Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 to October 15. It is a time to focus on sharing stories and providing opportunities to increase understanding and acceptance of the Hispanic community as TD Bank honors their vital contributions.
Cesar Barral-Rujano has one memory of the accident when he was five years-old that changed his life - lying in the hot Panamanian sun, unable to feel or move his limbs.
Eventually Cesar and his mother, a bank executive, would immigrate to New Jersey, neither knowing much English and her starting over as a hotel housekeeper. The story of how Cesar, a TD Bank Complaints Oversight Specialist, and his mother overcame many challenges to achieve success is a story that reflects the strength and determination TD Bank honors this Hispanic Heritage Month.
One day changed everything
On a day like any other, young Cesar was riding his bike in his neighborhood when he swerved left and a cement truck hit him. The impact gave doctors no choice but to amputate his left leg at the hip. “Life became an uphill battle for me then,” Cesar said. “Anxiety and depression crept in, things I still confront even decades later. Wearing baggy clothes became a way to hide from the world, not only my disability but from myself.”
Leaving Panama with his mother at age 10, they lived with her parents in a one-bedroom apartment outside Jersey City. Though it’s been more than 20 years now, he still remembers how intimidating it was to communicate with the outside world.
In addition to his English classes at school, TV was a wonderful teacher, as was his mom. She was learning the language too and working three jobs to make ends meet, all to build a better life for Cesar. “She just closed her eyes and took a leap of faith to bring me to the U.S.,” he says. “And showed me how hard work can bring results.”
In fact, Cesar’s mother has been his greatest inspiration and hero. After a grueling years-long process, they finally became U.S. citizens together in 2011. As an immigrant, Cesar intimately understands the struggles of assimilating into a foreign culture. “I’m proud of my Hispanic heritage, and my efforts to become a contributing member of U.S. society are a big reason why,” he said.
His bilingual asset
Cesar’s Hispanic background has shaped his professional life in the U.S. and his work at TD Bank. His fluency in both English and Spanish allows him to bridge some important language gaps. His ability to let everyone know they are seen and heard, allows him to create memorable moments for both the English and Spanish-speaking customers he serves.
When Cesar started working at TD Bank as the call center’s Customer Service Representative in 2015, his habit of hiding his heritage and disability was no longer an option. He had to show up at work as who he was and rise to the challenges before him.
His first manager and mentor, Ellie Congleton, was instrumental in that shift. She opened his eyes to his potential and gave him the courage to step into his unique power while owning his disability, allowing him to take advantage of his Spanish fluency to help customers who primarily speak that language.
In his current role today, Cesar analyzes data to identify customer issues like high call volume or promotions that aren’t automatically applied, then reports on them so the appropriate department can remedy the problem. Prior to this, he was working in the Office of the President and CEO, responding to escalated customer issues directly and working to remedy them on an individual basis.
Empowering work for an inspiring person
For Cesar, it’s empowering to help the customer directly. He likes looking for ways to be flexible and accommodate the individual. “There’s a rewarding feeling about being able to get on the phone with a customer and work through their problems and help them out the best I can,” he said.
As it happens, flexibility and accommodation are two of Cesar’s favorite things about working at TD Bank. “The bank makes modifications whenever people need them, and this helps everyone to feel comfortable, seen, and valued,” he said.
There have been times throughout Cesar’s life when his language barriers and physical ones, too, have caused him to struggle with feeling at home in his body and environment. But his family has been there to cheer him on, and that’s true for his colleagues at TD Bank, as well. Now Cesar is at the top of his game workwise, and his future is looking brighter than ever.
“It's an honor and a great opportunity to be part of TD,” he said. “I'm happy that I am always learning new things, and I can build a future for myself here at the bank helping others, both our customers and mentoring other employees when I have the opportunity to do so.”