Journalist, TV Host, Author
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.”
Paola in Olive
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.
ON ESTABLISHING AUTHENTIC WORK STYLE
I grew up watching my dad go to the studio every day before he would anchor. He would always wear jeans, white Converse, socks, and his suit jacket on top. And I would look at his co-anchors and they dressed, toes-to-head, completely different. When I began doing media, I thought I needed to look like the women on TV; from the bottom up it had to be impeccable. Now I’m like my dad. When I guest anchor, I wear my jeans, sneakers, and blazers. Looking back, I would force myself to be uncomfortable in situations because I wanted to fit in and now I don’t.
ON CONNECTING CULTURES THROUGH STORYTELLING
I’ve been covering immigration for a while and have spent so much time at the border and through different roots in Latin America. I’m always trying to get an American audience to have empathy for these stories. I think it’s really important. It speaks to more than immigrants and migration. I hope that it gets people to understand why the United States should strive to be the country that it’s promised to be.
“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.”
Paola in Navy
ON A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE LATINX VOTE
The midterms are around the corner so I’m going to be traveling a lot to these battleground states. My current focus now is understanding this shift to the right that is happening among Latinos—not just the factors that are leading to it, but what it says. I think there is something very dramatic and painful about that shift that has to do with assimilation and what you believe the American dream is, which is typically associated with whiteness more than anything else. There’s something sad and painful about that shift that is worth uncovering.
ON THE MAKINGS OF A GOOD DAY’S WORK
Did I learn something new? Did someone watch a story and were they impacted? Did it stir conversation, even if it’s controversial? The beautiful thing about this job is I get to meet so many interesting people so, did I form a new connection with someone? And finally—and I never thought I could say this—did I have fun? My dad would always tell me, "you’re in the right job when it doesn’t feel like you’re working," and I feel that now.