Strolling through the playground at Gateway Elementary, Phoenix Suns Charities Operations and Grants Manager Margarita G. Cortez cannot help but see glimpses of herself. She is onsite visiting to speak to students for Hispanic Heritage Month.
The Latina leader has just begun her tenth season with Phoenix Suns Charities. She oversees the grant process and utilization of funds for the betterment of the community, a community she has called home her entire life.
Born and raised in El Mirage, a predominantly Hispanic western suburb of Phoenix, Cortez could not imagine her life or career if it weren’t for her parents and family. She is the oldest of four siblings and her parents migrated from San Luis Río Colorado, Mexico, searching for prosperity and a better life.
Cortez’s parents demonstrated the core morals and values she continues to live out today. “My parents became American citizens and worked hard in their careers to give our familia una bella vida (a beautiful life),” said Cortez.
“They instilled hard work in me. My parents have always been kind, generous…they taught my siblings and me to do good, to value what we have (even if it wasn’t much but to us it was enough) and to always have faith,” Cortez continued.
“They worked really hard and supported all of our efforts. They did what they could with the little bit they had. The work ethic was always there, and we always felt their love.”
For the earlier part of her young life, Cortez’s parents picked produce at nearby farmland that stretches across the west Valley.
Cortez and her younger sister would join them regularly.
“We used to help my parents in the field picking produce to ensure we had food on the table.”
Cortez recounts working outside in the heat and dirt with one word:
“Even at a young age, that was amazing. I was able to contribute to my familia,” she added.
This appreciation and dedication to hard work made Cortez the first in her family to graduate college, receiving her associate degree summa cum laude from Glendale Community College and bachelor’s degree cum laude from Arizona State University. Cortez also performed professionally with Scorpius Dance Theatre for nine years while attending college and beyond. The love for the arts has been in her heart throughout her life. After college, she immediately began to give back and joined Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, a Phoenix-area nonprofit that transforms children’s trauma into resilience through the arts.
Her industrious upbringing would lead her to a career in the NBA that she did not expect but cherishes.
“I didn’t know I would continue serving the community, but an amazing opportunity presented itself nine years ago and I am so grateful. Not only do I get to help others, but I get to do it with two of the best franchises in sports, the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury.”
Years later, Cortez’s career has come full circle as she now serves on the board of directors for Free Arts.
In addition, Cortez is a member of The Latina Giving Circle. The Latina-led giving circle allows individual donors to pool their resources to make a bigger impact on charitable causes of shared interest. Through The Latina Giving Circle, Cortez has a chance to give back to her community.
The fruits of Cortez and her parents’ labor exceed food on the table or a roof over their heads.
Now Cortez makes a difference daily while honoring her parents every step of the way and inspiring the next generation of Hispanic leaders.
“To be a Latina leader is super important to me because it gives other little girls and boys, who look like me, including my five nieces and two nephews, hope that they can be successful and accomplish their dreams.”
Entering year 10, Cortez cannot believe the journey but remains thankful for the perseverance of her mother and father.
“My dad worked three jobs and my mama worked, too, along with making sure we went to school. My mom and dad mean the world to me. Son mis tesores. Mis beautiful ones. Son todo lo que soy. Son mis amores de mi vida. (They are my treasures. My beautiful ones. They are all that I am. They are the loves of my life.) I thank them for instilling goodness in my heart, always being good people, teaching us the meaning and value of hard work, treating others with respect and kindness, and showing me that along with mi hermano y mis dos hermanas (my brother and two sisters). Les agradezemos por ser nuestros padres. Somos orgullosos de ustedes por todo lo que han echo por nosotros. (We are grateful that they are our parents. We are so proud of them for everything that they have done for us.)”
Cortez’s infectious joy and appreciation for life can be seen throughout the office and while visiting nonprofits across the Valley. Given the opportunity, Cortez would share words of encouragement to her younger self that she’s reminded of when she works with Hispanic youth today.
“I’d tell little Margarita that you can do it. Tu si puedes.
“I would tell her to keep smiling, have faith and tell myself that you’re going to do big things and make your familia proud.”