I Am Merkle: Hispanic Heritage Month

September 18, 2023, Sebastian Aguilar, Adriana Grajales, and Toni León

I Am Merkle: Hispanic Heritage Month

September 18, 2023, Sebastian Aguilar, Adriana Grajales, and Toni León

I Am Merkle: Hispanic Heritage Month

September 18, 2023, Sebastian Aguilar, Adriana Grajales, and Toni León

I Am Merkle: Hispanic Heritage Month

September 18, 2023, Sebastian Aguilar, Adriana Grajales, and Toni León

I Am Merkle: Hispanic Heritage Month

September 18, 2023, Sebastian Aguilar, Adriana Grajales, and Toni León

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re featuring three innovative Merkle leaders who celebrate their unique backgrounds, traditions, and experiences within various Hispanic cultures. In this edition of I Am Merkle, we get to know Senior Account Manager Sebastian Aguilar, Senior Director of Project Management Adriana Grajales, and User Experience Designer Toni León – read on to discover their professional journeys and see a glimpse of the parts of their culture that mean the most to them.

Tell us about yourself; where did you grow up? Where do you live now?

SA: I’m a nomad—I was born in Chicago, raised in Philly, went to school in Phoenix, and even lived in Orlando, FL. My wife and I currently live in the north suburbs of Chicago.

AG: I was born in Bogota Colombia and raised just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. I currently reside in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada with my husband and cat!

TL: I grew up poor in Dallas, Texas to a single mom. So, when I turned 18, I joined the U.S. Navy to be able to afford to go to university and to get away from my hectic childhood home. After the Navy, I moved to Austin, Texas to attend Austin Community College before transferring into the University of Texas at Austin. 🤘🏼

What drew you to your current career?

SA: I spent lots of time in the startup world wearing many hats. I was most driven when I worked on driving results through marketing, branding, & advertising. Things really clicked when I worked for a niche agency that focused solely on audio marketing—that led me to Merkle.

AG: I really enjoy problem solving and mentoring. I’m glad to have found a career where I can focus on both. When I started as a digital project coordinator in the early 2000’s, I never would have guessed how far this career path could take me. I’ve seen the evolution of the digital space throughout my career from basic HTML to A.I.

TL: I majored in Advertising with a focus in Art Direction, so I naturally had an interest in Web Design. I was also influenced by my partner who landed a Product Design job the year I graduated. Before then we freelanced on some websites together. I officially took the plunge when I participated in the Elephant Experience Design Academy bootcamp!

What is your biggest accomplishment?

SA: As part of my startup journey, I started consulting a boutique recruiting firm after meeting the owner at a networking event. She had this vision of growing her business and did just that. We grew a local business into a national one which was a tremendous experience.

AG: My career has been my biggest accomplishment thus far. Coming to Canada as a young immigrant to now leading a department of 20+ project managers while continuing to thrive in the day to day of client work really motivates me to continue to grow and learn.

TL: My biggest accomplishment is helping my mom buy her home in the Austin area. I am very proud of how I’ve been able to support my family, especially my mom since she has sacrificed so much for me and my siblings. Along with this, I’ve purchased her a van and I have become very handy since I’ve replaced a toilet in her home plus some other home improvements.

To date, what has been your biggest learning or teaching moment?

SA: I spent my early career in the service industry, which was a humbling experience. The lesson that I carry with me to this day is the value & impact of hard work—no task is too small or unflattering to get your best effort.

AG: I’ve had many learning and teaching moments in my life, and I hope I continue to experience them. The biggest learning that I’ve had to date is to advocate and stand up for yourself. As a minority woman it’s important for me to keep pushing forward and make sure we have diverse voices heard.

TL: My biggest learning moment was when my sister, Ari, passed away due to a fentanyl overdose. After going through the stages of grief I learned not to sweat the small issues, there’s bigger things to worry about. I value quality time with my family and friends a lot more now and I also volunteer for local harm-reduction efforts to reduce drug related deaths and injuries.

What is a moment in your life that defined or shaped who you are today?

SA: As a kid, my family moved around a fair bit, including when I was in the middle of high school. Although at times frustrating or confusing, moving to a new place taught me to be adaptable, how to navigate change, and be resilient. Having those experiences at a young age proved to be invaluable life lessons.

AG: Moving to Canada at the age of 7 and watching my parents raise 3 kids while also settling into a new country taught me the importance to always work hard, be resilient and really believe in what you set out to achieve.

TL: When I learned that being my full true self might help others be their full true selves, I began caring less about what naysayers may think and began trying to express myself more so that others who are like me, but still not comfortable in their own skin, can find solace in my being.

What inspires you about Merkle’s workplace culture?

SA: Merkle is full of a diverse group of brilliant people from all walks of life. Getting to see this firsthand inspires me day in and day out. Top down, I firmly believe everyone is committed to recognizing our diversity as one of our greatest assets.

AG: I believe in equal opportunity for women especially minority women. I am really inspired by all the work that Merkle does through our DEI BRG programs.

