From DACA to Dream Job: Meet Best-Selling Author Daniela Pierre-Bravo

Daniela Pierre-Bravo is a New York City-based booking producer for MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-author, alongside Mika Brezinski, of the best-selling book “Earn It! Know Your Value and Grow Your Career, in your 20s and Beyond.”

Daniela grew up in Ohio, as the daughter of immigrants from Chile. She found out that she was undocumented shortly before beginning college, and discusses how this profoundly affected her views on money and professional success.

Episode Transcript

ILV: Good afternoon, Daniela, and welcome to “Money Memories.” How are you doing?

Daniela: Good. Thank you so much for having me.

ILV: It’s such an honor to have you on the show. I’m such a huge fan of your work. And I know the listeners are super excited to hear your story, so let’s just jump in. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you grew up?

Daniela: So I grew up in Chile. I immigrated to the us from Chile when I was about 11. And we settled into a tiny little town in Ohio called Lima that I didn’t know much about.  My dad had grown up there, but for us, you know, I felt like a little bit of fresh fish, fish out of fresh water kind of culturally and you know, having to be uprooted.

From our home is a little difficult, but you know, immigrants always make it through.

ILV: Yeah. Were there any other kids, any other Latino kids in Lima where you grew up?

Daniela: No. Our family was really the only one that I, that I knew of. I really was the only Latina. And in high school – moved to a private Catholic school and I was definitely the only Latina then. And that was a little bit difficult. Not just in terms of, you know, my family looked different in my family spoke different, but there are real kind of cultural and nuance things that are just different. And, you know, a lot of the families that I was friends with growing up, they had been in their town since they were little, like had grown up in the same household, had been told that they needed to be as involved as extracurriculars as possible.

And, you know, I hadn’t. You know, my definition of, of having an extracurricular was being part of a rhythmic gymnastics, which was like a fancy term of, you know, doing a little ballet we would do presentations. And that was like our sport for the year. But like here in America, like the, the girls, I would play basketball like in fifth grade.

And these girls had been in camps for years and they would you know, play sports. Around you know, around the year time, like the whole year. And I was just kind of, totally out of my element.

ILV: You touched on it in your, in your experience growing up. I believe you said something like, you felt like you were guilty of putting away, putting aside some of your roots in order to kind of like blend in. And I was wondering: when did you start feeling more confident and kind of reconnecting with your roots and bringing that more to the fore?

Daniela: That’s such a good question. I’m actually writing about this specific topic of like identity and belonging in the second book that I’m releasing in 2022. And, you know, I think for me growing up in the small town that I did in Ohio, it wasn’t that like, I didn’t want to be Latino or I didn’t identify by it.

It was just who I was, but I was in some ways of consciously burying certain things about myself or I was sort of trying to blend in based on what I saw and I didn’t see the repercussions of what it had on my identity and more so in finding my voice. Right. Because finding your voice is so important and I think, yeah –

We’ve talked about finding your voice and kind of a professional realm. When we talk about you know speaking out at work and advocating for yourself, and so much of it has to do with it being comfortable with yourself and your voice, and being able to speak and articulate about yourself in a way that gives you, or allows you to take up space right.

In, in the rooms that we belong in, in, in the workplace. But, you know, growing up, I didn’t really feel like I was part of one group or the other, and that somehow made me uneasy and I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but oftentimes I would. You know, have my white friends and I, I wanted to be more Latina and like I felt maybe it was just the contrast between, you know, feeling the difference between us and just kind of wanting to be more Latina.

But then I would go back to the kitchen in the restaurants that I worked at, and I just didn’t feel Latina enough. And there was and I guess on plane and I felt, I felt a little out of place. And so I’ve always felt like that. You know, I was part of this like cross current of identity. Like I wasn’t fully, you know, by essence I’m Latina because I, you know, I grew up in Chile, but I, in the spaces that I occupied, I always felt like I either wasn’t Latina enough or, you know, I wasn’t white enough.

