In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we invited Douglas Elliman agents to share their experiences and talk about the role their heritage has played in their real estate career.
Raquel Benguiat, San Diego Real Estate Agent
How do you prefer to identify yourself within the umbrella of “Hispanic Heritage”?
I identify as Mexican American, but my cultural heritage extends beyond Mexico to Turkey, Greece and Spain. My grandparents’ last stop before immigrating to the U.S. in the 1960s was Mexico, so I have a strong connection to that culture. But my identity is more than just my nationality. My Jewish upbringing is also an important part of who I am. All of these cultures have shaped me, and I feel a deep bond with their languages, music, food and history. I also feel a kinship with their people both inside and outside the U.S.
It is hard to explain my heritage to someone who asks, “Where are you from?” It’s a question I get asked all the time. I used to be unsure why people were asking, and I was worried that my English wasn’t good because Spanish was my primary language. But a wise friend reminded me that my intonation is just different. My statements sometimes sound like questions, which can be amusing, and I now embrace as a unique part of my personality I am a unique fusion of my experiences growing up in California and the rich cultural traditions that I inherited from my family.
What aspects of your identity are most meaningful for you? Are there cultural traditions or historic moments or other elements that are a particular source of pride?
I am so proud of my family’s history and cherish the traditions that have been passed down through the generations. I am also grateful for the opportunity to live in a country where we are free to practice our religion and embrace our culture. My grandparents fled danger and oppression, finding safety and freedom in Mexico and America. I will never take that for granted.
I love passing on our rich heritage to my three daughters. They help me when I cook my grandmother’s special meals and listen thoughtfully when my Argentinean husband tells them stories of his family’s immigration from Europe to South America. My home is a melting pot of cultures, and I feel lucky to share this with the next generation.
One tradition that is very meaningful and brings together the best of all my cultures is hosting a Friday night family dinner. It’s moving to see a beautiful table set with our favorite Mediterranean dishes, alongside a braided challah and freshly made stone-ground salsa. I know my grandparents are proudly watching over us, knowing that their dream survived.
How did you find your path to success in real estate?
Having a strong work ethic is the cornerstone of my success. Real estate can be challenging, but I draw inspiration from my grandparents, who fled World War II to come to Mexico. They arrived alone, not speaking the language and without a dime. Then they saved up enough to move to the states, where they had to adapt to a new culture and language again. Their determination and courage have shaped my view on overcoming challenges. I am incredibly proud of my family’s accomplishments and the contributions they have made to this country that I love so much. Whenever I feel frustrated, I remind myself of my family’s history, one that has repeatedly shattered barriers. This comforts me, knowing I carry the same strength and resilience inside me. It is reassuring to know that I have all the tools I need to succeed. My success depends solely on me.
What values or elements of your heritage do you draw strength from in your work as an agent?
Empathy has always been a big part of my service. My diverse background has given me the ability to put myself in my client’s shoes and understand the rollercoaster of emotions that come with handling a real estate transaction. There is a very emotional side of real estate that most people don’t see.
I lived in Argentina for three years after getting married and learned a whole new way to communicate. Latin people speak with so much emotion and intensity that it can often be misunderstood. I learned to listen carefully and look for the meaning behind the words. This has been invaluable in my work as a real estate agent.
My culture values relationships and community, so I’ve always learned to build strong connections with my clients and colleagues. I earn their trust by being there for them when they need me, before, during, and after the transaction. I care about what I do, and it shows. It’s heartwarming to see my clients value it too when they refer me to their family and friends.
What impact, if any, has your identity had on your experience in the real estate industry? Are there specific moments or episodes from over the years that illustrate that experience?
My identity has helped me in the real estate industry in several ways. My experience living and traveling abroad has been vital when working with clients from different cultures. Additionally, my background in psychology has given me a deep understanding of human behavior, which is essential for navigating difficult people or situations that can arise in a transaction.
One specific example that stands out is the first time I helped a family who was moving to the United States from Mexico. They didn’t speak English well and were overwhelmed by the home buying process. I recognized their vulnerability and was determined to help. I explained the contract and escrow process to them in Spanish, and they immediately felt reassured and were grateful that I took the time to explain things that no one else had.
It is my duty as a real estate agent to help clients understand what they are signing, especially if they are not fluent in English. I take the time to explain the legal contract and answer any questions they may have. I never forget that I am signing that contract with them too, and I take that responsibility very seriously. If any issues arise post-closing, I can have peace of mind that my clients were fully informed of the risks and responsibilities associated with their purchase.
Putting my client’s needs first and going the extra mile is my way of showing value and care to the people I represent.
What would you like your industry colleagues to understand about your experience and what can they do to be better allies of your community?
As a real estate agent with a diverse background, I know how important it is to feel welcome and understood. That’s why I encourage my colleagues to learn about the countries, faiths, and customs of people from different cultures. This helps us build strong rapport and trust early on and can also help us avoid accidentally offending them. It’s also essential to be aware of the challenges that our clients may face, such as language barriers or discrimination, and to be mindful of their special holidays and observances.
Being an ally to diverse communities also means recognizing our own limitations. If there’s an agent who can better serve a client due to their expertise in an area or language, partner up and work together to ensure that our clients feel respected and supported.
How do you think brokerages like Elliman can help foster greater diversity in the industry?
Douglas Elliman is a leader in diversity and inclusion in the real estate industry. I have yet to see another company that is more aware, and I applaud the efforts that they have made to help everyone feel included, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
Other brokerages can learn from Douglas Elliman’s example and take steps to foster greater diversity and inclusion in the industry. I have experienced firsthand the company’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment for everyone by creating a culture of respect, inclusion and supporting a wide range of causes and communities.
I am proud to work for a company leading the way in this important work. My family history has taught me the importance of having a home where you are welcome, cherished and safe. I am grateful to Douglas Elliman for giving me a home away from home where I feel the same way.