Giving Voice to the Hispanic Experience
As Hispanic Heritage Month begins, perspectives from four Charles River employees
Today marks the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the history and culture of the US Latino and Hispanic communities. Latino communities have deep roots in the Americas. In the US they have helped to define our culture and to drive us economically. Their contributions—from Nobel Prize-winning science to Academy Award-winning performances to theatre, literature and politics has been significant.
Charles River has a rich Latino presence, too. Eureka took a moment to connect with four of our many Latino employees to show how they contribute to the life sciences, and how they advocate for their communities. We also were curious to learn how they navigated and responded to challenges related to their Latino heritage, and what ways we could acknowledge and celebrate diversity in the workplace.
Antonio Vergara, Senior Technologist, Wilmington, MA
When it comes to celebrating Latino heritage in the workplace, Antonio Vergara has one word: flags. He thinks it would be super cool during Hispanic Heritage Month for sites to fly the flags of all the countries that Latino workers come from. You can just imagine him hoisting up the yellow, blue and red flag of his home country of Colombia.
Antonio, who came to the US in 1989 from Medellín, has a background in business administration. He joined Charles River’s Genetically Modified Animal Models and Services (GEMS) department 20 years ago. Working with transgenic animals has placed Antonio in a unique position: he is able to see how research at these earliest stages of drug development can lead to new medicines and better health, including most recently with the development of new treatments and vaccines against SARS-CoV-2.
“I enjoy doing my job because I know I am doing my bit to help humanity, and because I am providing my coworkers knowledge of the processes acquired during my years at Charles River,” says Antonio.
Yet staying true to his culture while absorbing a society and language different from his native land has been a struggle, and he still struggles to find that balance between the old and the new. “One of the great challenges that I have faced since my arrival in this country has been to prevail with my Colombian customs and learn the English language, that is never perfected,” said Antonio.
In advocating for Latinos, Antonio said it is necessary to educate our children from home, teaching them that “before God and society we must all be equal and without any discrimination.”
Maria Chacon-Dorta, Technical Support Specialist, Newark, DE
When Puerto Rican native Maria boarded a plane for Delaware, she had ambitious educational and professional goals. She spent a decade working as a veterinary technician, while pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in microbiology. Today she is a Technical Support Specialist and member of the customer care team at the Accugenix site in Newark, DE, part of Charles River’s Microbial Solutions business.
She likes Charles River’s friendly, inclusive and professional environment, and the fact that it gave her the opportunity to use her fluency in Spanish and her microbiology background is a plus.
It is because she has achieved career success that Maria is acutely aware that not every Latino person has a welcoming family around to help them navigate, or US citizenship. In fact, the biggest challenge she has faced with respect to her Hispanic heritage is the historical lack of empathy shown to the Latin community and the generalization of Latin communities.
After all, she points out, we come from many parts of South America, islands and even Europe. Even within her native Puerto Rico, there is a mix of cultures, include native Taino Puerto Rican, Spaniards, and Africans “I feel for a community that has not had the same opportunities as I have had, but do have the same dreams and goals,” says Maria. “I can only wish for a future in which opportunities are given to people regardless of their ethnic background and are recognized for what they professionally accomplish,” says Maria.
For the most part, Maria believes that education is the key new generations will need in confronting racism and becoming more inclusive. “But the barriers already in place by archaic believers gets in the way and I can only express to our future generations, including my own kids, to learn about other people’s backgrounds, love and respect everyone’s equality, and love and respect everyone equally regardless of their looks.”
This extends to the workplace, says Maria, because the more we know about each other’s cultures the better we will connect. She appreciates all the support Charles River and her Accugenix teammates have extended to her. “There is not a day that I feel like I do not belong to this team and I would like to recognize that Charles River Labs sets an example for inclusivity,” says Maria. “I am proud to be a Puerto Rican and to have the opportunities given to me, recognizing my Spanish heritage as one of the most important parts of who I am.”
Daniel Guzman, Inventory Control Manager, HemaCare, a Charles River Company
Daniel Guzman is the US-born son of immigrant parents from Jalisco, Mexico, who moved to the United States in hopes of a better life. The Guzmans’ journey was filled with moments that define the immigrant dream: they were the first of their extended family to move to the US and the first to start their own business. “Most importantly, they were first with the courage to pursue these ventures with a sense of care, pride and tremendous work ethic,” says Daniel.
It was those virtues that were passed on to Daniel as he pursued his own dreams as a first-generation Mexican. Throughout his career he has been able to showcase those values. Taking pride in his work comes second nature to him because he knows how much his parents sacrificed. “I think of all the wonderful opportunities given to me at Charles River,” says Guzman. “In fact, Charles River has given me my own ‘first’—the first of my family to be entrusted with a managerial role. Channeling my parent’s experiences, my goal is to never disappoint the individuals who have put their trust in me. Whether it be my parents, family, or my mentors here at Charles River.”
Growing up in East Los Angeles, Daniel faced racism and bullying and “many opportunities … to make real bad decision” and these challenges remain. “Racism and profiling will always be around and will continue to happen, not because of who I am but because of who they think I am.”
Because he knows what it is like to be taken advantage of Daniel goes out of his way to advocate for those in need. “I try to help those in my community, supporting local / community-grown businesses and charities, helping my fellow neighbor or simply putting aside all the recyclables each week so the older lady (who reminds of my mom) has one less trash can to dig through. It’s my way of helping,” says Daniel.
Fransheska Falconi Villon, Laboratory Animal Technician, Kingston, NY
Peruvian-American Fransheska Falconi Villon was born in Boston, but her career took her to an animal model facility in upstate New York. Fransheska takes pride in her work as a lab tech, ensuring the precious animals in her possession with an outsized role in research are well cared for. “What I enjoy the most about working at Charles River is knowing the purpose and the reasons for what we do, knowing that because of us there are and will be cures to certain diseases, and if not cures then treatments to make people’s lives better.”
As the daughter of Peruvian immigrants, Fransheska has advocated for people of color by sharing their cultures, and by respecting and listening to them. “I personally have never felt discriminated in any way but I have seen it with close family members,” she says. “It’s definitely been a challenge seeing close family members go through tough moments due to people being ignorant.”
In contrast, Fransheska says we should be embracing our differences. Here at Charles River, Fransheska suggests recognizing the Independence Days of the Latino countries represented at Charles River by sharing fun facts about these cultures and promoting events in the community, such as the annual Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts held every summer. “Those who might be interested can attend and learn about different cultures around the world. “