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This Afro-Latina Is Breaking Barriers On Network Television


– (speaking in foreign language) Today we want to highlight a badass Afro Latina that's kicking ass and taking names This is MJ Acosta

She's a sportscaster for an NFL network and this is an Afro Latina that you should know (upbeat salsa music) – Pretty close to the vest on Friday when it came to TY Hilton I hear you stand 4 and 0

(speaking in foreign language) – Today we got MJ Acosta here in the house! You are working in a male dominated industry – Yes, very much so – You know, as an Afro Latina, I'm pretty sure like nobody else looks like you in that space – There are very few women for me to look up to that look like me, but from day one, the curl queen, sports queen, was Sage Steele, who works for ESPN, and I got to meet her in person recently a few months ago and it was like a love fest She echoed the same thing that I've been feeling

She didn't have anybody who when she turned on the TV was like, well, if she's doing it, that means I have a chance too So there's more of us embracing the natural hair and just trying to show that there's space for folks who do look like us – Yeah, yeah You're showing that you're able to do that, and then how did this all start? I know you were like a cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins – Yes

– That's a big difference from going to become a sportscaster – Well, so a lot of people don't know is that I was already a sports reporter when I made the team, when I made the Dolphins team – No way! – So I was doing both I was able to not only fulfill a dream of mine, to be a professional NFL cheerleader but also, I have the best seat in the house like every football game! Are you kidding? – That is so cool! – So I learned more even as a sportscaster from being on the sidelines 'cause I could hear every single thing I was right there on the field! It changed so much for me and it really helped me become an even better sports journalist

(speaking in foreign language) I did work for Telemundo but that was later on in my career But my first reporting job was in Spanish Being bilingue helped me tremendously To this day it's one of the biggest assets for me as a broadcaster to be able to go back and forth Espanol, Ingles, whatever you need, I can do it both without skipping a beat

It's been so huge for me – That gave me goosebumps – Especially in sports And when I cover baseball like, you walk into the clubhouse and you know, we have so many, not just Dominicans but Latino players It was one less boundary for me to be able to connect with these guys, talk to them about the game, and what they were doing, it's been huge

– Every time you see sportscasters and I saw your face on billboards! – Yeah, my big old head on a billboard! It was crazy Once I left Miami, I knew that I just wanted to focus on sports, and it's tough to find sports jobs and one opened up in San Diego as the lead sports anchor and so I went and I became the lead sports anchor I was taking over for a gentleman who had been there 30 years – Wow! – He was a former NFL player and he was fantastic to me, really, it was like, you're going to be great, kid It was crazy, it was a big responsibility, and I made a lot of mistakes, I took a lot of Ls

I'm not going to front, that's just how you learn by doing – That's part of the process What was it about you that you feel like they gave you that position? – Well, I've always been open to, you can't wait until you think you're ready If the opportunity is there and you're willing to at least put yourself out there and work for it, then do it Like, you can figure it out if you have the basic foundation

Then you can go and you can do it and you can get after, but you can't be scared Or at least you can't show that you're scared, 'cause I was scared! Not for nothing! And then a year into it in San Diego, we launched a duopoly at the station, so it went from just an NBC to an NBC and a Telemundo station, so then I was the lead sports anchor for both! – No way! – Five days a week, doing two sportscasts and I wasn't like No, it was a completely different audience, a completely difference sportscast, so I was putting together these two different shows multiple times a day and it was insane! – You are like two reporters in one

– I had two my packs, two different studios and control rooms that are kind of putting the broadcast out there to the viewers, so I had on my left leg was NBC, on my right leg was Telemundo – Wow! – And I would literally run from one side of the building to the other at 11 o'clock for the news I had about 60 to 90 seconds to get from one side to the next, and like, okay, turn this mic on, turn this one off, and switch languages, and go – You're a real one – And it was

(speaks in foreign language) (audience applauds) Let's put aplauso over here on the edit, por favor I feel like it's a little intimidating to go – Uh, yes – (speaking in foreign language) Afro Latino, because when we walk into a room, it's completely different when somebody else walk into the room – Correct – We know how we look like

