Each year, National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 – October 15. This time celebrates the unique culture, history and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors are from Mexico, Spain, and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. September 15 is the date five countries from Latin American celebrate Independence Day – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua – with Mexico, Chile and Belize becoming independent on September 16, 18 and 21, respectively.
At Zoetis, one of the colleagues who contributes and influences from her rich Hispanic culture and traditions is Margarita Marina Pinto Sagahon, Associate Director of VMRD for Canada, Asia, and Latin America, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We had the opportunity to connect with Margarita so she could share about her Hispanic history, how her cultural background impacts her work, and her involvement in Zoetis’ Diversity & Inclusion efforts.
How has your career journey brought you from Mexico to the United States?
I was born and raised in Mexico City. I relocated to the United States in 2010, which was my first experience living outside of Mexico. I am the daughter of working parents who prioritized personal development, education and a career for both me and my sister.
I am a veterinarian and studied in Mexico’s National University. I knew I wanted to do this from the time I was a little girl; it was my calling to be an animal doctor. I started my career as a professor teaching histology and did that for seven years. It was one of the most rewarding experiences in my early professional life because it helped me grow and taught me that sharing knowledge and inspiring others can be very challenging.
Back when I was teaching, job opportunities were posted in the newspaper. One day my mom cut out a little ad for a pharmaceutical company and left it on my dresser. I interviewed and got a position in Regulatory and Quality Assurance at Intervet, even though I didn’t have any experience. After working there for three years I received a call from the Mexican government and took on a role as the head of the Registration Department for the animal health agency, SAGARPA. It was a super intense year and gave me a lot of exposure, which led to my next role leading Regulatory for Fort Dodge Animal Health in Mexico. When Pfizer bought Wyeth/Fort Dodge, I was offered the opportunity to lead Canada and Latin America with VMRD! Then in 2015, when the region was reorganized, Asia was added.
What is something particularly rewarding about your current role?
I enjoy working with 42 different markets. I have a big network full of interesting, diverse people and a lot of friends. I enjoy my interactions and the challenges of getting animal health products registered. Being part of an R&D organization has been very rewarding. I’ve learned a lot about product development from inception to licensing. It’s a constant growth opportunity and never boring, especially as I assimilated to life in the United States. You survive and grow, but you don’t leave culture and family behind. They are with you all the time. It helps you navigate changes and become a more interesting person.
Can you share a challenge and a joy from making the move?
It was a very difficult transition to leave my country, leave my mom, and for my daughter and I to both live in English, even with having already been taught the language. My daughter Ana Luisa was eight when we moved here and we both found leaving Mexico and strong family roots to be stressful. I was thankful to find El Sol Elementary, a bilingual elementary school in Kalamazoo. It gave my daughter the ability to express her needs in Spanish and be fully understood. I also met my now-husband at Zoetis! We worked together for three years, and a very good friendship became an engagement. Now my daughter is starting her first year at college, and I am very happy it is online. Mexican mothers are never ready to let our children go!
Tell us about a memorable experience celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month.
In Mexico the celebrations are two days and start the night of the 15th of September. Mexico City has a huge public square called Plaza del Zócalo. The name comes from plans to build a column as a monument to independence but only the base, or zócalo, was built. The base was buried, but the name lives on. The space is over 57,000 square meters, and able to hold more than 100,000 people. On September 15 a bell is rung, the President goes out with a big Mexican flag, and names heroes of the independence movement. The entire crowd ends by saying, “¡Viva México!” To see and hear the size of the crowd in unison is epic and gives me goosebumps.
How has your heritage influenced your approach to work?
I have a very strong sense of belonging to where I work, and that comes from my upbringing. I grew up feeling close to my country, my family and having strong values. I am very proud of where I come from and who I am. Similarly, I am very proud of the work I do for Zoetis and have a strong bond with the company. There is no difference from who I am at home and who I am at work. This aligns with Zoetis encouraging all colleagues to bring their full self to work.
What advice would you give to other Hispanic/Latinx colleagues to help them advance their career?
Embrace your identity – that’s the first thing I would say. I think you are more successful at being who you are than pretending to be something else. Speak up, ask questions and never lose the hunger. I think what takes you through life is the hunger of being surprised, learning something new, acknowledging when you’re wrong, and correcting it along the way. This approach will equip you to grow. This is common across all people, but especially for my Hispanic/Latinx colleagues I would really encourage staying true to themselves.
How are you involved with Diversity & Inclusion efforts at Zoetis?
I am a member of the Zoetis Diversity & Inclusion Council and am an example of the diversity we have at Zoetis. The work itself is very rewarding, but what makes it richer is our ability to interact with people of different backgrounds and stories. My work with Latin American colleagues and Asian colleagues has allowed me to learn from other cultures. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to visit Asia a few times already. I love being immersed in a culture that is not my own. Even if you don’t look like anyone around you, you can absorb culture: the sounds, smells, language and food are wonderful. It is so important to feel connection with people, see how we all have similarities, and to recognize meaningful differences beyond what is outside and apparent. I like to see that Zoetis is increasing the Diversity & Inclusion perspective and look forward to continuing cultural growth through Colleague Resource Groups.
Zoetis is in the process of developing several Colleague Resource Groups (CRGs). Can you tell us about plans for the Hispanic/Latinx group?
As one of the founding members, I am currently helping to frame the mission statement. The Hispanic/Latinx CRG will function as a place where colleagues who have that affinity can share concerns, talk about professional development, develop nurturing relationships with other colleagues and build stronger representation. If we identify issues, we can organize and bring to leadership. In addition, all will be welcome to attend and learn! We look forward to bringing cultural awareness of Hispanic/Latinx history, food and names, while engaging in fun, joyful events as well.
Thank you to Margarita for sharing her personal story and journey with us to help celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as her efforts in the growing Diversity & Inclusion space at Zoetis!