Venezuelan Media Starlet Who Soft-Pedaled 9/11 Just Became a Naturalized U.S. Citizen
Mariana Atencio, a lefty former MSNBC correspondent who grew up in Venezuela, recently became an American citizen. The naturalization ceremony was a sublime moment for her and 128 other people from 27 countries. She celebrated with a tweet, writing that she was an "American BY CHOICE. 11 years in the making."
It happened! Officially American BY CHOICE. 11 years in the making.— Mariana Atencio (@marianaatencio) February 14, 2020
On Valentine’s Day, best way to say: ‘I love you, America!’
Took the oath w/ 128 people from 27 countries. Now lets register to vote!#GoLikeMariana #NewUSCitizen
Gracias @USCISMediaSouth @USCIS @USCIS_es pic.twitter.com/7gmecHhqBP
Atencio, a young woman from a wealthy Venezuelan family, immigrated to America after life in Venezuela – an oil-rich yet impoverished socialist country – had become unbearable. Getting mugged at gunpoint was the last straw for her.
In the U.S. Atencio got an immigration lawyer, a green card, and started an entry-level job at a Spanish-language news outlet – and above all she reinvented herself as a "Latina." Eventually she landed a correspondent's gig at MSNBC, the Trump-hating cable channel where she fit right in as an agenda-driven journalist. She focused on promoting open-borders (even though Venezuela's open-borders policy was a disaster) and aggressively used social media to promote progressive causes: identity politics, fair treatment for Latinos, and the need for more diversity in America. On reporting trips to the border, she accompanied caravans of illegal immigrants, serving as a veritable cheerleader for their desire to crash the U.S. border.
She had immigration problems of her own, too. After getting laid off from her first job (and losing her green card) she enrolled in Columbia University's school of Latin American Studies – a move that allowed her to remain legally in the U.S. with a student visa, even though she'd already earned a master's degree at Columbia's graduate school of journalism, attending on what she said was a full merit scholarship.
9/11: No Big Deal
Speaking about immigration, President Trump once observed that citizenship should be reserved for immigrants who truly love America – its people, culture, and customs. This ideal once served America well: assimilation, not multiculturalism, was the goal. Back then, immigrants had a positive image of America. Now, more than a few immigrants have a love-hate relationship with their adopted country – or perhaps they only hate it.
Atencio is an example of this love-hate trend. She makes no secret of this fact, having revealed much about her political views in myriad social media post and in her 2019 book, Perfectly You: Embracing the Power of Being Real. Did immigration authorities read Perfectly You? Promoted as part self-help and part autobiography, it's a self-absorbed account of Atencio's privileged life in Venezuela, sojourn to America, and climb up the journalism ladder. One thing comes through loud and clear: she's fascinated with herself. Her lefty political views also are on display. The book, for instance, simmers with Atencio's frustration over America's immigration laws, which she considers onerous and unjust, both for her and those sneaking over the southern border. Her attitudes about 9/11 are particularly odious.
Immigration officials who share President Trump's views might be shocked to learn that Atencio avoided taking sides in the 9/11 attacks, which occurred when she and her family were visiting their luxury New York City apartment on the posh Upper East Side. Atencio does not recall the attacks as a horrific display of evil. Rather, they were a test of her loyalties. Long before 9/11, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's leftist firebrand president, had made anti-Americanism part of his foreign policy – and in Perfectly You Atencio says this posed a potential conflict for her, given that she was a Venezuelan and frequent visitor to the U.S. with her tourist visa. She thus avoided taking sides, adopting a morally neutral attitude between America and Al-Qaeda as President George W. Bush ramped up the war on terror. She wrote:
"Being from Venezuela – at the time governed by President Hugo Chávez, an outspoken critic of the US who had declared himself an ally of Iran – I knew exactly which side my country was on. I was split between two places, grappling with two opposing ideologies. So from that moment on, I made a conscious effort to reconcile those opposite narratives with my own. I wanted to move seamlessly between my worlds to evaluate the best and worst in each one. To be a human bridge – to show that people on one side were just like the ones on the other. I kept thinking about Maya Angelou’s famous quote: “We are more alike, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” Why is it so hard for some to understand that we are basically all one and the same?"
Atencio, in other words, preferred not to condemn the terrorists. Instead, she vowed to take a moral high road that reconciled two competing ideologies – Al-Qaeda's versus America's. "This girl from Caracas," she explained, "could be the bridge between worlds, between languages, between ages and generations, to help people see the struggles but also the beauty that each culture, each human being has to offer.
You have to wonder: Does Atencio truly like America's culture and history? In Perfectly You, she says she considers her accent a badge of pride – one she doesn't want to lose – and nor should other immigrants bother to speak English properly, she says. It's a curious attitude. In an earlier era, immigrants took pride in speaking perfect English and assimilating. In her twitter and television broadcasts, Atencio even goes out of her way to speak with an accent – sometimes trilling her “r's” when speaking English. This includes when saying her own name: Mariana. “That's the way my name was meant to be heard!” she says.
