As more projects featuring complex Latina characters like Starz’s Vida emerge, it’s clear there are plenty of people who want to contribute to a more multifaceted Latina narrative. In the last two years there has been an explosion of Latina focused podcasts and another voice adding to the conversation is Alicia Menendez, in her new Bustle podcast Latina to Latina. It’s a project she says was inspired by the conversations being had behind the scenes during her time working for a cable station focusing on young Latinos.
“We would do our interview on air, and then the lights would dim and our mics would come off, and because we knew that we had like this shared experience of being professional and Latinas, there was always sort of this side conversation that would happen like, ‘How are you?’ ‘How are you being treated?’ ‘Are you getting everything you need?’ ‘What can I do to help?’” Menendez tells Hiplatina.
She has the kind of background that makes you say “wow, she did not come to play.” Menendez has done cable segments for CNN and MSNBC, hosted HuffPost Live, co-hosted The View, anchored and corresponded for Fusion, among other accolades. She is now harnessing her experiences, the people she’s met, the exclusive spaces she’s accessed, to demystify power structures and insider knowledge that still elude women of color. In pretty much all professional fields Latinas are systemically underrepresented and underpaid. Aside from the 20 volume novel that can be written on why these issues exist, yet another barrier to Latina’s getting their due is the lack of access to actionable guidance from other women who have gone through the same thing.
The podcast’s interviews focus on a the personal and professional struggles successful Latinas have faced during their rise in entertainment, politics, and advocacy. The difference between typical interviews and the one’s had on the podcast are that Menendez makes a point of exploring the various nuances specific to the Latina experience (i.e. income inequality, disparities in healthcare, colorism, familial expectations, and lack of sponsorship among more).
“When I was coming up in media, I just really didn’t feel like I had access to people that can help me understand how to navigate a newsroom, how to make my way in the industry that no one in my family was a part of, and I think that’s sort of the thing a lot of people go through,” she says. “But I think when you are a member of a minority community there are additional complexities that makes it difficult to hear how somebody [outside the minority community] did it.”
Being born into a middle class family, in a working class neighborhood Menendez is a self described “supernerd” turned Harvard grad who says her upbringing helped her realize her own privileges from a young age.
“From a socioeconomic perspective my parents are college educated, both of them worked when I was growing up, both of them spoke English, those are all privileges that I recognized I had growing up because everyone around me didn’t share them,” she says. It’s also what drives her to host a podcast that makes the kind of conversations Latinas have in private—public.
Essentially this is a FUBU moment for Latinas and an opportunity to get the no bullshit scoop on what to expect in various industries, as well as how Menendez’s roster of incredibly talented women got to where they are. On one episode, Dominican-American actress Jackie Cruz talks about holding down a waitressing side job until season 4 of Orange Is The New Black and how even as a regular she’s still not ballin.
“People need to know, some of us are like Cinderella, you know? We return the dress at midnight” Cruz tells Menendez. On another episode Cristela Alonzo reveals her struggles with her parents’ low expectations for her comedy career and we learn that the “dream small or not at all” line in Cars 3 actually came from her real life.
“Every moment that I go into a room, even now where I know I’m going to be the only one of my kind there’s always a second where I realize—where I wonder—is this the moment that they find out that I don’t belong here,” Alonzo confesses.
Latina to Latina captures moments where we can see that most, if not all of us, carry different amounts of the same burden. All guests so far have agreed that no one lives up to the ever changing measure of what it means to be Latina. They’ve also recognized the difficult, fruitless nature of navigating and chasing other people’s definitions of how Latina’s should look, dress, and act. Menendez hopes that the diversity of experiences will help Latinas everywhere know that they are not alone in these situations.
“Whatever you’re going through, you’re probably not alone. And sometimes I think just knowing you’re not alone, and [knowing] someone else is going through that struggle helps you get through it. I think hearing how other people have navigated a challenge that we’re having in our own life can give us perspective on the challenge, and in moving forward,” she adds. Amen, girl!