One of the cornerstones of Southwest Airlines’ Culture is following The Golden Rule. To do right by others, you have to understand other people’s perspectives and know more about their story. As part of our Diversity and Inclusion event for Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage month, we asked Southwest Employee Sunitha Cheruvu to share some of her story.
After my marriage, working at Southwest is one of the longest relationships in my life. I’ve seen Southwest go from being a domestic airline with plastic, reusable boarding passes in the shape of states to an international carrier that recently completed our transition to a new reservation system. What a journey! Southwest has been with me and my family through the birth of my three beautiful children, serious health issues, and the ups and down of life.
Staying in one place and putting down roots was not the norm for me. I’ve been traveling my whole life. I’ve moved around the world, on average changing cities once every two years, up until high school. I was born in a small town in India and moved to two of its biggest cities before I was three and made my way through other countries before arriving on the East Coast of the United States. I didn’t make my way to Dallas until after I got married. While I was exposed to a variety of cultures, none felt fully mine. I was proud of my Indian heritage as instilled by my parents, and loved my American side, too. So like any innovative American, I created my own by taking the aspects I liked from each one.
One of my more personal “define my culture” moments happened at Southwest. I noticed a Teammate wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a religious event she’d attended the previous weekend. Perhaps, it’s a holdover from moving so much as a child and never quite being at home, but seeing her so casually share such a personal side of her life made an impact on me. I mentioned the same to another Coheart who asked me what I would do along those lines if I could. For me the answer was simple. I love wearing my bottu* - that’s the dot on the forehead that Hindus wear. It is more than a religious symbol for me. Wearing a bottu completed my face and without it, I felt like I was going out into the world without my best face on. Imagine what it feels like when you forget your cellphone at home; you feel off. That’s how I felt without my bottu. I previously worked in the conservative world of Wall Street where wearing a bottu to work was not in the realm of possibilities. However, I was at Southwest Airlines now. So I headed into work the next day, feeling a little like Rocky Balboa, wearing a bottu. While it was a big deal for me, my Cohearts accepted it in stride and it was business as usual.
Sunitha giving a speech.
Since then I’ve worn the bottu everywhere. Whether serving on the board of the Frisco Education Foundation, or attending committee meeting for the Frisco ISD, or representing my faith on multicultural forums, I show up as the bottu-wearing Jersey girl from the South (of India) who has made Texas her home. It has led to great partnerships across ethnic boundaries and led the way to conversations seeking better understanding. Inspired by my Cohearts, I have strived to share the power and benefits of inclusion in all my adventures both in Southwest and in my home city of Frisco, Texas.
*Bottu is from the Telugu language. The dot is also known as a bindi in the Hindi language.