Like I just never fit in. But I think that one of the times in my life where I felt like I could actually take up space in a way that didn’t. Subconsciously shame me for trying to blend in, was in New York. Because that was the first time where I saw the diversity of thoughts, the diversity of backgrounds and ethnicities.

ILV: I love what you talked about, about finding kind of more of your identity in New York City, because I think New York city plays an important part in your origin story, so to speak, which we’ll get to, but before we do I’d love if you could share your earliest or most impactful money memory.

Daniela: It’s funny that you ask that because money has, I’ve always been acutely aware of finances and money ever since I was a little girl, not because it was a good thing that was well managed in our household, but because of the chaos and the consequences of not understanding or not being financially literate.

So I grew up in, you know, as the oldest of five kids. Two immigrant parents who would work two and three jobs. I remember being late on payments all the time. Constantly moving. If we were evicted a few times, so there was a lot of insecurity there. And so I became very acutely aware of all of the payments that needed to be made because when the light payment wasn’t made or the internet payment wasn’t made, or the rent payment wasn’t made, I knew that because the lights would go off, we wouldn’t have internet and we would be scrambling to try to find.

A new home on those house payments were made. And so I knew exactly how much each payment was and when they weren’t being paid because of that reality that I lived in. But in terms of the early earliest money memories, I have two. So one of them quickly is I, I knew that I knew, you know, based on how I grew up, that I wouldn’t be able to expect my parents to pay for this for things in my life, whether it be college or just things I wanted that I knew that I had to work for my dollar.

And I think the first real seeing that I bought for myself was braces. I know that sounds so weird, but I would think I was like a junior or senior in high school and I really wanted braces. And I remember going into like that orthodontist and. Asking, you know, well, do you think, do you think I need them?

And the, the dentist is like, well, you know, it’ll make you look a little bit more professional. And that was like, it for me, I’m like, okay, this is an investment for my future, blah, blah, blah. So I ended up like working more hours after my, you know, my volleyball game, my volleyball practices and tennis practices.

And I was working on weekends just like, like afford, pay for braces. So that was like a, that was a, that was an example of like how money was a good thing. Like I could, I could really feel like I was working towards something. And then one of the, one of the earliest money memories that I had that was really heartbreaking for me, I think was the time where I was going into my sophomore year of college. And I was undocumented at the time and I had really just learned that reality of what it meant to be undocumented. And I was paying college cash because I wasn’t. You know, I wasn’t allowed to get any government loans or any government scholarships, like just, you know, because of my status, I couldn’t apply for any of them.

So the only pathway to college was to find a way to pay for cash. So I literally just like did not stop working. And I remember saving up to, I think it was $3,000 the summer before my sophomore year. And I was out on deliveries for my, my beauty and skincare brand. And well it was Mary Kay – it wasn’t my brand, but I was I was consultant. I was an independent consultant and so I go to drop off the deliveries.

It’s like three weeks before I stopped my sophomore year. And I ended up fender bending the car in front of me. And, you know, I, I couldn’t argue with anybody. Like I couldn’t, I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t want to get the police involved. And so I like begged the owner to just like name their price.

The fender bender actually broke one of the most expensive parts of like the already dying car. So the, the amount that the owner threw my way was pretty much the amount that I had saved to start my sophomore year.

And so that was the first time where, like I went back home, I took out the cash under my mattress and I just like walked up to the owner. And I just remember, you know, handing over, it’s literally handing over my future, and so I remember just leaving that house and like stopping with my mom in a parking lot of a supermarket late at night and just like.

Crying and just, you know, and it’s hard because, you know, Latina moms, they always say everything’s gonna work out. There’s nothing stronger than a Latina mom. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom, you know, break down the way she did. And it was eye opening for me. Like, I was like, this is it. This is the end of my future.

