The theme of this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month is “Esperanza: A Celebration Of Hispanic Heritage And Hope.”
In keeping with that theme, we at Zane want to share the story of our founder, Shila Nieves-Burney, who is a Black Latino. Shila spent much of her youth struggling to feel accepted by both the Black and Latino communities, but that time spent struggling has given her unique insights and hope for the future of Latinos in America.
We’ll let Shila take it from here.
I am a Black Latina, and for me, that’s always been a conundrum of sorts — an odd push and pull between two communities who never quite saw me as one of their own. I don’t know if it bothered my siblings as much as it bothered me, but it’s bothered me my entire life and I think much of that comes from my dad. I grew up with my mom and my dad — a very loving Puerto Rican man who absolutely doted on me.
Then my parents separated and he left.
I was struck with this longing for the missing piece of my life — my dad, the Puerto Rican heritage he took with him — that really stuck with me all of my life. I began gravitating towards this part of me that was different from the Black community I grew up in, and that I no longer had in my day-to-day life with my dad having left.
We want to briefly interject here with a quick history lesson.
The overlap between the Puerto Rican and Black communities has existed long before Shila was born. The town of Loíza, founded in 1692 on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, has a historic population of Black-Afro Puerto Ricans.
Known as the “Capital of Traditions,” the town was settled in the 16th century by Nigerian slaves brought by Spanish colonizers in the 16th century. The town’s multifaceted culture reflects Shila’s own mixed heritage — a merging of two groups into a hopeful new community.
As I got older, I continued on this quest to find my dad and hold onto my heritage. When people would say my last name incorrectly — “Neeves” instead of “Nieves” — I hated it. I didn’t want to embrace the Americanization of my name and lose that connection to my Puerto Rican heritage.
One year I was trying to get a job in Miami and I landed an interview. They saw my last name and asked if I spoke Spanish. They had offered me the interview expecting me to speak Spanish because of my last name. I didn’t get the job.
That disappointment really spurred me to find my dad. I went to the social security office and they told me I would need his social security number to track him down. I waited nearly 10 years after that, right before the birth of my daughter Zane, to track him down and send him a letter.
He called me the day he got the letter and after 30 years of absence we bonded right away. Now here I am, having founded a firm named after that daughter, investing in the communities that I felt so alienated from my whole life.
Still, there are some groups within the Latinx community who don’t embrace me, despite me being the only Black Latina here in the South to raise a fund. Simply because I don’t look Hispanic and I don’t speak Spanish.
In the venture community, many LPs will see me as being only Black. In reality, I represent both the Black and LatinX communities — and it should be known that Black and Latinx entrepreneurship generates huge amounts of revenue.
- The existing number of Black-owned businesses have created over 1 million jobs and generated over $165 billion in revenue (report here)
- If Latino-owned businesses grow as fast as the U.S. average, they could add $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy (JPMorgan Chase & Co.)
Despite this pushback, Shila has hope for the future.
Gen Z, the generation my kids are a part of, is the exact opposite. For them, it’s a problem if you’re not diverse enough. The younger generations are much more accepting in terms of cultural identity and that really pushes me to leave a legacy behind for them.
Just like I’m building a legacy here with Zane Venture Fund, someday I want to leave a legacy for my family in Puerto Rico. I want to use my privilege to advocate and create opportunities for both the Black and Latinx communities.
Now more than ever, as we all celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to emphasize the hope I have for the future.
I’m incredibly proud of the impact both Black and Latinx entrepreneurs have made, and I am more committed than ever to help build a better future with them, and for them.