on August 4, 2020
Genres: Personal Memoirs
Setting: Columbia, United States
An inspiring, timely, and conversation-starting memoir from the barrier-breaking and Emmy Award–winning journalist Ilia Calderón—the first Afro-Latina to anchor a high-profile newscast for a major Hispanic broadcast network in the United States—about following your dreams, overcoming prejudice, and embracing your identity.
As a child, Ilia Calderón felt like a typical girl from Colombia. In Chocó, the Afro-Latino province where she grew up, your skin could be any shade and you’d still be considered blood. Race was a non-issue, and Ilia didn’t think much about it—until she left her community to attend high school and college in Medellín. For the first time, she became familiar with horrifying racial slurs thrown at her both inside and outside of the classroom.
From that point on, she resolved to become “deaf” to racism, determined to overcome it in every way she could, even when she was told time and time again that prominent castings weren’t “for people like you.” When a twist of fate presented her the opportunity of a lifetime at Telemundo in Miami, she was excited to start a new life, and identity, in the United States, where racial boundaries, she believed, had long since dissolved and equality was the rule.
Instead, in her new life as an American, she faced a new type of racial discrimination, as an immigrant women of color speaking to the increasingly marginalized Latinx community in Spanish.
Now, Ilia draws back the curtain on the ups and downs of her remarkable life and career. From personal inner struggles to professional issues—such as being directly threatened by a Ku Klux Klan member after an interview—she discusses how she built a new identity in the United States in the midst of racially charged violence and political polarization. Along the way, she’ll show how she’s overcome fear and confronted hate head on, and the inspirational philosophy that has always propelled her forward.
I had no idea who Ilia Calderón was when I picked up this book. I saw it recommended on Twitter but some time passed before I got it from the library and I had forgotten why it was recommended. All I knew about her was the picture on the cover. She starts the book out talking about how the first thing people notice about her is that she is Black. I felt really stupid then because my first response was, “She is?”
Colorism is a hell of a drug. All I could think about as I read this book was how arbitrary the distinctions people place on each other are. This woman has been judged her whole life based on something I didn’t even notice. (I looked up other pictures of her and she appears to have darker skin in those photos than on the book cover. That brings up the question of whether her publisher lightened her skin on purpose on her book about being judged by her skin color which is a whole other potentially messed up issue.)
I’ve never watched Spanish language channels so I knew nothing about the people on them. I started looking up pictures of her coworkers and all of them are very light skinned people. I didn’t realize the extent of the discrimination against darker skinned people in Latin American media. She was not invited to auditions based on her skin color. She got hate mail because of it.
It was also interesting to hear about Univision’s perspective on news events. They were in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria way longer than other U.S. media outlets. They were back to cover protests in San Juan live. I only remember vaguely hearing about those protests.
The story telling in this book is uneven. During the beginning and middle I felt like I had to force myself to keep reading. By the last 1/3 though I felt it got more interesting and I wanted to know what happened.