“Accents should be worn like a medal,” she explains in Perfectly You. “ I do not want to lose mine. I do not want to dress like everyone else. I do not want to blend in. I want my voice to sound like who I am now: a Latina immigrant."
And while claiming to love America, Atencio nevertheless thinks it's full of racism and too little diversity. In Perfectly You, she writes that rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, where a black teenage thug robbed a shopkeeper and attacked a police officer who shot him dead, was all about “oppression.” In a Facebook post, she once asked fellow Latinos – or mi gente (my people) as she often says – to give examples of how they "overcame discrimination."
But no matter how bad America is, at least it's better than living in Venezuela. Atencio could hardly argue with that. She and her wealthy Lebanese-born husband, a Venezuelan immigrant, now enjoy unlimited opportunities in America – albeit without Venezuela's old-fashioned corruption and crony capitalism that allows the well-connected and elite to make overnight fortunes. They have a beautiful waterfront home in upscale and relatively crime-free Coral Gables, Florida. Interestingly, Coral Gables is one of the whitest areas of Miami-Dade County. Her hypocrisy is amusing: diversity for thee but not for me.
Atencio learned about diversity – or lack of it – as a youngster. Her parents had sent her to a tennis camp in Minnesota with the idea that it would help her learn English. As described in Perfectly You, however, she quickly realized she was different from her fellow tennis players. They all had blue or green eyes! Curious about Atencio's exotic background, some well-meaning kids even asked Atencio if Venezuelans ate hamburgers! She felt humiliated. It's perhaps not surprising. She was, after all, a rich and privileged Venezuelan girl who, like many in her social class, mingled almost exclusively with people like herself. Yet now she found herself an equal among her peers – American kids from middle and upper-middle-class families who couldn’t care less about her social status in Venezuela. As the only dark-eyed girl at the tennis camp, it was her first experience with being the "Other," she wrote.
Last month, Atencio announced on twitter that she'd left MSNBC to start her own “media empire,” one that would focus on her pet causes. She had some rough spots at MSNBC, and the backstory of what happened there is surely fascinating. For one thing, she seemed unable to decide whether she wanted to be a journalist or fashion model. Indeed, on one reporting trip to the Mexican border not long ago, she spent part of her time preening for the camera in what looked like a fashion shoot. It must have been embarrassing to MSNBC. It wasn't her first such lapse in professionalism.
Today, we cross over. The only way to really understand a situation is to live and breathe it.— Mariana Atencio (@marianaatencio) December 13, 2019
The immigration debate is complex.
My goal is to promote understanding, respect and the idea that we are all human.
Coming soon on @msnbc. pic.twitter.com/UvLATxdlJW
And then there was a live broadcast she did from a handicapped parking space at a Houston polling station. Disabled voters were inconvenienced. Handicapped parking spaces exist, of course, because of America's civic culture. During my foreign correspondent days in Venezuela, I can't remember ever seeing a handicapped parking space, something that can only exist in a healthy civic culture – a virtue that's in short supply in Venezuela.
Discriminated against at MSNBC?
Interestingly, Atencio claims she was discriminated against at MSNBC. A female MSNBC producer – apparently well aware of Atencio's predilection for ostentatious jewelry, bright red lipstick, and flashy clothes showing off cleavage and curves – advised her to dress more modestly for the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2017, according to Perfectly You. The producer supposedly told her to dress like Ivanka Trump – and not look "too Latina." Atencio was outraged. Amusingly, the well-meaning producer even offered Atencio the name of her personal shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue, the luxury department store. Atencio could barely contain her outrage at the “too Latina” remark -- and shot back that she had her own Saks personal shopper! She nevertheless took the producer's advice.
Yes, it was a clumsy choice of words – not to look "too Latina." But the MSNBC producer was, in all fairness, simply suggesting that Atencio dress as professional women do in the U.S. Interestingly, during my Venezuela days I never once saw an upper-class professional woman or female journalist wear the kinds of ostentatious outfits Atencio favors. Her choice in clothing seems to reflect how she thinks a "Latina" in America ought to dress. But at least she got along with her field producer at MSNBC. In Perfectly You, she described him as the "epitome of the all-American white guy; he has blue eyes and a football-player build."
Atencio dressed the way she wanted at the 2018 correspondents' dinner: "I wore a bold color. Big hair. Big jewelry. And I walked in with renowned Spanish chef José Andrés and his wife as my dates, while my husband cheered me on from home. (I only got one ticket.) I felt beautiful and proud to look very Latina."
More than 400,000 Venezuelans now live in the U.S. – and 52 percent of them are in Florida. Of those who have become naturalized U.S. citizens, I suspect more than a few will be voting like Atencio – for far-left candidates. She is yet another example of how changing demographics are transforming and nudging America's political culture to the left.
Atencio, now a 36-year-old, is like many progressive women: she has yet to have children. If that should change, let's hope her children will feel more comfortable in their own skin than their mom seems to be. One can only hope they won't grow up in the Balkanized and left-leaning America that Atencio seems to prefer.