Award winning journalist Soledad O’Brien talks about her memoir, The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities, in an exclusive teleconference organized by Las Comadres, a Latina organization to empower women to become engaged in their community.
O’Brien, a Harvard University graduate, is a CNN anchor and special correspondent. She has provided breaking news to viewers of Hurricane Katrina, the South East Asia earthquake and most recently the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Her critically acclaimed documentaries include Black in America, in which we explores various issues in the black community and Latino in America that takes a look at how Latinos living the U.S. are reshaping America and how America is reshaping them. Her newest book and memoir narrates her reporting experiences and how her upbringing has affected these experiences. She is a lifetime member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalist (NAHJ) and named 2010 Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).
Soledad O’Brien was born to immigrant parents, her mom is Afro-Cuban and her dad is from Australia. During the time that her parents decided to marry, interracial marriage was illegal in Maryland and had to travel to D.C. to marry since the laws there were less restrictive. O’Brien was born and raised in St. James, New York, a predominately white neighborhood in the North Shore of Long Island.
For O’Brien, writing her memoir was a “terrifying and great experience.” She adds, “It’s never easy to talk about where you come from.”
From the book, she hopes that her audience sees the value of immigrants and sees that people love America and reach out to people. She displays a positive outlook and claims that “we’re in a good time.”
O’Brien contributes her success to her parents who “expected to make the best of their abilities and be a good human being.” All of her siblings graduated from Harvard University and are outstanding professionals.
“I feel very grateful that I had a very boring middle class existence,” she says, “I never pretend that I had a rough terrible childhood.”
Her memoir discusses growing up biracial in a predominately white neighborhood. Growing up she explains that her parents made her feel comfortable with her identity. “My mom used to say ‘don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not black and you’re not Latina.’ Who’s the they, I said, and she would say, ‘well you’re going to understand that one day.’’
She understood when an interview with Jesse Jackson on CNN angered O’Brien. Jackson claimed that there were no black anchors on CNN. When O’Brien reminded him that she was an anchor, he replied, “You don’t count.” The comment angered her and more than anything she became angry at herself for her reaction that made her question her racial identity.
Since O’Brien documentaries deal with race and ethnicity. She believes that his comment was an opportunity to start asking questions and conversations like “what is black enough?” or even “are you Latino if you don’t speak Spanish?” Starting conversations about these important topics is one of her main goals. “It’s rewarding when people value your work and that people are interested in being part of this debate,” she says. ” I want to start conversations and push people in these conversations.”
When asked why there was a lack of coverage of Latinos, she explains that there is a lack of Latinos in the newsroom. “People represent their community,” she says. If Latinos are not present in the newsroom, then the stories about the Latino community will not be covered.
For any aspiring college student journalists, she advises them that “it’s going to be a long haul” and that it’s a “matter of sticking it out.” She adds, “Think you’re going to change tomorrow, you’re not. It will be frustrating, but do it anyway for the next group. There are people out there [before you] that have done it in a tougher state in worse circumstances.”
O’Brien continues to report and anchor at CNN and is a positive role model to women. Her memoir, The Next Big Story: My Journey Through the Land of Possibilities is available at bookstores nationwide.