of being judged because of my name. At home I was Letizia, or Leti, and I always will be to my family. In the outside world, with work or even with my friends, I introduce myself as Latisha. That’s the name I received in school, presumably from teachers.

When you’re underrepresented like I am as a Latinx woman, you do everything you can to fit in with the people in charge in order to eliminate prejudices. I worry someone will assume I don’t speak English well. I worry a client will believe someone with a name that sounds more American is more qualified than I am—that happens to doctors all the time. As a woman, I dress differently, or in a room with men I may speak with a deeper voice. Because of my culture and my gender, I have to be more methodical about how I approach professional situations.

Recently at an Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) convention, I was introduced as Letizia. I even introduced myself as Letizia, not Latisha. It was strange for me to be comfortable being Letizia in a professional setting for the first time.

I understand you are on the Inclusion & Diversity board at Moss Adams. What inspired you to get involved in the inclusion and diversity initiatives at the firm?

Earlier in my career, I was in chameleon mode because there was no safety net for me to be authentic. The LatinX BRG didn’t exist. There were no Latinx partners or senior managers close to me, so I felt like I was on an island. If I could have connected with other Latinx people in other offices or regions, that would’ve changed my perception about my path. That’s why I joined the I&D board and the LatinX BRG.

I’m also getting involved in local Latinx youth leadership programs. It would have made a difference for me when I was younger to have a mentor to guide me through the things I didn’t know as a first-generation student. That’s where my passion lies—helping Latinx youth with high potential that want to be helped.

Letizia Brentano

How are you keeping your culture centered in your family life?

I’ve been encouraging my parents to speak Spanish to my kids who are learning it, which is great to see. I’m also revisiting my own Spanish to make sure I pass on the language.

My family celebrates our culture with food. My son loves to eat molleja y morcilla because it’s what grandpa and grandma eat. When we make it, it’s exciting for all of us. I want my kids to be able to pass down this culture to their kids because it’s a beautiful experience, and I don’t want them to lose out on it.

The theme of the LatinX BRG’s Latinx Heritage Month celebration is ¡Si Se Puede!, or “Yes, You Can.” What does that mean to you?

First-generation Americans may have a lack of confidence early on because we view ourselves as different. My parents instilled in me an attitude of ¡Si Se Puede! to tell me that I can do anything I set my mind to. They taught me to never let anyone convince me I wasn’t able to achieve the goals I have for myself.

What can others take away from Latinx Heritage Month?

It’s an opportunity to understand where someone comes from, their culture, and their challenges. It’s a chance to educate ourselves about the history of migrant farmworkers, for example. That kind of awareness and education can change your perception.

When you have balanced exposure to different cultures, it breeds knowledge, acceptance, integration, and diversity. I think about what I’m doing in my life in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and how the things I’m watching or reading are changing the ways I understand that community’s experiences. I think if others can do that, it will improve how they build relationships with other people—whether personal or professional.

Go Beyond the Desk

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