By Isabella Piña
About Inspired Solutions
At Inspired Solutions, we believe in celebrating diversity and inclusivity. We are proud of our diverse team and have created a culture focused on ensuring everyone feels valued and included.
The Movie that led to the Interview
I saw the movie "A Million Miles Away" with Rick Piña. The movie is a biopic that tells the story of Jose Hernandez, who went from being a farm worker to an engineer and astronaut. It was very inspiring. It was also heartening to see how deeply the film moved Rick and prompted me to interview him. I'm excited to share his thoughts and insights with you as we continue to celebrate diversity during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Rick is a staunch advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). He has led a global Hispanic/Latinx Employee Resource Group (ERG) in the past, where he routinely talked about his journey. Therefore, I knew he would be willing to Rick share his thoughts with Inspired Solutions and our community.
I interviewed Rick about his life as a Hispanic in the US and his opinions on Hispanic Heritage Month and the movie "A Million Miles Away." Here's what he said.
Rick, thank you for joining us today. Can you start by telling us about your connection to the movie "A Million Miles Away"?
Of course. Watching "A Million Miles Away" felt like witnessing segments of my own life unfold on screen. I am sure many Hispanics/Latinos can identify with Jose Hernandez's journey from laboring in the fields to becoming an astronaut. I connected with this story on many levels. I am the child of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic and I had my own experiences on the other coast (the East Coast). Several moments in his story resonated with me so deeply that they brought me to tears.
Many of our readers might not be familiar with the challenges faced by immigrant families. You are a son of immigrants, and you are married to an immigrant. Can you shed some light on that?
Rick's mother (Maria) and sister (Desi) are pictured here.
Sure. Like Jose, I grew up understanding the weight of responsibility. From a young age, I worked to help my mother make ends meet. Once I started working, I was able to buy my own clothes and ease that burden from my mother. I also helped her financially as much as I could. My sister, Desi, did the same thing. We did not see this as a burden but more like our reality. It's a common thread in the immigrant story – working hard, sacrificing, and doing whatever it takes to support the family. You can definitely see this in the movie.
It's evident that belief and mentorship played a significant role in your and Jose's lives. Can you talk about that?
Absolutely. In the movie, Miss Young (one of Jose's teachers) believed in him, which was a turning point for him. Similarly, I've been blessed with individuals who believed in me. I will mention two. The first was Mr. Torres, my third-grade teacher. He told me I was special. He believed in me. He told me that if I continued my education, I could go far. That was critical for me because another elementary school teacher had told me that my chances of being dead or in jail by the time I was 18 were very high. While what she said traumatized me (to a certain extent), what Mr. Torres believed in me helped me get through it.
I cried because I made it to the age of 18, and I was not dead or in jail.
The day I turned 18 years old, I was in Basic Training. I went to the bathroom before our early morning wake-up call and cried uncontrollably. I cried because I made it to the age of 18, and I was not dead or in jail. This shows you the power a person of influence can have on someone, especially when they are young and impressionable.
A few months later, I was stationed in Germany and met my first Company Commander, Captain John Morrison. He is a Lieutenant General today. CPT Morrison believed in me. He saw things in me I did not see in myself. He pushed me to go higher. He mentored me for years, pushing me to become an officer. When I finally became an officer at the age of 24, I wound up working for him again. What Miss Young did for Jose Hernandez, Mr. Torres, and CPT Morrison did for me. Their words of affirmation, belief and support impacted me in ways that are still playing out today, decades later. I would not be the man I am today without these men and a few others whom God has used to help shape me into who I am.
There was a part in the movie that touched you when Jose was trying to assimilate at NASA. Can you talk about this and why this moved you?
Sure. There's a scene in the movie where Jose, against all odds, makes it to NASA. He pulled up into the parking lot in a vehicle that was a "lower rider" of sorts, and he was blasting Mexican music. When he drew the attention of his mainly Caucasian counterparts, he turned down the music. To me, this was symbolic of him "turning down the volume" on his ethnicity. Basically, he felt the need to "mute" who he was. Later, he sold that car and bought one more culturally acceptable to the environment he was assimilating into.
This hit home for me. What I thought about was the timeframe when I became an officer. Up to that point, I went by my last name. I was referred to as "Sergeant or Staff Sergeant Piña." But when I became an officer, I knew officers went by their first names. I stressed over this. I did not want to introduce myself as "Ricardo." While it was my name, I have never truly used it (because I was called a nickname growing up in Brooklyn), and I thought Ricardo (with three syllables) was too ethnic. So I chose to introduce myself as "Rick" instead of "Ricardo," thinking it would be more palatable and acceptable to the mainly majority-filled officer ranks. In hindsight, I wish I had embraced my true identity. It's a reminder that we shouldn't have to mute our identities to fit in.
No one should have to "mute" themselves to be accepted.
Part of celebrating diversity is creating an environment where people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, nationalities, and beliefs feel like they are accepted as they are. No one should have to "mute" themselves to be accepted.
Lastly, the movie touches on work ethic and overcoming stereotypes. Can you share your thoughts on that?
I've often felt the need to work twice as hard to overcome biases.
Jose's determination in the movie mirrors the resilience within the Hispanic and Latino community. Like him, I've often felt the need to work twice as hard to overcome biases. This work ethic, though born out of necessity, is a source of pride for many of us. While it's important to recognize the challenges faced by minorities as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it's equally important to celebrate our strengths and contributions.
Rick, thank you for sharing your personal journey with us. Any final thoughts as we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?
Thank you for doing this. I hope that by sharing our stories, we can foster understanding and appreciation for the rich tapestry of experiences within our community. Let's continue to work towards a world where everyone's contributions are valued and our identities are celebrated. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month to all!
We thank Rick Piña for his insights and reflections. At Inspired Solutions, we believe in the power of diverse stories and experiences. Let's continue to celebrate and uplift each other, not just this month but every day.
A little more about our COO/CRO, Rick Piña.
Rick Piña was recently recognized (for the 3rd time) by HITEC as one of the HITEC 100. The HITEC 100 is a recognition program by the Hispanic Technology Executive Council (HITEC) that highlights the 100 most influential Hispanic leaders in technology each year. The objective of the program is to showcase outstanding professionals who have excelled in the business of technology, role modeling, and community involvement.
Rick is also a seasoned leader with over 33 years of experience in the telecommunications field. He culminated his 25-year military career as the Army's first Chief Technology Officer in the Pentagon, followed by eight years at Worldwide Technology, where he led technology consultation for public and academic sectors. Currently, he serves as the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Revenue Officer at Inspired Solutions, focusing on operational efficiency and revenue growth. Rick is also committed to diversity and philanthropy, serving on several non-profit boards. He holds an M.B.A. and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Trident University and is a Distinguished Member of the U.S. Army Signal Regiment.