And that I thought was the end of it. And that night, that was when the aha moment came. I, I cried myself to sleep. And then the next morning I was like, okay, I’m not going to be able to go back sophomore year to college.

At least for the first semester. So I like had to call my roommate. We had already picked out a dorm and I told her that I wasn’t coming back in in two weeks. And that’s when I was like, okay, if I’m going to make this work right. Working is going to be my full-time job. Like I’m going to find more side gigs.

I’m going to find more cash paying jobs. I’m going to amp this beauty and skincare business. Like let’s go. And so after six months I had saved up enough to finish my sophomore year and ended up returning to college, but it really showed you like the nuances and the intricacies of money. And how much it could, you know, be a symbol of opening up doors, but also closing doors.

So then after that, nothing was the same, I never viewed money the same way after that.

ILV: So how are you able to kind of stay focused on your goal? And you know, get yourself back into school and back into a position to succeed?

Daniela: Well, it’s interesting because when I, you know, being undocumented, it’s like I had no options. That also meant that I can create options because none of them existed, but I almost had that ability to just kind of like go balls to the wall and say like, I need, this is either a sink or swim.

And so for me, education was like the one glimmer of hope. And so I think that for me, it was all about breaking the problem down, like tiny little steps and focusing on the little tiny steps, one thing at a time.  I couldn’t even think about like, how am I going to make the four years work? Like I literally had to take it semester by semester and give myself space. To say, there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty with this. There’s going to be a lot of times where you might not be able to go back. And the resiliency I think, is built for me anyways, with allowing yourself to fail and like expecting the failure and like bouncing back from it because you know that you are one failure away from a guest or an opportunity or open door or in my case, a side door. So that’s what resilient means to me. And in some ways I’m grateful for that mentality.

I, I don’t know if, without the adversity that I faced, that I would necessarily automatically have that way of thinking at the top of my head. But I always, I always try to look at that way  I’ve been able to open up so much more doors for my future and, you know, financially, I always try to look at it from a perspective of like, okay, what can I do?

What can I break down in tiny steps? Because really everything that I’ve been able to do has been through that mentality.

ILV: Given the kind of limitations of being undocumented and just kind of paying for school, like piecemeal semester by semester, you know, how are you able to then parlay that into your professional career?

Daniela: Yeah, so, I mean, there was no guidebook, there was no playbook. There was no like uncle handing the resume or talking to his buddy at work to, you know, put your resume at the top of the pile. And so I think, you know, it was, my junior year – spring semester from junior year. And because I had came into college with a little bit of college credit –  because I wanted to eliminate as much years of pain school as I could. I ended up, you know, there was this one summer where I graduated and I didn’t have time any other summer to work on internships because I was working to be able to pay for school.

And so I thought, okay, well, even though I don’t have you know, my work permit, even though I’m undocumented, I have to find an opportunity to work in places where I can learn from like I’ve spent all this time surviving, you know, working on odd jobs and all that. Like I need to, for sake of my resume, build something that says professional, right?

At the time I wanted to be in media, but I knew that that was kind of a lofty goal. So I just wanted to learn from people who were exposed to that. So I ended up applying to everywhere in New York City. Like I applied to join your agencies and boutique just little companies that were just looking for unpaid interns.

Cause I couldn’t obviously get paid and in my, in my situation, so I ended up getting  – you might’ve heard this story. I ended up getting called back. The callback from Diddy’s Bad Boy entertainment. And he had like a small marketing agency in-house that like nobody ever heard of, and I ended up hearing back from one of the hiring managers and on my resume. I was like, okay, I’m not going to leave anything to chance. I’m going to say that I live in New York city because these people are gonna want somebody to start like the next day.

So I need to make myself accessible. So yeah. I freaked out. I have this like screening interview, a phone interview with, with one of the hiring managers and they’re like, okay, well, we see that you’re local. Can you come in for an interview tomorrow? And here I am like studying for my econ exam and without thinking about it, I said, yes.

