Perfectly You: Embracing the Power of Being Real (2019 W Publishing, Nashville, Tennessee) by television journalist Mariana Atencio is part heartfelt autobiography, part warning to any slumbering member of her generation, and part road map for a better future for those bold enough to rise up and claim it. I personally started to notice Mariana Atencio as a reporter for news channel MSNBC when she was reporting on the ravages that Hurricane Maria had levied upon Puerto Rico in 2017, then the devastating Mexico City earthquake, then embedded with the so-called Central American “caravan,” and then during the heartbreak of family separation on the Mexican/U.S. border. She was certainly cute, there’s no denying that, but Mariana Atencio is much more than that. She had “it” whatever it is, and nobody really recognizes it until they see it up there on the television screen. Today’s journalists have to go well beyond, “Who, what, why, where, when, and how?” to the heart of the story. They don’t rely on “Goggle” and “Wikipedia.” They go to where the action is; boots on the ground in other words. They have to employ all six of their senses so that their viewership/readership gets the general vibe, the raw human emotion, the truth. They belong to a select group of people who have an uncommon courage. I really didn’t much know about Mariana Atencio until this book came out, and then I discovered that she is a woman of circumstance, and that her writing needs to be supported.
Her back-story reveals that she was born into privilege in her native Venezuela in 1984 as the first child of forward thinking parents who wanted her to experience both South American and North American culture, specifically life in the United States of America. Being bilingual has definitely aided her in her career. Graduating from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2008, she interned and rose to investigative reporter status at Fusion and Univision, before landing the MSNBC gig. At age 36 she has seen a lot of the tragedies of human life and the dark underbelly of the worst of human nature, yet remains surprisingly upbeat. She and her family were living in New York City during the September 11th, 2001 destruction of the twin towers of The World Trade Center. She stood by her younger sister Garciela, her touchstone, during her horrific car accident in 2014, and she smuggled prescription drugs from Miami into Caracas to alleviate the suffering of her father who died of complex pneumonia in February of 2018 at that exact moment in history where the social unrest and political upheaval in Venezuela got it rated as, “Least Safe Country in the World for the Second Year in a Row.” (Independent 6/18/2020). Chapter Twelve entitled: Losing My Dad and Country is particularly poignant. Clearly, this young woman has been through the ringer and has withstood the test to her character.
When you compare them, the fall of Venezuela is not so very different from what is going on in America right now. Even through their most recent oil boom years of 1977 to 1998 there were two classes of people – the very rich and the very poor with not much in between. Mariana warns, “Racism, bigotry, hypocrisy, and prejudice were everywhere, but I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt so frustrated and powerless. What could we do as individuals to heal these deep wounds? How could a country have a sense of unity if some of its citizens showed such disregard for the lives of the others (p. 27)?” Sound familiar? I have written it in other pieces that the real problem with America is that half of its people don’t care about the other half of its people. This leads to disastrous outcomes, and with the Covid 19 debacle America’s divisions are on high display for all it citizens, and all the peoples of the world to see.
The racial makeup of America is changing rapidly. Paraphrasing liberal documentary film maker Michael Moore, this is the last gasp of the dying white dinosaur. Not that they are going quietly, because the belligerent bellowing of one Donald J. Trump speaks for them all. Current estimates are that there are well over 60,000,000 Hispanics residing in the U.S. and by 2060 they will be the dominant minority population in the nation. This is why Trump persecutes them – to slow the flow of this trend. At times, Atencio, herself has struggled against the threat of being deported. The backlash to Trump’s and his ilk’s blatant racism is playing out on the streets of every major city in our country after the nation’s reckoning of the George Floyd murder. Writes Atencio: “The revolution is here, and it has nothing to do with party politics. It’s all about the future (p. 184).” As is her career. There’s a new generation taking over, and it’s a safe bet that Mariana Atencio will be right in the middle of it and play a part in the new order. Thankfully, I suspect that we haven’t heard the last from her yet.