As a journalist for MSNBC and NBC news, Mariana Atencio has dedicated herself to humanizing the faces behind the headlines and the lives beyond the debates. “I understood early on that I could play a role in helping bridge cultures and languages, and to help one side see the best the other side has to offer,” Atencio tells HipLatina.
She’s done just that by covering everything from Hurricane Maria to family separation at the border, all while taking special care to make sure that the names and faces are not lost in the headlines.
“Because I’m an immigrant from a country where people are fleeing on foot, I see my own country’s men and women reflected in every single family. I’m a big proponent of remembering people’s names after what happened. There are at least 7 children (that we know of) that have died in [ICE detention] after being separated from their parents at the border. I went on the air with Joy Reid and I said ‘Let’s just take a moment to remember their names because they were human beings,’ ” she says.
It has been Atencio’s somewhat unconventional childhood experiences that have in part, informed her focus on the unifying power of learning people’s stories. As a kid, her father sent her and her younger sister from Caracas, Venezuela to summer camp in small U.S. cities like Brainerd, Minnesota and Wallingford, Connecticut — where they were the only ones who didn’t fit in or speak the language.
Every summer they were sent off to a new place where they had to learn to adapt and relate. “At the beginning [I worked] desperately to change, praying at night and asking God if I could be from Kansas instead of Caracas so that it would be a little easier for me,” she said. Now Atencio realizes that those experiences taught her to be proud of her differences and her authenticity. As well as the value of “learning to live with one foot in one world and one foot in the other,” as she put it.
When Hugo Chavez’s government shutdown the biggest television station in Venezuela, Atencio knew she would never be able to pursue journalism in her country. It also became clear what her father had been preparing her for — the future. In 2008 she bought a one-way ticket to New York and never looked back. She attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, eventually working her way up from La Opinion, to Univision, to Fusion, and finally crossing over to NBC in 2016. Today she uses her platform to highlight people all over the world that are trying desperately not only to belong but survive.
Many of the incredible stories and experiences Atencio has had along the way have become the basis of her memoir Perfectly You: Embracing the Power of Being Real. It includes the challenges she faced being an immigrant, losing her father during Venezuela’s health crisis, finding love, as well as anecdotes and lessons she’s learned throughout her life and career.
It comes at a time when everything she stands for is precisely what the Trump administration seeks to suppress. And Atencio says that’s exactly why she wanted to write it.
“I’m an immigrant, I’m a Latina, Spanish is my first language, I’m a woman from a minority community and I wanted to take a stand with this book to say this is what I stand for,” she says. “This is not only who I am but this is who we are as a community and as a generation and we will not be silenced. Perfectly You, is about not remaining in the box, but rather of embracing the power of being real and being unapologetic about it.”
“This is more than my story,” she says. “This is about how my story and the story of the people that I have met along the way can help you find your authenticity, your power, and can help us heal in this very needed time in America.”