by Agueda Pacheco Flores
Silvia Giannattasio-Lugo remembers when young girls walked into the office where she worked to participate in leadership programs. She loved to see how they really connected to each other. She especially liked open mic evenings, when young girls gathered to celebrate together.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to watch it grow older,” she says. “It was lonely for me growing up without always having a community there to celebrate with me.”
Today, Giannattasio-Lugo is Director of Development and Communications at Young Women Empowered (Y-WE), a non-profit organization based in Beacon Hill. Y-WE connects young women with leadership and skills programs, such as their community garden or summer camps. She is a mainstay of the organization’s fundraising operations, where she helps maintain the relationship between sponsors and Y-WE.
“It’s hard for anyone to understand politics or big words and whatever is thrown at you, so I liked the communications because they filled that in, they made things accessible,” she said in an interview with the emerald.
Giannattasio-Lugo remembers moving around California constantly as a child, due to constantly rising rental prices. She says hers is a “typical immigrant story”. In 1981, his Argentinian father moved to the Los Angeles area where he met his Nicaraguan mother. Both were looking for new opportunities that they didn’t think they could get in their home countries.
“They were learning English and met and I was the result,” she says with a smile.
His father saw classism in Argentina as an obstacle to upward mobility. Meanwhile, Giannattasio-Lugo’s mother took off in the middle of the night with her two sons and fled Nicaragua during the Contra war.
She remembers the adversity her parents went through when they learned to navigate the United States as new immigrants. It was partly for this reason that she decided to study communication.
“Growing up as a child of English speaking parents, I saw how difficult it was for them to even be respected because of their accent,” says Giannattasio-Lugo. “I remember being in the doctor’s office or the grocery store and people looking at me when they spoke to them because they felt, for some reason, that they couldn’t understand them.”
Giannattasio-Lugo credits a program she participated in at the age of 13, the Future Leaders Inland Empire, for helping her find her purpose. It was the first time she had said that she felt out of place somewhere.
“I always said I was an outsider squared,” she says. She explains that being bicultural meant that she had never really felt like she was entirely Argentinian or Nicaraguan or entirely from the United States. “It always gave me that perspective that I never really integrated into and it was easy for me to move around a lot.”
It was during the Future Leaders Inland Empire program that she met Latinxes from the community who, like her, were planning to go to college. Before the program, she had never met anyone who had gone to college and it sparked something in her. She knew she didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom like most of the women in her community. The program opened his eyes to the possibilities.
“I met a lot of people who went to college and thought they were just rock stars,” she says. “I wanted it.”
At 16, Giannattasio-Lugo saw the University of Washington Seattle campus on a trip to Seattle with her parents and eventually made it there. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and continued her studies in global communication at the American University of Paris in 2010.
She returned to the King County area at age 21 and, aside from a few brief relocations, has spent the past 18 years in the area.
“I think in many ways a lot of her job is creating spaces that she needed as a youngster,” says Aisha Al-Amin, former development coordinator at Y-WE. “She is motivated by filling in the gaps she has seen as a young woman of color and supporting that for other young women of color.”
Giannattasio-Lugo says her Latinx education also prepared her for her role in fundraising. It is the community spirit that has formed a natural alliance with its development work.
“It’s in our bones,” she said. “How often do we have potlucks, bring people in and help families who need extra help? We didn’t have much, but what we had we shared.
Those around Giannattasio-Lugo, like her colleagues, say it is her humanity and work ethic that makes her such a valuable asset at Y-WE. “I could just tell that she was smart and confident for a good reason,” Al-Amin said.
The two worked closely together while Al-Amin was at Y-WE, and his leadership was essential in helping Al-Amin gain confidence in his role and develop his skills in such a fast-paced environment.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in Washington, Al-Amin recalls how Giannattasio-Lugo provided exactly the kind of advice she needed at that time. Al-Amin had spent months planning a big fundraising event, only to have it derailed by the global pandemic.
“We were so stressed and also very sad because you put so much effort into these events,” Al-Amin said, adding that she was worried about what it would give to Giannattasio-Lugo if their plans were to change. . But, instead, she tried to relieve stress on her team.
“She took us aside and said ‘We have no control over this and we just have to keep doing our best,” Al Amin said. “She’s like the pivot champion. That’s what I appreciate most about her in this situation and others: She quickly comforts the people she works with.
Her core energy is also one of the first things her husband notices about her when they first meet.
Carlos Lugo met Giannattasio-Lugo during the election campaign, while she was leading Ron Bonlender’s campaign for state representative.
“I had been in the field for a few months and Ron had mentioned that he had just hired a campaign manager and I remember being excited,” Lugo says. “And in the Silvia and holy shit walks, I had never met someone with a greater presence of personality… [I thought] he’s someone with vision, compassion and intelligence and just an amazing work ethic.
Lugo says that after knowing his family for 15 years now, his work ethic goes back to his parents. He remembers how Giannattasio-Lugo spent much of his youth in the San Bernardino Valley, where shootings “regularly” took place. Despite the harsh environment, her father continued to work in a school district printing house while her mother sold Avon products and raised the children.
“She is the child of immigrants and all of us who are children of immigrants know that to come to a new country you have to have that courage and that determination,” he said. “His parents were amazing in the amount of work they did to keep this family going.”
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist specializing in Latinx culture and Mexican-American identity. From Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores draws on her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
?? Featured Image: Silvia Giannattasio-Lugo. Photo courtesy of Y-WE.
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