In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we introduce our famous Head of Growth in France and Switzerland, who has been with NewsCred for five and a half years. The article was written by Meghan Catucci, a Senior Customer Success Manager and Head of the D&I Council at NewsCred, who is also lucky enough to call Jaisy a dear friend.
Jaisy De La Cruz is sitting in her Paris apartment and has dialed our Zoom call. Her apartment is chic, no frills, and elegant, just like her.
Like many people who are considered “minorities” in our culture, Jaisy has to laugh when asked about the Latinx experience.
“People have asked that, and what does that even mean? My experience is my experience. I have nothing to compare. "
Jaisy was born in the Dominican Republic in the early 1990s. When her parents separated, her mother took her to the United States – especially Brooklyn, NY – at the age of nine to give her a better chance in life, especially as her home became increasingly unsafe and crime increased. Jaisy is the middle of three, with two brothers; Her mother could only afford to bring a child to the states and she understands that she may have benefited from a cultural setting that girls need extra protection as the family willingly accepted that it should be her, when a child should go.
While she had an extended Brooklyn family and cousins her age, she was largely isolated at school. She attended a Catholic school in Williamsburg called Transfiguration, which her mother's youngest siblings had attended. It was a step further from the local public school and her family got a little overwhelmed to make sure she could attend.
"I didn't speak English – that was probably the most important thing, but it wasn't a huge obstacle for me because I wasn't old enough to be ashamed of it.
“One of the memories that stands out is that my parents always called me by my middle name, Yazmine – Jaisy isn't a real name in Spanish – on my first day of school in the States they called me by my first name and I wasn't at all approachable. The teacher called the headmaster, the headmaster called my mom, and later that day the headmaster announced to the entire school over the loudspeaker that my name was Jaisy and I just didn't know. "
She attended Transfiguration for a year and because she didn't speak English for the first nine months in the US, her grades could have been … better. Although she knew she spoke no English and was unable to follow up on her studies, the school was ill equipped for it and did nothing to update her. Even so, she had high expectations of herself:
“I still went to the student meeting every month, hoping and praying that I would win the Student of the Month award. For me it didn't quite click that that wouldn't happen. I didn't learn anything that year; I would score 4 out of 100 on geography tests. "
Simple climate change contributed to the culture shock. She had a windbreaker coat that was totally inadequate in the cold New York winters, but she thought this is what it looks like in this new place. She didn't think of asking for a heavier coat.
"I just assumed it should be," she said of these early experiences. “I generally think this is just the immigrant experience. There are so many things that could be better but that you just accept for what they are because you are away from home and you know things are supposed to be different here. "
By the following year she had assimilated a little more and was fluent in fourth grade. She credits her youth for helping her move up faster. she wasn't embarrassed and she asked questions and got her cousins to teach her certain phrases until she got it, even if she sometimes used them in the wrong context.
Jaisy de la Cruz
Jaisy attended college in France and contrasts her early experience of learning a new language with her attitudes and concerns there. Not only is it preferable not to be associated with Americans in Paris – it's probably unsurprising that we don't have the best reputation there – but Parisians can be notoriously racist, even though Jaisy's ethnicity may not at first glance is very obvious, it is clear that it is not white.
"If I didn't know how to say something perfectly in France, I would just avoid the situation altogether," she said.
Jaisy experienced obvious discrimination in Paris, far beyond anything she had seen in New York. She was treated badly in restaurants, heard derogatory comments, and even had a comment from someone that she probably couldn't afford to be in a business.
"I checked out of a hair salon once and happened to look in the direction of a woman who was having her hair washed and she was about to say something racist about Arabs," Jaisy recalls. "We made a quick eye contact and she apologized and said she didn't know I was listening. I just told her I was not an Arab, which made one of the salon workers regularly ask where I was from. As When I told her I was a Dominican, the woman said, "Oh, that's why you speak French – we civilized this country many years ago."
(This is not only racially but also factually incorrect; the Dominican Republic was originally a Spanish colony.)
“I was too stunned to react, I think. It was the first time I had seen something so obvious, but that kind of exchange was pretty common here. "
People in France would assume she is North African – a group of people who are severely discriminated against and targeted, especially in Paris.
"These things don't cut me that deep because they're not accurate. However, the thoughts and feelings are absolutely nasty, and I can definitely relate that to things that are closer to home."
After Jaisy returned to the United States for a few years, despite these experiences, she decided to return to Paris for good last year. It's pretty easy for them; Although racism can be particularly overt there, it is not as systemic as in the US .; The lack of institutionalized racism makes life better, perhaps unsurprisingly.
Jaisy's more explicit experiences of racism in the States were younger, disturbing, and closer to home. Her older brother was arrested for DUI in New York two years ago, exposing her to American racism in a way she had never seen before.
It was early New Years Day and he was stopped on his way home from a party when he realized he was too drunk to drive. He parked the car, let it run to keep the heat up in the January chill, and ordered an Uber – then fell asleep while he waited. Since the car was driving with him in the driver's seat, he was still considered driving under the influence when a police officer found him.
After his arrest, he was told that there was an arrest warrant for a drug crime in another state that he did not commit. His lawyer advised him not to plead guilty to the DUI as it was better for him to bring this case up without conviction. As a result, he had to wait six months in prison in downtown Manhattan.
"It was terrible – and the intense and vivid incidents that he witnessed every day were really terrible," she said.
Some of the worst parts of the experience were receiving prejudice and discrimination from the police.
“They would just face their racism; say, "We know you did this because you are Dominicans. Dominicans like you do this kind of thing." He was treated especially harshly because he was believed guilty. And because he was found guilty, he was treated as a disposable item. "
The whole experience also highlighted, for Jaisy, her relative privilege, based on something as trivial as skin tone.
"My brothers are both darker skinned and because I'm fair skinned I have a certain fluidity that they don't," she said.
Overall, Jaisy's legacy, family, and interactions have certainly influenced their own identities and outlook on the world, but for them (and all of us) that is constantly evolving.
"Honestly, I still feel right in the middle of my immigrant experience. I'm not a first generation American and now I'm in a different country. There's no factor that created my identity like everyone else. I just am the collection of all my experiences. "
Originally published October 15, 2020 at 9:00 p.m., updated October 16, 2020