The importance of identity

Last revised: October 13, 2023
Sierra Downing
Sierra Downing

D&I Communications

Before embarking on 13 years at International Paper as a Chief Counsel for North American Container, Ignacio Vincentelli went to law school 2,000 miles away in Caracas, Venezuela where he was born and raised. 
Growing up, his father described English as the “language of business,” so Ignacio traveled to summer camps all around the world as a child, but never thought he would permanently be in the US.  

After Venezuela elected a new president in 1999, opportunities started to scale back, which prompted his dad to move his business and his family to Miami, Florida. Ignacio stayed behind to get his degree and practice law, but soon after he found himself in Miami where he attended The University of Miami for his Juris Doctor. 

Accents & Identity

The transition from Venezuela to Miami didn’t feel like a challenge to Vincentelli due to the Spanish speaking community. “When you're talking about an accent in Miami, you're talking about your accent in Spanish – whether it’s from Argentina, Colombia or Venezuela,” Ignacio shared. 

Ignacio smiles at the camera from behind his desk at work with pictures of his kids in the background

When he moved from Miami to Memphis, Tenn. he started to realize his English wasn’t as good as he once thought. Vincentelli registered for a class to try to reduce his accent. “I started noticing that even though I had gone through law school successfully twice, and I even worked for the US government in Miami, but when I got here, I noticed I had a big accent next to everyone else,” he said. 

“It’s funny because today I kind of love having an accent but at that time I thought of it as a potential obstacle for my career,” Ignacio shared. Although no one made him feel like his accent was a problem, he wanted to fit into Memphis’ culture. 

Living in Memphis

Ignacio’s children were born in Memphis, but they aren't typical Memphians. He and his wife Melissa share the same family values. “They can only speak Spanish at home, even among themselves, because at school they learn English, and their friends speak English. They’ve been listening to us speak in Spanish since they were born,” he says.  

Ignacio shares that they send the girls to school with Venezuelan and Hispanic cultural dishes because it’s a big part of their identity. “If we let them lose pieces of it, we always fear that it would be a deterrence to them feeling okay with who they are," he said. 

Everywhere you go people know that the way of IP is to do the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons, all the time.

Importance of Core Values 

Identity is a big factor in Ignacio’s life; he contributes it to the core values he was raised on. The appreciation for working hard and resilience are values his father instilled in him. “If you're resilient enough, your success is almost guaranteed,” he said. 

But he believes being a first-generation immigrant adds another layer to working hard. “When you move into a place where you have no roots, it's like you're the first seed in the ground. There’s no safety net,” Ignacio said. He describes values as being a universal language that influences him to be the best version of himself daily. 

Working at IP

The biggest highlight of Ignacio’s career at International Paper is building relationships within the businesses and mentoring young professionals. He enjoys watching mentees grow from the start of their career to starting a family, buying a house or even being promoted, because it makes him feel like he's a part of something bigger than himself. 

With no hesitation Ignacio says his favorite thing about IP is the IP Way. “I travel to [our facilities in] Mexico a few times a year, supporting them as a lawyer. Everywhere you go people know that the way of IP is to do the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons, all the time.”

Learn more about IP’s Core Values.

Ignacio and his family at a fun run