Read Her Work:
Paola de Varona
My parents think I’m famous. That’s what a couple hundred likes on your tweet and your article prominently displayed on the Google carousel constitutes in the eyes of two Cubans in South Miami. I’m convinced every South Floridian over 50 has read my stories because my mom has personally shared them with everyone she knows. And it wasn’t until I saw the people of my home reading and sharing my ideas that I realized I can work as a modern day digital writer that appeals to the “U.S. masses,” and still reach my one personal goal: writing for the communities I grew up in.
All of that to say: Hi, I’m Paola de Varona and most days this summer I worked from my “home office” (my bed) in sweatpants and an aloe face mask. Such is the every day glamor of digital media.
This summer I’m an intern at The Outline, where I spend my days writing culture stories about anything that piques my interest. Which can vacillate between a growing Spanish-language TV market, ‘Jane the Virgin’, Japanese U.S. concentration camps, or country music culture. The ability to have complete freedom over what my day looks like has been the best experience I could’ve asked for. I always looked up to the Outline as a publication that elevated marginalized voices and didn’t shy away from interesting, niche (what others might not consider “newsworthy”) stories. Now I know that’s still true.
I’ve tried on many roles before arriving at this one. In the summer of 2017 I worked as a reporting intern at the Miami New Times, an alt-weekly in my hometown with a knack for story-telling. In a quarter abroad, I reported on Washington, D.C. politics. Since March I’ve been in NYC, where, prior to the start of ASME, I worked at New York Magazine as an editorial assistant at the Cut. I’ve written about women-owned cigar brands in Miami, size-inclusive fashion, and #MeToo at the 2017 State of the Union. I’ve had to learn how to pronounce Hermes, get a crash course on who’s who in Congress, and translated interviews on the fly for non-Spanish speaking colleagues in Miami. And while all of these different hats haven’t always fit, I think I’ve finally found one that does.
At the beginning of my ASME experience I was afraid I was pigeon-holing myself. The stories I’m drawn to do tend to be about the Spanish-speaking, Latinx communities close to my heart. But with previous negative experiences as a Latina journalist writing about Latinxs in the past, I was afraid to go after those topics I really wanted to be exploring. The Outline has never made these stories feel inferior, and I’ve finally realized identity, my own and others, is something I can be unapologetically passionate about. The way we see ourselves informs every one of our actions, words, and relationships to the world. For too long whiteness has been viewed as the unbiased, default identity of journalism. If I can help change that by being who I am and writing about it, that is the greatest service I can offer to the people I grew up with.
I’m excited to maybe one day return to NYC or wherever other city the pursuit of literary journalism takes me. I want to make one place my community and home again, imbedding myself in the culture of a new place for more than a few months at a time. For now, that’ll have to wait until I finish my combined bachelor’s and master’s degree at Northwestern for one more year. But I look forward to writing for the communities I will one day continue to grow in.