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Margaret Resce Milkint found out she was Latina when she was fifteen years old.
Her mother, a Spanish Mexican native of El Paso, Texas, had never said a word to Resce Milkint about her true heritage until that day. “I always thought that she was bilingual, and that my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins were bilingual, because they lived in a border town,” Resce Milkint explains. “And I thought we ate this wonderful Tex-Mex food because that was the regional food.”
Resce Milkint discovered the truth when her paternal grandmother passed away. Decades prior, when Resce Milkint’s mother moved to Chicago as a new bride, her Italian mother-in-law asked her to keep her true roots a secret. She kept that promise for two decades.
“My grandmother didn’t want my mother to be ostracized,” Resce Milkint says. “She wanted her to fit in, to be like the rest of the family and not experience any sort of stigma. My mother grew up in a border town—she knew nothing of prejudice. So when my grandmother told her, ‘Mary, you just need to say you’re Italian,’ she didn’t even question it.”
Over time, Resce Milkint learned about her real family history. Her maternal grandmother, a Mexican woman named Juanita Vargas, married the “very, very Spanish” Santos Najera, who had immigrated to Mexico along with his brothers.
And Juanita’s mother, Resce Milkint’s great grandmother, was forced to cross the Rio Grande alone, with her two daughters on her back. Juanita grew up and built a life for herself in El Paso, where one of her daughters would one day meet an Italian boy from Chicago who had been stationed at Fort Bliss after the Korean War.
“It’s a beautiful story,” Resce Milkint reflects. “It’s the story of America. It’s a story of hope and courage and strong women who have helped shape my life.”
But this story, however powerful, is one that Resce Milkint has only felt comfortable talking about in recent years. For thirty years, as she rose through the ranks of the global insurance industry and dedicated herself to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, she never spoke about her Latina identity. “My skin is lighter, as is my mother’s. I could pass for a lot of things—and I do pass,” she says.
Instead, Resce Milkint focused on supporting other women in the insurance world—of which there were very few when she started out, she notes. She eventually became known as a bit of a pioneer in gender-focused DEI efforts, to the point that the founder of the Insurance Supper Club (ISC) asked her to become the US chair and lead the organization’s efforts to lift up talented professionals in that region. Resce Milkint is the Women in Insurance Chair for Million Women Mentors/STEMconnector as well as the US Chair for ISC Group.
Inspired by the strong women in her family, Resce Milkint is determined to make a tangible difference through her various DEI efforts. “I want to give back, and I want to do it in a very meaningful way—not just through inspiration, which I love, but through action, through doing and lifting,” she explains. “And I am so proud of the community we’ve built, of the men and women who are actionable, who are caring, who are lifting, who are growing, and who are challenging the status quo in a positive way.”
Today, Resce Milkint serves as a managing director and the practice leader for global insurance at executive search firm Diversified Search Group. In this role, she leverages her entire global network of insurance contacts, including the communities she’s built for underrepresented professionals.
It has also been at Diversified Search Group that she has felt the most profound shift in her personal journey toward embracing her Latina identity.
“[Diversified Search Group Managing Director and Partner In Charge] Victor Arias is a great example of a leader who has embraced his heritage, and he just takes me under his wing. He says, ‘Come on, amiga, let’s go,’” she says, laughing. “And he’ll speak to me in Spanish, which I never learned but grew up listening to.
“This journey—which is one of awakening and of embrace—is still new for me,” Resce Milkint continues. “The journey isn’t over, and I have a lot of growing and learning left to do. But I do feel welcome in the Hispanic community. I feel it in my core. I am a woman of color. I have these roots, and two beautiful sides of my family, and now I have to shine a light on that other side.”