Paola Ramos’s move from politics to journalism is something that may seem fated as the daughter of two esteemed journalists. But chalking up her professional jump as a means to join the family business is way too deductive for this intrepid reporter. Ramos, a correspondent for Vice and contributor to Telemundo and MSNBC, is driven by the search for answers. It was what initially drew her away from working within the highest political offices and deep into local Latinx communities around the country and beyond the U.S. border. Her debut book, Finding Latinx, chronicles Paola’s exploration of identity and culture. As we caught up with the Brooklyn-based writer in a rare moment of stillness during her packed schedule, she shared how no two workdays are truly alike and the types of hot-button topics currently sparking her curiosity.
ON FINDING HER PATH TO JOURNALISM
In the early days of my career, I worked in the Obama White House. During the 2016 election, my title was Deputy Director of Hispanic Press and the story we all believed was that Latinos would come out and vote in these unprecedented numbers in the face of someone like Donald Trump and that didn’t happen. Less than 50% showed up and that shifted my career towards journalism because I wanted to be outside and really understand the way media was changing, the way the country was changing, in ways that I couldn't see. Sometimes it feels weird to say I’m a journalist because of my political background but it’s a shift that feels very natural to me.
ON HER VERY ATYPICAL WORKDAY
There are days and weeks where I’m on the road constantly: the border around Mexico or I’m in Florida. For a recent story, I was in Texas for a while trying to understand the underground abortion networks that are happening on this side of the border, how Mexican activists are helping Texans activists distribute abortion pills. The next week I could be in going into 30 Rockefeller Plaza and doing fill-in anchoring for MSNBC, another week I would be researching a concept for a book. There really is not an ordinary day.
“Looking back, I would force myself to be uncomfortable in situations because I wanted to fit in and now I don’t.”
ON VALUABLE ADVICE
I grew up with two immigrant parents. My dad migrated from Mexico, my mom came from Cuba. Early on, politics was very much ingrained in everything—this idea that the US gave my parents opportunities and rights that they didn’t have in Cuba and Mexico. I’ve never taken that for granted. I’ve learned a lot from my dad, too, and the biggest lesson from him is that whatever situation you walk into you need to understand the balance of power and your job, no matter if you’re in politics or journalism, is to hold people accountable. That’s always been a mantra. And also be a really good listener. I think we underestimate the power of listening. My job is literally to talk and ask questions but, through the years, I’ve learned sometimes the reverse is a lot better and it gets you to the answer in the best way.
ON CHALLENGING STEREOTYPES
There is a stereotype of what it means to be a Latina: what you look like, what you sound like, who you’re supposed to marry, and how you’re supposed to carry yourself. I’ve tried to be very intentional about understanding every space that I’m in. Now, when I’m on the air and I have this media platform, I really try to be intentional about breaking stereotypes whether it’s how I look, who I love, or the issues that I talk about. The perfect example is the very first time that anyone put makeup on me. It was with Telemundo. I sat down in the makeup chair, closed my eyes, and said, “Do whatever you want.” I opened them and looked at myself in the mirror and I looked completely different but exactly how they wanted me to look: like a telenovela actress. I told myself that day I would never do that again.