National Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight
WDFW’s Larry Delgado on leading cultural change
As a first-generation Nicaraguan American, Larry shares how his upbringing and military experience shaped his career in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
At the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), we’re committed to fostering an inclusive environment and believe science and conservation are best advanced by the leadership and contributions of people with widely diverse backgrounds, experiences, and identities, who reflect the communities they serve. We’re proud to highlight Washingtonians working to connect more People of Color with the outdoors and to share their stories of building community while enjoying nature.
Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month
National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the voices, history, and contributions of people whose families came from several Latin American countries, such as Mexico, Spain, parts of the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Its observation began in 1968 and was passed into law on Aug. 17, 1988. We celebrate National Hispanic Heritage month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, acknowledging national independence for many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua who recognize Sept. 15 as their independence. In addition, Mexico’s independence is celebrated on Sept. 16, and Chile celebrates its independence Sept. 18.
Getting to know Larry Delgado
Larry joined WDFW as the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager in spring 2022. Larry served 20 years in the military in Human Resources before transitioning to a career in state government in the public sector.
We had a chance to sit down and chat with Larry about the importance of community, and the significance of connecting diverse populations to the outdoors through access and opportunities.
Can you tell me about your professional background and what led you to a career in DEI?
I was born and raised in South Florida and joined the Army right out of high school. I was able to travel the world and build my confidence as a soldier and as an individual. In my role in Human Resources, I wanted to make sure our soldiers were taken care of, so they could focus on the mission, be safe, and come home to their families.
Through that experience, I had a newfound appreciation for the fact there was a need for diverse individuals and roles in the military, whether that’s infantry or communications, down to our cooks and mechanics, everyone had an important role to play.
After I left the military, I worked for Pierce Transit as a learning and development administrator. In that role, my experience in the military carried over and I had a perspective that not everyone had the same experiences or opportunities to professionally develop, and we needed to meet individuals where they were to provide upward professional mobility. Recognizing not everyone grows in the same way, I was very intentional in identifying professional opportunities that were based off specific identities and skills.
When I had the opportunity to work more specifically in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the Department of Enterprise Services, I thought this is where I want to focus my energies. I want to make sure any organization I was a part of was equitable and diverse. I gravitate towards those types of organizations that everyone can feel a part of. That’s what led me to the DEI Manager position with WDFW.
Can you share with me your ethnic heritage? Where did you grow up? What made you choose to live and stay in Washington?
I am Nicaraguan, and my parents immigrated to the United States in 1969 before I was born. When we were young, my mom used to send me and my siblings to Nicaragua to spend time with my grandmother. We spent a lot of summers there, and it’s also where I learned to speak Spanish. Spending time with my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles in Nicaragua was a way to connect to my heritage and my culture. I also witnessed the struggles that they went through, and it made me appreciate what we had in the United States.
The army brought me to Washington. I was skeptical at first because I heard it rained a lot, so I stayed on the East Coast awhile longer. But I had a friend stationed in Bremerton who told me, “Larry, you should come out here, it’s great!” So, fast forward to 2011, my wife and daughters fell in love with the state. I saw Mount Rainer in all her glory from the base and was like “Wow, this is gorgeous!” Being able to explore the Pacific Northwest and the Puget Sound, I thought, this is beautiful, and we chose to stay. Now I love the rain, I love the mist, I love it all.
Do you have traditions or ways you like to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month?
I feel like I celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month every day. I love attending events where you see and feel the culture. I participated in a Diversity Matters event on Camp Murray right outside of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and they had various cultures like Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, Hawaiians, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans that were represented. The food, the dress, the ability to speak through all these cultures, and being from south Florida, it felt like my comfort zone.
I appreciate diverse communities and being able to celebrate their heritage and culture. The HAPPEN (Hawaiians, Asians, and Pacific Islanders Promoting an Empowerment Network) Kickoff event in September was an opportunity for me to go out there and have these conversations and meet with more individuals.
You were recently selected as the Chair of the Washington State Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG), can you tell me more about this group’s mission and goals?
The goal of VERG is to recruit, retain, and recognize veterans and their family members in state employment. The organization helps state agencies support current state employees who have served in the military and their spouses by providing various resources and mentorship opportunities. The group is made up of veterans, allies of veterans, and military spouses. I volunteered for the role because I wanted to pay back to our veteran community and their families. I understand it takes a village to raise a soldier and a lot of successes are tied directly towards the amount of support we receive.
I want to help and support those that have come behind me get into state service. I understand the value of our veterans. They’re very hard working, have a breadth of experience and subject matter expertise, and can bring more diversity to state government.
What motivates you or inspires you in your work?
I was the youngest of three, and I wasn’t very athletic and was always chosen last to play any sports. But then I joined the military, and it was something I really excelled at and really grew my confidence. I realized early on that if I was going to commit to this and give it my all, I could succeed, and that was the catalyst of what inspires me to this day. I value seeing individuals and what makes them who they are and acknowledging that everyone has worth and something to contribute.
The military exposed me to leaders that instilled confidence and respect. I want to pay it back 100-fold and want to be that kind of leader for others. So, what really inspires my work is promoting and supporting our employees to bring their all and give that 110%.
What are some outdoor activities you enjoy? Are there some you’re hoping to try?
When I turned 40, for some strange reason I started running marathons. I ran multiple marathons and have several medals at home. But now I’ve been looking into mountain biking, and it’s a different way to experience the outdoors.
Boating is something else I’m starting to explore. Being raised in south Florida, we did a lot of fishing. We would go down to the Keys and fish off bridges and catch all kinds of fish, and that’s what I’m familiar with. But I’m super excited about boating and taking the motorboat training. I told my wife I was going to buy a bunch of fishing tackle and gear, so that way I have no excuse to get out there and get my fishing license.
This year’s theme is “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation”, centered on creating stronger communities and voices, what are some key attributes to building community?
In my view, the number one thing is listening. Listen to what communities are saying and hear what they need. We can’t just make assumptions of what we may think they know or need. Additionally, approaching with compassion, curiosity, and empathy. I think it’s about appreciating the contributions of not just the Hispanic and Latinx community, but all immigrants that make this country so great.
Why is it significant that state agencies continue their efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion?
I think as state agencies look at the future of work and how demographics are changing, I think we should ask ourselves, ‘how do we bring those changes with us?’. Also, it’s about being able to adapt to change which is pivotal for any organization to succeed. If we don’t have a structure to adapt to these changes, I think we’ll be woefully underprepared for what the future holds.
The idea that if we don’t value our employees and appreciate what makes them whole, such as their race, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender, they’ll seek opportunities elsewhere. If we lean into diversity, equity, and inclusion, and make sure we’re mirroring the communities we serve, we can highlight and celebrate these things that make us different while also finding common ground on what brings us together.