About 27 years ago, a nine-month-old Genesis Ortega left the Dominican Republic with her parents for a new life in the United States.
The family eventually settled in Allentown, leaving the unstable political environment of their homeland behind, in hopes of better opportunities.
The leap of faith paid off.
Genesis grew up and fell in love with her Lehigh Valley community, dreaming of following in the footsteps of her father and her grandfather, who were both politicians in their native Dominican Republic.
While a political career may be around the corner for Ortega, for now she is serving the community in a different way.
She is host of PBS39’s “Es Tiempo Lehigh Valley,” a weekly Spanish language talk show on the Bethlehem-based public television station.
Now approaching its third season, “Es Tiempo” highlights the Latino community in the area, and is the first show in PBS 39’s history to be done entirely in Spanish.
In addition to both producing and co-hosting “Es Tiempo” with a co-host, Victor Martinez, the 2013 Moravian College graduate is membership and community engagement ambassador for PBS39.
She was recently honored for her many efforts by the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, who named Ortega as the 2019 Hispanic Business Person of the Year.
Lehigh Valley Business sat down with Ortega at 839 Sesame St., where she discussed her career, ageism in the workplace, and growing up between two cultures.
LVB: With no journalism or on-air experience, how did your role as host of “Es Tiempo” come about?
I was passionate about helping those who were migrating to the Lehigh Valley from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. I started thinking that there might be something PBS could do to help raise awareness.
PBS listened to what I had to say and decided to produce a community conversation television program on the topic.
Soon after they came to me and said, “Have you ever thought about being on TV?” I never had, well, maybe when I was a kid, but I was interested when they suggested hosting a Spanish talk show.
I’m really proud of what my co-host and I have done. We have run stories on how local law enforcement officers are managing violence in the community, interviewed city council members, talked about what it means to be Dominican, and explored the obesity epidemic among Hispanics. It’s a mixture of lighter and harder pieces.
LVB: Now that you have dipped your feet in the pool, are you interested in pursuing journalism more in your career?
The show has definitely piqued my interest in journalism. I’ve done a couple of pieces for the nightly news broadcast recently. A lot of my life has centered around bringing stories of my community to the forefront, and advocating for people in need.
Journalism is a unique way to bring awareness to issues that don’t have clear answers yet.
LVB: What are the biggest concerns right now in the Hispanic community in our area?
We’ve seen an increase in racism. People are thinking it’s OK to talk down to people, and a lot of people in my community are questioning if they really belong here.
We are making headway though. You are seeing more Hispanics in leadership positions, buying property and starting businesses.
LVB: Do you think that there is a misconception that the Latino community is relatively homogenous, despite the fact that valley Latinos come from many different countries?
Yes, I can see that. I am part of the Hispanic community, but my culture is Dominican. We are all very different. I’m married to someone who is Honduran, but when you look at the two cultures of my husband and I, and how we celebrate things, it is so different. To think that a Mexican is the same as a Puerto Rican is the same as a Dominican is just not true at all. We speak the same language but the cultures differ greatly.
LVB: As a young professional, do you see a generation gap in the workplace? Do younger people have different values than Gen X-ers or baby boomers when it comes to work?
My generation isn’t sticking around for a lot of years in one place. We come into the workplace and stay for as long as we feel our potential has been reached there and then we will move forward. That seems to be different than the mindset of previous generations.
We have a big younger crowd at PBS39 but we also have people who have been in the industry for 30 years. Our two dynamics make for a great synergy together, but I also think that my generation is looking for fulfillment in different ways.
We look more for a great work/life balance. Here at PBS we are very flexible, which is great, because we put 110 percent in all the time, and that makes it easy to burn out. Having flexible time and being able to work from home helps.
LVB: Wearing so many hats at PBS39, how do you find balance?
I try to make it so that everything I do rolls into the other. I may be doing outreach for PBS at an event but I’m also still wearing my “Es Tiempo” hat and looking for good stories.
I have to multitask. I could be at an “Es Tiempo” taping and find someone who would make a great volunteer.
