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5 ways to defy cultural barriers with MSNBC's Mariana Atencio

"The more authentic you are, the more you will tap into your true power," says Atencio.
Mariana Atencio is an MSNBC journalist, renowned public speaker, influencer, award-winning news personality and author of "Perfectly You."
Mariana Atencio is an MSNBC journalist, renowned public speaker, influencer, award-winning news personality and author of "Perfectly You."Vera Franceschi Photographer

MSNBC correspondent Mariana Atencio’s career is a series of wins, but the Venezuelan immigrant had to smash barriers and stereotypes to get to where she is today.

Atencio recently shared her journey and tips with Know Your Value’s Daniela Pierre-Bravo, who also immigrated to the U.S. from South America.

Atencio was educated in the U.S. and became an anchor for Univision before crossing over to English-language television on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” In 2016 she started reporting for MSNBC and NBC News, where she became part of the team covering the migrant caravan and family separation at the border. She also delivered a top-performing TED talk about humanity and inclusiveness.

In Atencio’s new book “Perfectly You,” she tells her impressive story while advising readers to be themselves in order to succeed. Atencio lost her father to pneumonia last year amidst the health crisis in Venezuela, where citizens are currently being denied basic services. Many of the lessons in “Perfectly You” were taught to Atencio by her father.

Here are some important takeaways from Atencio’s discussion with Pierre-Bravo.

1. We all have bad days. Don’t give up.

Atencio has had to face a lot of naysayers and setbacks in her career. Her father gave her some helpful advice to keep going in these moments. “My immediate advice to readers is what my Papi told me: 'Look at how far you’ve come to give you perspective and propel you forward as to where you want to go,'” said Atencio. “You have to understand that every setback, everything we perceive as failure, is actually a step toward success.”

Atencio’s hashtag #GoLikeMariana has gone viral as inspiration primarily for Latinas to realize their dreams.

2. Never deny your authentic self.

Nobody was talking about diversity or the “Latino boom” when Atencio was starting out 10 years ago. In fact, she was encouraged on a regular basis to hide her identity.

“When I started out, it was more of how can we tone this down?...People would tell me like, ‘you're going to have to cut your hair’...Or you know, ‘your big earrings, that's not going to work on camera or your colors’ or pronouncing your name correctly,” she said. “But with time, it was realizing that, in fact, I had to be more myself in order to stand out in the marketplace, which is my message to readers. The more authentic you are, the more you will tap into your true power.”

3. Call people out.

It’s important to call people out when they’ve said something offensive or demeaning, said Atencio.

Atencio said she was once told not to look “too Latina” at the White House Correspondents' dinner. So, she changed out of her colorful outfit in favor of a drabber one.

“Of course, one of my immediate thoughts was, ‘what does it mean to look too Latina?’ Is it too many colors? Is it you know, looking like Sofia Vergara, or Eva Longoria, because I'm sure 99 percent of the women in the world want to look like them,” said Atencio. “But at the time, I yielded. I didn't say anything.”

She regretted not calling out her critic. The next time it happened, however, she was ready.

Mariana Atencio's book, "Perfectly You," came out earlier this month.
Mariana Atencio's book, "Perfectly You," came out earlier this month.

“If you have nothing to say about my work, I would please ask you to refrain from telling me those kinds of comments in the future,” she recounted. “And it never happened again."

She continued, “And this person probably thought: I was trying to give her good advice...I wanted to tell the anecdote [in my book] not to harp on the negative, but to remind readers that these things still happen and that we have to call them out and have conversations as adults about how we can get past them.”

4. Leave imposter syndrome at the door.

Everybody gets imposter syndrome, said Atencio, even her. But it’s just a false feeling that will only set you back.

“The imposter syndrome happens to all of us. We sometimes ask ourselves: ‘what am I doing here? Am I really qualified to be here?...Maybe they made a mistake in accepting me.’ Know that you are prepared to enter every space, every room you go into and leave the impostor syndrome at the door...Claim your space, and know that they hired you for a reason.”

5. Get feedback from your squad.

To defeat obstacles like imposter syndrome, Atencio noted that it’s important to have a squad and mentors who will watch your material and give you honest feedback.

“Build your squad in case you're going through that. Always have somebody … give you sort of that positive reinforcement,” she said, adding that 35-year Univision veteran Maria Elena Salinas was Atencio’s mentor when her career was growing. “That's one of the main things I'll tell young people that are trying to pave their way in journalism: when you're on the air, have that mentor look at your stuff and give you feedback.”

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