Celebrating Hispanic & Latinx Heritage Month: Wanda (Villanueva) Melendez
Wanda (Villanueva) Melendez has been a part of the Compass Group USA HR team for 8 ½ years. She’s as passionate about her Puerto Rican heritage as she is about creating an equal playing field for all. Outside of work, she has a passion for spending time on the lake with her new husband. Read her story to learn why her colleagues have nicknamed her ‘Wanda Woman’.
Why is Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month important to celebrate?
It’s a great opportunity to honor and recognize the influence and impact Latinos and Hispanics have on America. From our culture, history, food and music, our community has contributed a lot to this country. Latinos and Hispanics also make an incredible economic impact in the United States. I’m proud of my heritage and celebrate it every day by living it.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your Puerto Rican heritage?
I love the way our people embrace life with love and passion, and family is paramount for us. Also, our food is wow… it’s so flavorful! Cooking is almost like a religion to us. We thrive on feeding people and watching their expressions when they taste it. Our music is on another level, too. You can’t sit down when you listen to salsa music! You just feel like you have to get up and dance. The Puerto Rican culture is very vibrant.
Why is it important that we celebrate each other’s cultures and backgrounds?
I remember in elementary school talking about the concept of America as a melting pot. That gives the impression that we are all supposed to melt together into one big blob. I like to think about the cultures in America as more of a stew or soup. Each one brings different flavors or colors and adds something special to the mix. When we bring our own unique flavor or world view to the table, the conversation is richer and we’re able to find better solutions for problems.
How do you show up as your authentic self at work?
I used to think that if I wanted to succeed, I would have to tone down my heritage. I didn’t want to be seen as the Hispanic girl from the Bronx. I even would say my last name with less of an accent than how it is actually pronounced. But in the last 10 years, I think there’s been a big shift with more meaningful diversity and inclusion initiatives. Compass does a tremendous job of creating a safe space. I feel free to contribute my Latina perspective.
What do you want your legacy at Compass to be?
I want to be seen as someone who was always willing to help, someone who was always available to associates, someone who fought to make sure that everyone was treated fairly. That is important to me. I’m a big Wonder Woman fan, and people on my team call me Wanda Woman. When I see that something isn’t fair, I am not afraid to push back. I want to make sure everyone has a level playing field.
Also, I want people to know it’s never too late to switch gears and do something different. I didn’t get my degree until I was 35 years old. If I can do it, anyone can do it.