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On Being the First

Luis Gonzalez, MS, RDN, shares his experience making his way as a Cuban-American dietitian after discovering a lack of diversity in the profession — and he offers suggestions to make it an easier road for others.

"Networking is not a what-can-you-do-for-me transaction; networking is about building genuine relationships."

Luis Gonzalez

Author's portrait
By Luis Gonzalez, MS, RDN

Much is said about the importance of representation and emulating role models that look like you. I’m here to tell you that if you don’t see that person when you look around, then it’s up to you to be the first and pave the way for others.

I was born in Havana, Cuba, and immigrated to the United States when I was 10 years old. As the oldest sibling, I was the first in my family to graduate from a U.S.-based university. While I attended Florida International University in Miami, Fl, I was surrounded by people who looked and spoke like me. Most students, professors and eventually preceptors and patients were from otherwise underrepresented communities in the U.S. I looked around and I saw myself; this environment felt like home and I thrived.

It wasn’t until I began venturing outside of Miami that I realized just how underrepresented non-white registered dietitian nutritionists were. To my disbelief, even in major cities like Chicago and New York City, RDNs of color continue to be underrepresented.

When I decided to seek new career opportunities in communications and food photography, it was no surprise that I couldn’t readily find RDNs to emulate. If you find yourself in a similar situation, then I have some guidance to share to help you be the first and bring others along:

  • Don’t wait for others. You can’t wait for others to give you permission if you’re going to create something new. If it were an easy decision to make, others would have done it already. Research your new idea and run, don’t walk.
  • Fail and ask for help. It is ok to not know everything, but you need to be open to help from others. You don’t need to get all the information from one place either; take bits and pieces from various sources to grow your knowledge and expertise. Fail, learn, and succeed by seeking new opportunities.
  • Network! Network! Network! This may be number three on the list, but it just might be the most important. No one gets anywhere in life without networking. Networking is not a what-can-you-do-for-me transaction; networking is about building genuine relationships. You can connect with professionals on LinkedIn or go up to someone new at a virtual or in-person conference; most will be willing to answer your questions. Always be kind and remember to respect everyone’s time.
  • Pay it forward. Throughout your journey, don’t forget to help others like you to rise. Use your platform, however big or small, to answer questions and be a mentor to others.

This story first appeared in Food & Nutrition Magazine®.

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