Latino Giant of The Week: Lisa Pino

“Success is Your Choice”

Looking back, if asked what it takes to become a successful Latina, my response is that of a classic lawyer. In other words, my answer is that it depends.

It depends firstly on how you define success, and we can only interpret success for ourselves. For me, as the first-generation daughter of immigrant parents who grew up in New York City, success first became about making it through high school, and then  graduating from college. That in itself was a feat. During that process, success evolved into a better understanding of my culture and heritage. Subsequently, success became about my community and giving back.

Today, I am honored by the privilege of being the first college graduate and lawyer in my family. Additionally, I am deeply grateful to be the first Latina to serve in roles on behalf of the Administration including the first Latina Deputy Administrator of USDA’s SNAP program, and currently as Deputy Assistant Secretary for USDA’s Civil Rights Office. For these accomplishments, otherwise known as hallmarks of success, I appreciate these blessings and serve the nation as best as I can each and every day. I also know however that I have worked extremely hard, taken risks, made hard sacrifices, and that I would not be where I am today without family, teachers, leaders, and friends who pitched in support, and often when I least expected it.

But I can also say that success is really about being true to yourself and your values, and continually striving and fighting for what you believe in. Each one of us has something that makes us happy, something that we wish we could do if only…we won the lottery, we didn’t have to worry about family obligations, or if we were stronger, prettier, smarter, or something else that is falsely holding us back. I am also learning that what success means at 20 is different from what it will mean at 40, or 120 for that matter. This is a good thing, because it means that you are continually growing and evolving toward that best version of you.

Still, here’s the kicker. Success, and I mean the real, tried and true, regret-free kind, is you simply being you, doing what you do best. Yup. That’s it. Sounds easy but if anything, it’s insurmountably tough. The reason why is that even if you fail, even if others disagree with your choices, and even if it’s so hard that you question it all, you actually are doing it. It’s the doing itself, absent any promises, guarantees, or even the inkling of a maybe that’s made you a warrior. (Yes. I said warrior.)

And not until you feel that squeeze, and grasp that struggle, can your character form, and your identity unravel. It’s what I call the Michael Jackson “Man in the Mirror” moment. (#1 on 1988‘s Billboard chart, thank you.) It’s when you can look at yourself in the mirror, know in your heart that what you did really mattered, preserve your self-respect, and confess to yourself that you would do it all over again if needed, as painful as it might have been, then you really are successful. It’s that experience that will later shape you, grant you confidence, plant some faith, and nudge you toward the best version of you.

So, are you ready?

Lisa Pino is the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Civil RIghts for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. She has served the Administration since May, 2009 upon her appointment by President Obama and Secretary Vilsack as Deputy Administrator of USDA’s SNAP program. A New York native, she received her B.A., M.A., and J.D. at Arizona State University, and she is a member of the Arizona Bar. In 2008, she completed Harvard University’s Executive Public Leadership program as a National Hispana Leadership Institute Fellow, and The White House Project Program in New York. She is an award recipient for her public service, including the 2009 NHLI Latina Leaders award and the 2010 Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Brillante Hall of Fame Award.