By: Daisy K. Espinoza
“I believe in the power of our stories and those stories are best told when they are told by us.”
It’s 5:30am, on a Tuesday, in Los Angeles. I knew who Alicia Menendez was prior to our scheduled 6am call. We had both worked for the same parent company, we were both Latinas in media, and most importantly, journalists actively working to create spaces for the accurate representation of Latino voices. From one journalist in LA to another in Miami, I wasn’t surprised when she told me that she had researched me online prior to our call, but frankly, I was honored.
Alicia’s story begins in Union City, New Jersey. The daughter of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and educator, Jane Jacobsen, Alicia recognizes that from a very young age, she held a certain level of responsibility within her largely Latino, working-class community. “I had a lot of relative privilege in that community. I had two college educated, English-speaking parents and I knew I was given an opportunity that some of my friends and classmates didn’t have,” recalls Alicia. “I grew up in a home that was defined by service. The ethos of my house was to do something beyond yourself.”
It was after her college years at Harvard that Alicia realized that she could do something beyond herself and for the masses through media. “I worked on campaigns after college. I saw how much control the media had over the story that was told and how they prioritized the stories that were being told. I saw that power and influence and wanted to do what they were doing. You have the ability to change hearts and minds with media.” That is exactly what she went on to do.
Alicia became a co-host on “Power Play” on Sirius XM radio and served as a contributor to NBCLatino.com. In 2011, she co-founded dailygrito.com, a site that published articles on politics and media through a Latino lens. She also became one of the inaugural hosts and producers of HuffPost Live, The Huffington Post’s video streaming network. In 2013, she joined Fusion TV, where she was an anchor and correspondent and ended up launching her award-winning primetime talk show, “Alicia Menendez Tonight”. She has contributed to ABC’s “Nightline”, “World News Tonight” and the 2014 Election Night coverage; and has appeared on “Good Morning America”, “The Daily Show”, “The View” and “This Week”. Now, she is a co-host of Amanpour & Co. on PBS, the co-creator and host of the Latina to Latina podcast, and a contributing editor at Bustle. She has been named “Broadcast Journalism’s New Gladiator” by Elle, a “Content Queen” by Marie Claire and “Ms. Millenial” by The Washington Post.
As for this last designation, it is an appointment that she takes with pride, as she aims to provide visibility into the challenges that millennials face. “No single person can speak for a generation. This is especially true for the largest and most diverse generation in history. There are serious issues that this generation faces. We graduated from college into one of the worst economies in history. We hold some of the worst student debt and because of that, many millennials can’t afford to have a family or buy a house. To me, there is a responsibility to reframe these generational challenges as issues that affect millennials and non-millennials alike,” says Alicia. Despite these odds, Alicia recognizes the resilience of her generation. “We are optimistic about the future. We understand life’s challenges, but at the same time, we have hope for the future. Those two factors together are an incredible engine for change. We are diverse – a majority minority generation – and if you are not telling the stories of Latinos, African Americans and Asians, you are not telling the story of the millennial generation.”
To Alicia, it’s not just about getting a story told, but about making sure that it carries the weight and accuracy it deserves. “The change that I imagine is that stories about communities are told with care and authenticity, and are not positioned as marginal stories. That we do not need to fight to tell a story about immigration, or sexual assault on the 6 o’clock news. That you don’t need to explain why b-roll of immigrants hopping a fence is problematic or that stock footage of a Latina can show both Afro-Latinas and light-skinned Latinas. A lot is in the nuance of what story matters, how they are placed and how they are told.” It is that editorial power that has led Alicia to pivot her career to producing and creating content. She now has the control to build something and tell stories how they deserve to be told.
As Alicia continues to navigate her career and build on her mission to prioritize the telling of accurate Latino stories, she also has a new challenge – to be the best mother she can be to her young daughter. “My daughter demands my undivided attention and work demands an undivided hustle.” A hustle that is two-fold as a Latina. “We are up against the complexities and biases of being a woman and of being Latina. Other people have ideas of how we behave and how we should behave – either as meek and someone who doesn’t wield power, or as a fiery, over-the-top, emotional woman that needs to be told to ‘cool it’.”
These inaccurate narratives are fought by telling the stories that authentically represent the various textures of our experiences. “I believe in the power of our stories. I believe that stories are best told when they are told by us. That is a piece of the puzzle that is largely missing.” A beautiful, complex, multi-dimensional puzzle that us storytellers must build now for future generations, like Alicia’s daughter, to proudly enjoy and pass onto their own.