– Right – You know, three seconds in that we walk into a room, we know people are judging us None of that stopped you when you walked into that space How was that for you? – It was always in the back of my mind because you can't ignore what you look like externally and for me it was not just my shield but also my badge of honor I was like, I'm glad I don't look like anybody else in this room

Like you gon' notice me today You're going to know that I'm in this room and that I'm here to work and that's what I always stepped with that kind of mentality into it but you're right, every time I'd speak in Spanish or switch people'd be like, whoa, run it back Scratch the record! – Where you from? (laughs) – Or, what are you mixed with? And I was like, well I'm from the Caribbean, so that's a loaded question We're mixed with a lot of stuff! It was nice to also kind of educate people and to bring a different perspective to people who thought that Latinos only look like A B or C – I love that

So that means that you took that into your power When did you start rocking your natural hair, cause it feels like — – Yes – People that rock their natural hair, it's because they understand and I feel like they embrace their blackness in a way – Yes – So when was it that it started for you and why? – Man, it took a long time, it was two years a go

As soon as I did it, I felt more like myself than I ever have in my entire life So it took almost thirty-something years to get to this point (laughs) – I like how you mumbled it, rrgh! – To get to this point where I felt so confident in who I really was and it took moving away from Miami, moving away from my family, to really explore what it was about myself that still needed to come out, and my hair was part of it It seems so trivial, but it's not It's such a huge part of who we are, of who our identity is, of our culture, our background, our roots

As you know, as a Dominican man, having a lot of women around in your family I'm sure, desrizado, their relaxer, is like So my whole life, I can't remember how old I was when I got my first relaxer Every couple of months you go in, you touch up the little curls, the little bitty-bees that are coming out from the roots, and you press that hair

My abuela, if she was still alive, to this day would probably be like, you couldn't brush your hair for this interview today? But culturally, that's what it is! – And I feel like things are changing When I go back to Dominican Republic, you see a lot of more girls rocking their natural hair – Absolutely – Hasta los hombres rocking their natural hair You know, I feel like there's a movement happening

– There is – They're embracing their blackness – It's been such a relief for me, and now I feel like it's one less barrier between me and the audience and me and the viewers and me and just a community of people who need to see themselves I have dads, like single dads come up to me after games like, my daughter's hair is just like yours, like what can I do? How can I help her? Young girls, even, you know, coaches in the NFL like, my niece is looking up to you now because, you know, she's a mixed child and nobody in her school has hair like hers And it's empowering and I take that as like such a good responsibility

I was like, we gon' be out here with our curly crowns and we're gonna thrive and we're gonna do big things and show everybody that it's not just, oh, it's okay to rock your natural hair It shouldn't be okay, this is just what it is – It's what it is – It's who we are – Have you ever had a backlash because of your natural hair in any way? – Thankfully not really and I think it's because of where we are, because there is this movement, like you said

There's a literal law in the state of California where you cannot discriminate against somebody for how they rock their hair It's called the CROWN act, so you cannot discriminate against — – It's called the CROWN act? – The CROWN act – No way! – Yes, now students, employers, no one can be discriminated against for rocking their natural hair in the workplace, at school It's sad that we need a law to say that but I'm also so happy that it's there – That's a big win for all of us

– That's a huge win – Huge win – Right – And I would do it a disservice not to ask you this question So how was it working in that space? You know, knowing this, because I'm pretty sure you walked into the space knowing this

Have they ever treated you any different from anyone else or? – I mean, not to my face I don't know if there was anything behind the scenes Thankfully I think, again, it's a timing situation I think now there are so many Latinos who are being put in lead positions to show that is not just somebody who looks, you know, in the lighter skin tone, or who looks more like a Spaniard than a Caribbean person Like, it's insane to me that people still to this day think that there's only one type of Latino

