Your path is out there — you just have to find it
As a kid, Alex Rodriguez felt like he didn’t fit in. With Mexican, Filipino, and Japanese heritage, he grew up in a predominantly white community in Orange County, California. His family’s religion meant that they didn’t celebrate holidays or birthdays. They also shunned their Latinx roots to blend in, to the point that Alex never learned his parent’s native language, Spanish. And Alex is gay, further heightening his feeling of being an outsider. This, plus a dysfunctional home life, all culminated in Alex making the wrenching decision to leave his family at age 17.
During Adobe For All Week 2020, Adobe’s annual internal Diversity & Inclusion event, Alex shared his personal journey on how he found his place in the world through theater and then high tech. These interests ultimately led to him to becoming the first college graduate in his family, meeting his partner, establishing a life in San Francisco, and working every day with creative and inspiring people at Adobe.
“I am living my dream because I followed my heart and I took the chance,” he said. “Take that chance to find what lights you up, the people who truly accept you, the work that inspires you, and be relentless and don’t stop until you do.”
We recently talked to Alex to get a glimpse behind the scenes and learn more about what it was like for him to open up and share his personal story at Adobe For All Week with employees globally and how he’s reconnecting with his Latinx heritage.
Why did you decide to share your story at Adobe for All?
I’ve lived this story all my life, so I was worried that it might not be interesting or even relevant. What gave me the push was facilitating the Building Inclusion on Your Team learning sessions for Adobe employees. Even with the sliver of the story I shared on those sessions, so many people reached out and said, “Thank you so much for sharing and for your vulnerability. I can totally relate.” The feedback I received was amazing, and it prompted me to think, “You know what, I think I have more to share.”
What was going through your head as you shared your story?
The most important thing for me was to tell the truth, to be authentic to the emotions that came to me in the moment. That ranged from excitement to happiness to extreme vulnerability.
I hadn’t taken the time to acknowledge it before, but I realized I had so much to be proud of. It was like I was reading my own resume, and it was eye-opening. At the end, I thought, “Wow, I’m kind of awesome!” Not in an egotistical way, but I didn’t realize what I had to share was so valuable. I’d spent all these years thinking that I didn’t have any value, and this moment just showed me that I did.
What did you learn from the experience of sharing your story?
Never underestimate the power of your own story!
When I was growing up, my nickname was “Mr. Perfect.” I was able to hide a lot of the pain and shame I was experiencing very well. In fact, nobody knew what was going on with me personally. That’s how well I hid it, and I felt like I needed to suppress it. I felt like people would judge me, or that it would somehow blemish my reputation.
But now I know there’s no reason to hide, and I learned that I have a duty to pay it forward, to make space for other people to share their own stories and know they’re not alone. We need to show that it’s OK to be vulnerable and authentic, and that not all of us go through the same traditional, linear journey.
Where did the nickname “Mr. Perfect” come from?
I was given that nickname in middle school and high school because I always made sure the I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed in everything I did. I thought if I kept up that facade, no one would see the cracks underneath. I was kind of a virtuoso when it came to instrumental music. I can pick up an instrument and learn to play it quickly. Creativity has always been one of the areas I excelled at. People were impressed with my musical skills, and I was content with that because it meant they were focused on that versus the other things happening in my life that made me vulnerable.
What kind of response have you received from the Adobe community?
It’s been incredible! I’ve been hearing from and talking to people I would never normally interact with across the business, who relate to my story. That makes me emotional because I spent a long time thinking that no one else has gone through what I have. I’ve heard from so many people who shared very vulnerable things. The outpouring of support is still so powerful.
Are there other parts of your story that you weren’t able to include?
I didn’t get to cover that I reconciled with my mother and siblings a long time ago. I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older and gained perspective, too, and I see we’re all doing the best that we can with what we have. I can’t fault anybody for that, not even my parents. I’ve learned a lot about growing up and what people are going through.
On a more light-hearted note, I also wrote a musical version of my story and performed it at Martuni’s, a piano bar in San Francisco. It was called “No Hablo Español: Tales of the Whitest Brown Boy.” It was a way to acknowledge the duality of the world I grew up in, in a way that was most comfortable for me: through song and dance.
That’s part of what I talked about in my story, about not being entirely raised in the Latinx culture. I’ve learned there’s never a perfect time to get involved. You just have to start! I’m taking steps to become more embedded in a culture that on the surface is identified with me but that I feel so far from. There’s so much beauty that I wasn’t taught to appreciate, so getting back in connection with that has been a big step for me in this journey.