Dr. Geraldine Vidal-Covas Embraces Her Hispanic Heritage, Encourages All
By Laura Reiser, OPACE
Dr. Geraldine Vidal-Covas is a frontline supervisor (FLS) in the Atlanta District, assigned to the Carolina Circuit in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico. She embraces her heritage as Hispanic, Puerto Rican and American. “I also share common bonds with people of the neighboring Caribbean Islands with the duality of being an American citizen,” she explains.
Vidal-Covas says that one of the strongest connections she has to her heritage is a sense of belonging or community. “Whether from a shared background, geography, upbringing, food or music, you have a recognition of self in others.” And, it’s not just at home in Puerto Rico. “Once, I was in London in a museum line. I was talking to my daughter in Spanish, and someone in line yelled out, ‘Oye Boricua,’ which is what we call someone from Puerto Rico. We laughed and said hi back. We like to say you can find Puerto Ricans anywhere in the world.”
She enjoys sharing about her culture and learning about others’. One way she does this is by looking for a connection with other cultures. “It’s learning how are we similar or different that brings growth and acceptance,” she says. During personal and work-related travel, she welcomes questions about Puerto Rico or Hispanic culture. “These usually are born out of genuine interest,” she said. “I may be the only Puerto Rican they’ve met. Their views may be based on what’s depicted in movies or social media.”
Vidal-Covas’ parents, Luis Manuel Vidal Casals and Mimi Covas, are originally from Puerto Rico. Vidal-Covas was born in Huntsville, Alabama, after her father was drafted by the U.S. Army. They lived there 6 months and then went back to Puerto Rico. Later, her parents moved the family to Kansas and New Jersey while working on their college and professional degrees. The family then settled in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where she attended elementary and high school.
She says her grandmother, Mildred Casals Subira, was one of the most influential people in her life. “She died at 94, but she was so ahead of her time,” recalls Vidal-Covas. “Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she went to college in the 1940s in Pennsylvania, taking transatlantic ships and then flying. She was strong and independent and had a very strong work ethic.”
To pursue her own degrees, Vidal-Covas attended the University of Florida in Gainesville for her undergraduate degree and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge for her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 2000. She returned to Puerto Rico with her DVM, worked until 2011 as an associate veterinarian in small animal practice, and has worked at FSIS ever since.
She also wants to encourage her colleagues regarding their heritages. “Embrace being bilingual or multilingual, regardless of accent. Promote your unique skill set [gained from your heritage], stand out and be proactive in participating in heritage groups or activities,” she says. “As a bilingual speaker, the ability to communicate with a greater sector of the population is a benefit, too.” She has had the opportunity to assist the Atlanta District by translating during calls and with documents. She also instills the importance of being bilingual in heritage with her children, 12 and 17, by placing them in a bilingual school.
“Being Hispanic has been an advantage in my professional career,” Vidal-Covas explains. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, she wrote the FSIS Natural Disaster Employee Assistance Protocol: Puerto Rico Pilot Program. This was an action proposal for USDA to better manage future natural disaster sites. This led to the District’s Natural Disaster Protocol – Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2018, her team was awarded the Under Secretary’s Award and FSIS Administrator’s Award for Excellence as part of the Hurricane Response Teams that supported the FSIS response and recovery efforts for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
As part of the Atlanta District, she served on the EEOAC committee for 3 years, actively seeking to promote diversity and inclusion in the workforce through recruitment, newsletters and a cookbook to celebrate the blend of backgrounds and cultures in the district.
In April, FLS Dr. Geraldine Vidal-Covas (third from left) presented FSIS pandemic recognition coins to in-plant personnel at Establishment P-7374 in Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Left to Right: SPHV Dr. Daniel Oliveras, Food Inspector (FI) Christian Ubiles, Vidal-Covas, FI Sergia Serrano, CSI Ileana Mercado, and FIs William Torres and Pablo Rivera. Photo courtesy of Vidal-Covas, OFO.
With her husband of 19 years, Helcias Bermudez Aviles, and children Catalina, 17, and Ignacio, 12, Vidal-Covas enjoys a dinner out in Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of Vidal-Covas, OFO.