TL: I am not very inspired by the overall workplace culture which is honestly lacking a bit. But I am very inspired by the DEI folks and those in the Disability BRG. The DEI folks have been a great ally and resource for me to turn to when needed and I’m glad I can trust them. The Disability BRG has been so inspiring as we’re all very passionate about wanting to make dentsu a better place to work for those with disabilities.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

SA: Hispanic heritage month is an opportunity to celebrate & amplify Hispanic American voices. It’s a time where all Americans can celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans—whose rich, diverse cultures, personal stories and unique lived experiences all contribute to our work towards living up to the promise of America.

AG: It is a way to demonstrate and stand proud of who we are, where we come from and where we are going.

TL: Hispanic Heritage Month means first acknowledging Hispanic History within and outside of the United States, especially the southernmost states then admiring the contributions and influence that we’ve had toward our society. As a Mexican American, I’m proud to see names like Cesar Chavez and Frida Kahlo being well-known.

What are some traditions or celebrations you would like to highlight or share about during Hispanic Heritage Month?

SA: There are several Latin-American countries who celebrate their Independence Day in the month of September—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico. Each offers a unique opportunity to learn more and celebrate each culture’s unique food, traditions, and rich heritage.

AG: I believe it’s a great way for a lot of us to come together and celebrate our culture. Living in a city that does not have a large Latin population I really appreciate having the opportunity to do so through Merkle SOMOS BRG events.

TL: Have y’all seen the Pixar movie Coco? Día de Los Muertos is one tradition that me and my family started celebrating after the passing of my sister. It’s a day where we prepare her favorite food and we bring a small party to her grave site, when there we share stories about her, we laugh and dance and play. It is a celebratory time but of course we are sensitive to those in mourning in grief.

What is one thing you wish others knew about your culture?

SA: Hispanic culture has tremendous diversity. Our heritage spans across different parts of the world—there is this uniqueness & commonality all at once. I love having the chance to see this up close through groups like our SOMOS BRG.

AG: We are a diverse group of people who come from many walks of life. Each country that represents Central and South America has its own distinct culture, stories, traditions, and historical experiences.

TL: Hispanic and Latino people are very tightly bound by family and friendship, we hug and kiss each other every opportunity we get, and we support each other when needed. At one point while I was in high school, my mom’s house had 24 people living in it since my mom could never turn anyone away when they needed a roof over their heads. This is an interesting phenomenon that I observed and later I learned about the “Latino Homeless Paradox” many homeless Latinos are more likely to couch surf with friends or family before going to a shelter.

Rapid fire questions

Sebastian Aguilar

  1. Favorite food: Pizza
  2. Favorite TV show/movie: Lately? Succession
  3. Favorite hobby/activity: Getting a good long run in
  4. Favorite book: The Great Gatsby
  5. Guilty pleasure: Cinnamon Rolls
  6. Best advice or mantra you live by: Never stop learning.

Adriana Grajales

  1. Favorite food: Pizza & Empanadas
  2. Favorite TV show/movie: Severance & Interstellar
  3. Favorite hobby/activity: Sketching & nature walks.
  4. Favorite book: Hello Molly! - Molly Shannon’s autobiography
  5. Guilty pleasure: Reality TV – Below Deck, Housewives etc.
  6. Best advice or mantra you live by: Treat everyone with respect and empathy.

Toni León

  1. Favorite food: Honestly, I have to place Pad Thai up top, but in second place I love tamales and for dessert capirotada (Mexican bread pudding)
  2. Favorite TV show/movie: Recently I loved Everything Everywhere All at Once, the immigrant family with a queer daughter storyline hit very close to home ❤️
  3. Favorite hobby/activity: Biking, I love to feel the wind on my face, watch the sun rise or set on different shapes, and people watch.
  4. Favorite book: Fiction: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler; Non-Fiction: The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion by Jonathan Haidt
  5. Guilty pleasure: Hyper-pop music, pole-dancing, and dancing on the dance floor like a manic.
  6. Best advice or mantra you live by: We’re all stupid so I should feel free to be myself and take risks without worrying about how stupid I look.

About our Authors

Adriana Grajales
is a Senior Director of Project Management at Merkle Cardinal Path managing the PM department. Adriana has over 17 years of experience in the digital space and is passionate about workplace equality, diversity & inclusion, growth & innovation.

Sebastian Aguilar is a Senior Account Manager on the Promotions, Loyalty, and Messaging team. His work is led by his commitment to helping others through building authentic relationships and long-term trust. Sebastian has always been a passionately curious individual who loves telling and sharing stories. He explored this as a Communication Major and an early career with Starbucks. Sebastian then transitioned to consulting startups & small businesses where he furthered his passion as a storyteller & bridge builder to scale business through unique branding, marketing, and community outreach efforts. Prior to joining Merkle in 2022, he had the chance to explore his passion full-time by becoming a founding member of the US Account Team for PHMG, a niche agency focused on audio marketing & branding. Sebastian enjoys his time outside of work creating countless memories with his wife, Crystal, and their family, friends, and two dogs.

Toni León (They/Him/Her) hails from Austin, Texas. They are a latine queer disabled U.S. Navy veteran living with their partner, Leo, and cat, Tupua. They have been a UX Designer at Merkle for over 2 years now and in their free time they enjoy photography, videography, biking, hiking, and dancing! They are passionate about digital accessibility; they love presenting and talking about it so if you’d like to talk to them about it, please don’t hesitate to reach out. 

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