Long before CNN’s Mercedes Soler became a successful Spanish-language TV host and Univision correspondent, she was immersed in media. The news helped Soler learn how to speak publicly and perfect her English pronunciation. At 12, Soler decided she “needed to be a journalist.”
“I think the profession chose me,” says Soler, who is now the host of NotiMujer, an hour-long weekday afternoon program that airs on CNN en Español. “I can’t imagine being anything else. This is all I’ve ever been passionate about.”
GROWING UP A JOURNALIST When Soler was still a tween, she and her family fled their native Cuba as exiles and eventually moved to the United States, where they settled in Chicago. Soler started watching news magazine programs on television—her idol was Barbara Walters—and reading the news to build her vocabulary.
By high school, Soler was writing for her school newspaper and dipping her toe in radio journalism. Though Spanish-language radio programming was rare in Chicago at the time, Tomás Martinez, the man who would become Soler’s husband, had a Sunday Spanish-language radio show at a local university during which he played salsa music and presented news. Martinez still works in radio at Radio Caracol Miami.Soler met Martinez through a family friend and started helping him present the news, usually for six to eight hours at a time. She was tasked with the tedious job of poring over news wires to find information that was interesting to a Spanish-language audience, then translating the news into Spanish.
By the time she graduated from college, Soler had racked up enough experience to take on reporting for Univision, where she found out that being a Spanish-language reporter had unique challenges.
“Hispanic journalists are now taken more seriously, but when I first entered this wonderful journey, no one took us seriously,” Soler says, recalling that at English press conferences, speakers often refused to give interviews in Spanish, even if they were native speakers. “It’s been hard aiming for the respect.”
Read Related: 20 Questions with Soledad O’Brien
Soler spent 18 years as a Univision correspondent, a job that took her throughout the United States and Latin America, where she interviewed at least a dozen presidents and often pursued stories about political conflicts. On one reporting trip to investigate human rights abuses, the Ecuadorian army pursued Soler for 10 days.
Soler says that looking back, her proudest moment during this part of her career came when she interviewed Osvaldo Romo about his role in torturing Chileans for the national intelligence agency under Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet was eventually discredited on an international stage because of her story and Soler was banned from entering Chile for a decade.
“I’ve had people try to influence my reporting or shut down my reporting,” Soler says. “You have to trust yourself and be strong and not accept concessions.”
CHANGING GEARS For the past two years on NotiMujer, Soler has presented segments about everything from fashion, beauty and home décor to family, health and powerful women. After a successful career in hard news—Soler won five Emmy Awards for her work—she embraces NotiMujer’s lighter subjects and taking on the new challenge of social media.
Soler often tweets photos of the outfit she’s wearing on set (she has a penchant for chunky necklaces and pops of color like deep blue, red and magenta) or the makeup she’s used for the day. She especially likes that NotiMujer showcases all kinds of women, highlights their accomplishments and gives them respect. Meeting guests who inspire her and having fun are also perks of the job.
“I think we need to rediscover our own capabilities,” she says of her latest gig. “I love everything I’ve done. Different mediums have taught me how to do journalism in different ways.”
Working on NotiMujer and being based in Miami also allows Soler to spend more time with her family and travel with them for pleasure. Soler’s 12-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter have traveled with her throughout Latin America and to Europe and Asia. Soler still takes frequent trips to Latin America and is fascinated by the region’s history—she’s in the process of writing a children’s novel based on Latin American mythology.
Soler also has another passion project book in the works; she’s already co-authored the book Dish and Tell: Life, Love and Secrets, which was adapted for the stage in Miami.
But for someone who appears on television as often as she does, Soler stays humble. When a NotiMujer fan tweeted last month that she couldn’t believe someone as well-known as Soler would respond to her post on Twitter, Soler tweeted back with a laugh, “I’m not famous.”
And she truly believes that. She even stashes her Emmys on the top shelf of her closet in a back corner. “When I got them I could not have been prouder,” she says. “But at the same time I don’t want to get too complacent and I don’t want to think I’m that important. TV is all about what you do today, not what you did yesterday, I need to really motivate myself in the here and now and be aware of doing my best today.”