It's a very slow turn It's changing very, very slowly and there's not a lot of Afro Latinos who are represented out there, and I'm happy to be one of the few, at least in the states, at a national level, but there's more of us out there really pushing to kind of show that not only are we capable, we have more to bring to the table, but we're here, man! – Yeah, yeah, oh yeah, finally! (speaking in foreign language) A lot of times where people that look like us, we feel like we hit a ceiling when we work in these corporations Have you ever had that feeling working with them? – I mean, there were times where I felt like this is as far as I'm going to grow here Not because of the people necessarily, but just because of the space that I was in So in local news, you know what the opportunities are, how many jobs there are for sportscasters, and what your bigger vision is

I knew that I, one of my ultimate goals as a broadcaster was that I wanted to be on the national network So I obviously can't do that in local news, so I knew that I had to grow as much as I could, give my best in the time that I was there, but that eventually I was going to move on – I feel like what you're saying is The next move is to move somewhere else, that is bigger and better for you So you were born here, your Spanish is dope (laughs) How do you practice your Spanish and how you keep it like — – I was born here but like, three weeks in we went to Dominican Republic

My first words were in Spanish, I lived in Santo Domingo until I was three, and then we moved to the Heights, Washington Heights in New York, where Spanish is also the first language! – That's true, that's very true – And it was always Spanish You walk into the house, Spanish television My grandma until the day she died barely spoke English – Oh, wow, yeah

– So, you know, it was, you're either gonna communicate with us in this native tongue or you're gonna go hungry! – You went from a Spanish network to a major NFL network (speaking in foreign language) (speaking in foreign language) – So, triple minoria (laughs) Diablo You kickin' ass, I'm telling you – Thank you

– You know and it's great to see, but how was it walking into that space? – It was interesting because I felt like I had to unprogram myself from thinking that I could not occupy space I had to deprogram myself from thinking, oh my God, I'm just so happy to be here! Which I am and I'm so grateful every single day, but I've also earned it – (speaking in foreign language) when you walk into that space, a lot of times you feel like you gotta prove yourself – Mm-hm, oh yeah That's what it is everyday, so the way you prove yourself is by kicking ass

I make sure I over-prepare, that I'm ready for whatever they're gonna throw at me, that whatever the analyst asks me, I'm like, I got you, this is why, X Y and Z And so I devour like the research package they send us Like I spend hours at night I look like I'm in college like going through finals Like, highlighter, coffee, tabs, like notes in the margins because I want to be the best representation of myself as possible, so that when my moment does come, it's like, oh, ooh she ready

As Tiffany Haddish, oh, she ready! And that's how you take up that space and own it in the most positive way you possibly can – So it feels like excellence? – Yes! – Be excellent — – We're not playing games in these street Like you gotta, once you get the opportunity, it's so hard to get through that door, and once you do, the margin of error, is so small, so, so small You can't fumble the ball! Are gonna go into these spaces, you know? This is our time There's so many more mountains to climb because there's just a few of us

Yourself included, Gadiel, because you're putting us out there as well and showing people like this is who we are, this is what we're doing, but it takes waves right? Like it takes so many, many years of people doing what we're doing, so it's just keep pushing Like we cannot stop now, we're getting in there! They're seeing us, they have no choice – That's very true We all gotta do something I'm doing something, she's doing something, we all doing something

(speaking in foreign language) – Oh, I was just about to say, Tony Peralta! I love his whole shop, the way he brings the culture into it unapologetically – Unapologetically – Oh! – [Gadiel] New York, Dominican, doing art! – I live for it – We try to highlight Tony Peralta as much as we can I love this guy – I love him

– He was like, I feel like we are a graduating class – Exactly, yes, absolutely – And that we're just opening the door We're setting a pathway for the next Afro Latinos coming in and we're here Yo, this has been so much fun

I just want to speak from the heart I just want to let you know that everyday that I'm at work and I see you on TV, it means a lot to me, you know I'm not going to get emotional right now – You're gonna make me cry! – What you're doing for us is amazing Just seeing you everyday really makes my day

A lot of times I'm in meetings and I see you giving your sportscasting and I'm just like, even though I don't know much about sports, I see myself in you – Thank you (speaking in foreign language) (laughs) – [Child] Pero Like

Source: Youtube

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