Paola Ramos’s first book, Latinx: En busca de las voces que redefinen la identidad Latina (Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity), due out from Penguin Random House on October 20 in both English and Spanish editions, explores what it means to be Latino in the U.S. today. With her background in journalism, Ramos chronicles the stories of Latinos who have been marginalized by both the Anglo and Latino mainstreams.
Ramos is a correspondent and host for Vice and Vice News, as well as a contributor to Telemundo News and MSNBC. PW caught up with Ramos while she was covering the presidential election in Arizona.
What inspired you to write this book?
The 2016 election results. I was the deputy director of Hispanic media for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. When Donald Trump won the election and Latinos were expected to be the deciding vote for Clinton, I was stunned. When less than 50% of eligible Latino voters didn’t show up to vote in 2016, I realized that Latinos had changed. I needed to find out where and who were today’s Latino voters.
I then pitched the idea to Penguin Random House and had 11 months to write it. I mapped out the issues, the geographic areas, and the people I wanted to interview. I did something insane: I would travel from my home in Brooklyn to one part of the country to interview someone for a chapter. I would then go back to Brooklyn to write that chapter, and then travel to the next story.
The term Latinx is quite controversial. What does it mean for you?
Most people think it’s a new term for Latinos or Hispanic, but it is so much more than that. It’s a term that existed before I began to write this book; I began to use it in 2016. It’s not a gender term; it’s more extensive and expansive than that. It’s about embracing all groups of Latinos—gay, mestizos, Afro-Latinos—as well as the many issues that face us, such as criminal justice reform. My definition: it’s a description for anyone who has been left out.
Of all of the stories you gathered for the book, which touched you the most?
The story of Carolina, a transgender woman who came to the U.S. because of the discrimination she suffered in her home country. She arrived in the U.S. as a teenager only to be raped by ICE agents when she was arrested, and by the men in her cell. I learned resilience from her, though she does not feel self-love nor acceptance. And yet she is excited to be voting for the first time in this presidential election.
How do you think the Black Lives Matter movement has impacted Latinos?
The BLM movement was an awakening for Latinos, because we also perpetuate discrimination against Afro-Latinos or Latinos who are darker than others or have more indigenous features. It forced the nation to have a very difficult conversation, and Hispanic media has not been excluded from that. We have become more conscious of the words we use and how those words matter. At the BLM protests, you would see Latinos with signs reading “Tu lucha es mi lucha” [“Your fight is my fight”].
Your father, Jorge Ramos, is one of the most famous Latino journalists and has published 10 books. Did you feel pressured to follow in his footsteps?
My mother and my grandfather are also journalists, so I grew up in that environment. I’m not conscious of ever feeling pressured to be a journalist, but maybe subconsciously it seeped through. A lot of my father is in my head: questioning power, finding dignity in people, and going out to find the story—not waiting for the story to come to me. Politics is personal. It’s the times we are living. I can’t imagine writing this book without the political lens.
Is there a next book in the works?
I’m just trying to make it to November 3 while doing an in-person and virtual book tour! I spoke with the chairman of the Proud Boys, who is Afro-Latino, and I want to further understand the psychology behind these organizations and comprehend why many feel that neither the Republican nor Democratic party represents them. I do hope Latinx will be the first of many books to come.