OKW is committed to celebrating our wonderful and diverse employees whose talents and drive have led to many successful projects nationwide.
In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15, five of our employees whose roots range from Mexico to Brazil gathered to discuss what their family history and cultural upbringing have meant to them as professionals and Chicagoans.
What we learned as a group is that although we share such cultural ties as language and food, we all tell completely different stories. Through an open and sometimes challenging conversation, the five of us learned that we recognize and live our cultural identities on a spectrum, with our family history affecting our lives in vastly different ways. It was an enlightening conversation in which we all got to know each other better by learning that we all have rich, layered stories, regardless of our origins.
Mario Roman Intern Architect
When he’s not working on hospitality projects for OKW, Mario is raising a family in Chicago, the only home he’s ever known. While he has deep roots in the Windy City, he is very proud of his Mexican heritage, which is evident in his language, food, and values. But it is thanks to his deep love of traditional Mexican music, that his love for his heritage truly shines. Although he is also a fan of 90s hip hop, it’s his affection for this historic genre that allows him to create a close connection to his family history, hopefully redounding to his children.
Mario has grown up in both American and Mexican communities, living a life of layered identity that led him to discover architecture in high school. In Chicago he is seen as Mexican, and in Mexico he is regarded as American, leading him to grow up with a feeling of ni de aquí, ni de allá (from neither here nor there). As he’s grown, he has embraced that he is a combination of two cultures, two languages, and that is exactly who he wants to be.
A life of multiple cultural identities isn’t always easy, but Mario has used it to his advantage by learning to easily adapt to new situations and environments.
Rubén Álamo Senior Project Designer
Rubén moved to Chicago from Puerto Rico to be surrounded by the city’s architectural riches. As a perennial student with a thirst for travel, he was drawn by the city’s international style and charm. It was enough to convince him to stay and raise a family.
But though he may have left Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico didn’t leave him.
The boricua culture and customs are very much a daily fixture in Rubén’s life. He speaks Spanish to his children, cooks Puerto Rican cuisine, and celebrates el día de los reyes, which is the Feast of the Three Kings or Epiphany. For his wife and him, it’s very important that their children understand and appreciate what Puerto Rico means to the family, despite growing up in Chicagoland.
The transition came with a few challenges. When he started studying and later working in the United States, he was self-conscious about his English, specifically his accent. But he soon learned after delivering presentations that his audience would approach him afterward and ask questions about his home. He began to see that his accent wasn’t a drawback, but an advantage as it allowed others to see that he could speak two languages. Ultimately, it helped boost his confidence when speaking in public.
Alex Haggerty Job Captain
Alex is from Brazil, which was colonized by Portugal and therefore isn’t a Hispanic country. However, the cultural connections that it shares with the rest of the South and Central American continent are substantial, so we broadened our celebration of our diverse staff to include him.
Alex’s journey to the United States stemmed from a love of architecture and the desire to learn about and work in new technology and construction techniques. With Chicago’s reputation for architecture and the arts, it wasn’t difficult for him to anoint the city as his new home (although he does wish the weather were a little warmer, like his native São Paolo).
He applied his love of technology and automation to OKW’s architecture studio, where he implemented our 3D Reality Capture services. Thanks to the machinery and expertise that he brought to the office, OKW has been able to scan over 50 projects, surpassing 1 million square feet of digital models created.
His Brazilian ties are also very much on display in the kitchen, bringing to the office a Brazilian cornbread with guavo and a passion fruit mousse for office events. He and his wife also love to eat the well-known tapioca that is native to Brazil, along with classic cheese breads.
Dan Solera Marketing Manager
For most people it’s a surprise when they learn Dan is from Costa Rica, and this is mostly because he’s a talented mimic. Ever since he could speak, he could do impressions of celebrities and family members alike. So when it came to speaking English or Spanish, it was easy to sound native.
But when his parents, native Costa Ricans, moved the family back home after fourteen years in Georgia, he suddenly felt like an impostor. He merely sounded like a local, but his actual vocabulary in Spanish was grossly lacking. Faced with 9th grade peers with a far superior command of the language, he felt like he had to catch up, which was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling. From that point onward, he began improving his writing and speaking in both languages, curing his long-standing impostor syndrome.
This cultural duality has allowed Dan to not only find success as a communications and marketing manager, but to better handle big changes in his life. Today, his Costa Rican roots are most evident at home, where he enjoys making gallo pinto, ceviche, and picadillo de papa while speaking to his fledgling son exclusively in Spanish.
Sean Miller Project Designer
Today, we strive to celebrate the rich tapestry of cultures that make up our communities, finding strength in diversity and the new perspectives it brings. However, when Sean’s mother was growing up in southern California, this was not the norm. Assimilation was the expectation, and in order to more easily integrate into their community, a lot of their Mexican heritage, from the language down to the Hispanic character of their names, was downplayed.
This gap in his cultural upbringing was enough to make Sean want to learn more as he entered high school and college. The process began by discovering the cities in Mexico from which his four great-grandparents emigrated. As he pursued his studies, he also developed a fondness for Mexican architecture, specifically the works of Luis Barragán, and his influence in the built environments of Mexico and southern California.
In retrospect, he has identified echoes of what he considers the Hispanic culture in his life. Holidays were always a reason to gather the entire extended family, events that usually included carne asada. Surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins at these events, he learned to enjoy the spotlight, which has helped as an adult with public speaking or meeting new people in unfamiliar settings.