LVB: There’s been a sea change in attitudes towards how we treat women in the workplace with the #MeToo movement. As a young female, have you yourself experienced harassment or sexism?
I’ve been fortunate to not have experienced that, though I know some of my friends have. For me, I’ve experienced more ageism. I’m 27 years old, and there are some who think I don’t have as much buy-in as someone who has been in the workplace longer. That makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I have as much value as anyone else.
LVB: How can we bridge that gap between older and younger generations?
Everyone has to be conscious that we all have to come to the table and we all have things we can bring. It would be silly to say we should only have millennials in the workplace because I can learn so much from someone who has been here 30-plus years, and someone else can learn from the fresh ideas I might bring.
LVB: In an era of streaming services, and dwindling cable television subscriptions, how is public television still relevant? Why is it still important?
We have a great station here at PBS. We are able to do so many different things. We are more than just a television station. Put the television aside, and we have literacy initiatives to help children in the area reading by 3rd grade. You would think that is something that is already happening, but it’s not.
Then there is what we are doing on the opioid front. We are partnering with the other six public television stations in the state to advocate for our lawmakers to increase funding to battle opioid addiction.
Add the television to that, and we are all-around advocates for the community. We highlight organizations that are doing great things in the area. Things that you might only hear 30-second soundbites of on the regular news, we are doing 8 minutes on.
LVB: We hear so much that younger people aren’t watching as much television. What can PBS39 do to engage younger viewers?
I think there needs to be more awareness of what the station offers. I don’t have cable myself. But I came here and found out that you can watch PBS for free, all you need is an antenna. You can get it without cable at no cost.
We also ventured this February into a streaming service called Passport. It’s $5 a month and with it people can watch all of our PBS shows. But you don’t have to have Passport to watch “Es Tiempo.” You can watch all of our episodes for free on our website.
LVB: Growing up, were there cultural differences to manage between yourself and your parents?
I was the first to go to college in the United States. I muddled through the application and financial aid process with my guidance counselors, but my parents were not able to help me. Really everything was new to me. My first job, I had no clue what a 401(k) was. My parents didn’t have a 401(k). They gave everything to us, but they just didn’t know how to guide us through some things that they weren’t experienced with.
Every part of my professional life has been just me trying to figure it out. One of the things I think people don’t realize is that there is such a gap between how education works in Latin American countries and the U.S..
In Latin America, parents are more disengaged, there are fewer extracurricular activities. You go to school and that’s it. A lot of parents who are Latin American immigrants don’t realize how important extracurricular activities are, how important help with homework is. It’s a completely different ball game.
LVB: What advice do you have for other young people starting out in their careers?
Don’t be afraid to speak up. That was the first lesson I had to learn. I was very shy and learned that you can’t be shy. Find out where to go for help and who to ask.
You have to be sure of who you are and what you have to offer. Everything that you are doing, you wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t do it.
In my first day of taping “Es Tiempo,” I was battling a severe case of nerves. I wasn’t sure how my on-air presence would be. I had to say to myself, “You wouldn’t be in this position if you didn’t deserve it.”
LVB: What was it like for you to be named “Hispanic Business Person of the Year?”
When I got the call, I was just taken aback, I had no idea I was in the running. I sometimes see these awards that people receive in the Valley and think that they are only for people who have been long established in their careers. I would never think that at my age and at this point in my career that I would be acknowledged for my accomplishments.
I work really hard and I want to make everyone that knows me – my family, my community –proud. And I want to give back to the community that supports me.
LVB: Looking towards the future, what’s in your 10 year plan?
You might see me run for office. It is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad and grandfather were both politicians in the Dominican Republic. It’s in my blood.
Working for Congressman Charlie Dent earlier in my career really pulled that out of me more.
I was working for after college and walked into Dent’s office one December with my resume and said, “I just wanna leave this here for you, in case you might know of something.”
And the very next month, they asked me to come in to interview. I became the constituent affairs representative and Hispanic outreach coordinator for the congressman. And I continue to do outreach for PBS today.
I’m passionate about working in our community for meaningful legislation. It’s important to make sure that whoever is in office is utilizing their time and resources wisely.