BELatina first ran this interview with Susanne Ramírez de Arellano earlier this year. She since has joined the BELatina News team as a contributor and an indispensable mentor to the next generation of storytellers.
Prior to her departure from Earth, Dr. Maya Angelou gifted the world one of her pieces, the Power of Words. She expressed the significance words may encompass and the impact they may cause. Not everyone understands this concept, but Susanne Ramírez de Arellano definitely does. In fact, she has intricately developed this as one of her skills. Using her words as one of her most prized weapons, she pushes forth her days questioning the status quo and breaking barriers through her eloquence. Ramírez de Arellano wraps people around her prose as she is an experienced and talented journalist and writer.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ramírez de Arellano has always been one to grab life by its cojones, despite how anyone might perceive her. Though she was born into a family that predisposed her to certain values and thoughts, she refused to fully abide by their influence. Instead, she created her own path.
Susanne Ramírez de Arellano has work published in Latino Rebels, The Guardian, Al Día News, Fox News, and NBC News, among other platforms. Additionally, she’s also a featured author in The Good Immigrant USA. She’s written in Puerto Rico, the United States, England, and in El Salvador as well, which has given her international recognition. Aside from that, she’s the former News Director for Univision. De Arellano has quite an extensive resume and it continues to grow.
Her views can often be described as politically-charged. She grabs any topic and unwraps it using her heart as one of her tools. Through her passion and reason, she unravels the topic, layer by layer, until it’s bare for the world to see.
Though Ramírez de Arellano was hesitant at first in being interviewed because she doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, we were able to have a wonderful chat. She gave us her point of view in regards to writing and journalism and what it means to the community of young Latinas. So, please join me as we become acquainted with some of Ramírez de Arellano’s thoughts.
We started out speaking about journalism in general. Here’s what she had to say:
I don’t think the journalist should ever be the story. A journalist, for me, simply has a calling and a duty. Now having said that, the journalist persona does come into play when you report because you do it through your own lens and set of filters. I do, however, disagree with the American way that the journalist role should be detached. At some point, be personal. This image people portray that journalism is to be objective is an impossibility. Journalism is never objective. There is a degree of subjectivity. Our job [as journalists] is to be there and to tell the story with facts. And to humanize the story.
Has the field changed since you started out?
As a woman and as a Latina, it was a very difficult road. I worked in many places, but it was particularly difficult in England and in the United States. But I fought and made my voice be heard. I will say that traditional journalism is over. There are many barriers. There’s currently an avalanche of such a hot pot of information. Nowadays, you must become a connoisseur and curator of news. In order to do that, it has to have a certain vantage point and foundation. This is why it is important to have gurus or experienced mentors nearby. That way they can tell the new generation of journalists what roads to take and what works.
I also noticed that journalists before would go out to find the story. This caused corporations and networks to encourage journalists to get into dangerous predicaments without giving them any type of security. I wish they would’ve understood — and continue to understand — that journalists are not dispensable. They are not toys. They are not disposable. They need to protect their journalists. Now, I do see that journalists are not really going into the field. However, the story can only be told once smelled and felt. You can’t feel the story in an air-conditioned room, scrolling through Twitter while sipping a chai latte.
How would you like to help the new generation of Latina writers?
Those are my people. Those are the people I want to help. I think other women have their gurus. But I think my job is to help young Latina writers. We need that voice because it is very lacking in our society. For me, my persona is nothing. I’m only a conduit to what I see. Obviously, what I see is tainted by what I think and my experiences. However, I still think my experience as a Latina is beneficial to the young generation.
That’s why I don’t go into networks. There isn’t any diversity in networks. There has been no significant change. Let’s not even talk about international. I’m talking about diversity in the United States. They talk the talk but never walk the walk. We have a problem and that problem begins with our own Hispanic broadcasters. There are few Hispanic women who have penetrated the network. I might not get there with you, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said — though I must stress that I’m not comparing myself to him at all. All I want is that you guys do. Our job as Latina journalists is to pass the baton and to celebrate when the new generation makes it. My persona, my name, doesn’t matter. My only job is to be the person in the back that pushes you guys to the forefront. That is the measure of my credo. I am 61. I have gone through a lot. I have worked for major networks. I’ve been published. Now my job is to watch you guys take the podium and f-ing kill it. I have stood on the shoulders of a giant, not saying that I am a giant myself, but I can guide you where they are.
How can the new generation of writers and journalists maneuver through this new journalistic climate?
