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Performance, Identity, and Performing Identity

Graciano Petersen smiling headshot

Graciano Petersen

True joy in the workplace comes from being able to trust your colleagues as well as showing up and being valued as your full yourself. Our identities are not always fully supported in our workplace, but we are striving to live in the shared value of honoring how our employees and apprentices identify and how those identities impact their work and their ability to perform their work duties.

As most of the people who work at RespectAbility have a disability, those disabilities impact how they identify and how they embrace work and what they need while working. I’ve been thinking about identity and work performance a lot because of how embraced I feel in my identities at RespectAbility, and also how the month of June honors multiple parts of my identity and the identities of others at RespectAbility.

This weekend we are recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday for only the second year. Until Juneteenth was officially made a holiday, I would have to explain why it was important for me to have this day off work. As Black people in this country continue to fight for true equity, this day offers a much-needed space for self-reflection and rededication to that struggle.

In addition to the many things June is known for, it is also Caribbean American Heritage Month. I’m a proud St. Thomian and I perform this identity in my love for performing with my Caribbean dance group. There was a time when I wouldn’t claim this heritage as it “othered” me too much and made me feel less American (despite the fact that St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands). Linguistic discrimination made it difficult to perform this identity (read: speak with my natural accent) in the workplace early in my career.

After many years living in the mainland and trying to (sometimes feeling forced to) fit in, my accent has flattened out, but I’ve learned to fully embrace my heritage in the workplace by sharing more about this identity and its unique cultural heritage.

Where can your organizations make changes to make sure you are allowing your colleagues to show up as their full selves?

Meet the Author

Graciano Petersen

Graciano Petersen is the Senior Director for Training, Culture, and Leadership Development at RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. Graciano is dedicated to advancing equity across all sectors and providing accessible opportunities for upskilling and advancement. Graciano holds an MA in Second Language Acquisition from Tulane University, is fluent in Spanish, and is working towards fluency in Brazilian Portuguese.

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