Something I have noticed is that life doesn’t change. There’s a commonality in history and in the way it always unfolds. That’s where we [gurus or mentors] come in. I was taught by Lucien Carr, so I understand the importance of the story. See, the story is about people. The most effective way is to tell how the events affect the human condition. I will say that women writers have that natural instinct in their DNA and are much more aware of being a story-teller. That’s how my friend, Marie Colvin, did it. You can see this style when she went to interview people in what was known as the “widows’ basement.” She would go in to tell the story. That is how journalism will survive in this current climate of many avenues. The reality is that journalists can write for many platforms, but if the story is not interesting, then it doesn’t matter what venue it is presented in.
What worries you about American journalism at the moment?
Before Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, I called all of the people I knew such as NBC, Fox, Univision, all the big-name corporations — every single one. I kept telling them that what was going to occur was going to be bad and that they needed to go in. Two of them said they were sorry, but that was all. So, when it happened they were obviously late. It should be a crying national shame that the United States doesn’t know who its neighbors are. Or doesn’t even bother to give them importance. The United States has always considered Puerto Rico less.
What drives your fiery passion?
Writing is like breathing to me. I am a journalist. I am a writer. I believe in the process. I’ve learned a lot through the process. And I want to give that to somebody.
How did you acquire such confidence in what you write?
Writing is a feat in itself, but it just flows through me. I don’t know how other writers do it, but I sit down and let the story trickle out of me. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like me. I do have my moments where I say to myself, “Damn, this sounds good.” However, I don’t think I’m a great writer. Sometimes I’m too verbose, I spill too much into my writing, and sometimes my writing may even sound mediocre. I might not be brilliant, but I do have experience. I know this and that’s fine. This is part of the process — the same process I want to teach to other young writers. All I know is that to write, you must have perseverance.
Will you be working in a newsroom anytime soon again?
I’m like one of their basketball players who injures their knees and can’t go back to play professionally. This is what happened to me. I felt enraged to not be in a place I knew for so long. I went through all the stages of grief. I missed the newsroom, but it was time for me to do something else. I came to terms with it and accepted it long ago. I know it may sound really cheesy, but with every new turn, there is a new season. Besides, everything I do, I do with a sense of humor, gratitude, and irony. It all seems to work out in the end.
What advice do you have for the new generation of young journalists?
Do not go corporate. You will stagnate. You might even putrefy in corporate. Going into corporate means that you’ll have to follow their rules. Also, you’ll only rise if they want to. I also notice that corporations and society are currently trying to drive fear into young professionals. But these places are not progressing. For example, Telemundo and Univision are still focused on a world that no longer exists. They are still trying to cultivate an environment for young immigrants that might relate to their roots through television. The only issue is that most young Hispanics that live in the United States already know English. The way they view television has to change. They’re stuck in the 1970s and it’s not working. Honestly, if I were an upcoming Hispanic journalist, I would never work for a Hispanic network. But the new generation doesn’t have to submit themselves to such situations. You now have the capacity to be free. I believe social media and digital platforms has given this new generation of writers and journalists freedom. You must use those tools to your advantage.
What is one of your greatest takeaways from your journalistic career?
How different regions molded me. Puerto Rico shaped my heart and soul. The Americans taught me how to be skeptical. Now the British taught me how to think with detachment, how to observe. As for El Salvador, they taught me how to cut my teeth. They allowed me to see navigate through the horrors of war, while showing me the significance of the resilience of the human spirit.
What’s been your proudest accomplishment?
We need to own it. Figuratively, I have a lot of scars. I have had to attend too many funerals of a lot of my friends that have been associated with this field and it hasn’t been easy. But I’m pretty proud to bloody still be standing. Sucking on a limber and all. I’m still here.
What do you think needs to happen now?
We all have to fight. Those that can, must empower the youth. Above all that, the ones who are now older and wiser, have to go through a lot. But we are the ones that are going to be able to guide the younger generation on what to accept and what not to accept. I’ve had to fight for all of this. I know this generation has been frightened by many out there, but all they need to do is to find their cojones and get it done.
Any final words for our audience?
Our job as Latina journalists is to help the upcoming Latina journalists onto the right path. Lead them to see the road ahead of them clearly. I believe there is a lack of Latina voices. We live in a world where diversity seems to be a bad word. But we need those voices out there because women are the ones that make the decisions. Women are the ones that are the hearts of our families, after all. That’s why the younger female generation who are good, who are clever, and who can see things that need to be seen, need to be valued. For me, at this point of my life, the most important thing is to give Latinas what I have. Or at least the little that I’ve wrought in the field.