And then after the call, I obviously panicked. And like, how the hell am I going to get to New York City tomorrow? I can’t drive. I can’t get on a plane. Like what the heck am I going to do? So I ended up getting on a Greyhound bus begging a friend to drive me like the hour to Cincinnati. I got on the bus 18 hours through the night, nine stops along the way, get to Port Authority, clean up, like wash my face, just like, you know, change and I’m here.

I was like, I had like a little hanger with like my little blouse and my little like H&M pencil skirt, because I couldn’t like show up with like a bag of stuff. Like I wasn’t staying at a hotel. I was going right back on the bus that night. So pull out my little MapQuest page. And like run to the interview that was like three blocks down from Times Square. And just like totally aced the interview because I didn’t sleep at all that night and just like killed it and ended up getting on the bus that night, not knowing who would have gotten unpaid internship or not.

And long story short, I, I ended up getting that unpaid internship and then another unpaid internship at MTV in the ad sales department, which is like the, the less sexy part of the business, but like super important and was on my way to New York two weeks after and was like dirt poor. Cause I only could afford money for lodging.

And like found four side jobs on Craigslist. I was like a babysitter, petsitter, I was working at bars. I was promoting at clubs. Had no idea what I was doing. Didn’t know anybody, but just like again, making it work, like taking it one step at a time and just like finding opportunities where nobody else thinks to look for them.

ILV: One question I have for you is as, maybe it’s more prevalent among immigrants or I don’t know, but imposter syndrome is so real. And I was wondering like when you got the, when you came up with the idea for “Earn It!” how were you able to kind of like overcome that inner voice inner imposter voice is saying like, can I really tell people how to do this?

Daniela: So the short answer is that you hear that voice and then you do it anyways.

Like that’s the whole way to deal with the imposter syndrome in, in very short in a fairly short way, but you know, it was, it wasn’t like, I, I, and the thing is as. As like immigrants as like chameleons in our environment, we’re really good at reading people. And I think that, although one of my downfalls was like losing my identity a little bit, because I was like constantly trying to fit into rooms or to constantly feel like I belonged one of the assets in doing that was that I could read people really well and I could understand their wants and needs.

And I think for me, you know, it took two years of me working with Mika, who is my mentor and, you know, supporter in ways that I never thought or imagined possible. But, you know, it took two years of me just putting my head down and doing the work and like really understanding her communication style, what she, what she needed from people who report to her.

And so it’s like, how do you make yourself different or indispensable to somebody when you’re doing the same tasks as the person before you?

And so for me, it was really doing it with like an acute attention that you felt even. And like, it started out in the most menial ways. Like it literally started out with me getting her coffee perfect. And like, sitting outside of Starbucks, like 10 minutes before they opened every day while I was like managing and coordinating the show and just like banging on the door 10 minutes early, not that Starbucks person that they hated me.

But so that I could have like the steaming hot black coffee in my hand. So that the moment she walked into 30 Rock, I was like, following her up the elevator with the hot coffee in hand, like, you know, stuff like that. Work-wise the turning point was when two years into my role, we were in South Carolina, taking the show on the road covering the presidential election and her chief of staff fell sick. And the first person she thought of was me.

So, and she had a she had a speaking event in Tennessee that day, the same day. So she had to go from South Carolina and Tennessee back to South Carolina that same day and needed somebody to travel with her. I went with her and this was like the first time we had a one-on-one together.

Cause usually she’s, you know, surrounded by people. Right. And so that was my time where I was like, okay, if I am going to pitch anything, if I’m going to like distinguish myself, it’s now or never, like, this is my moment. And that’s the other thing is like finding your timing. Like, for me, it was two years in to make my big pitch, but for somebody else could be a year, it could be, you know, three years.

It just really depends on like that specific relationship. But, I pitched to her on the plane ride together. I said, you know, I want to create my own platform called “Access.” I have no idea.

I just kind of like, this is like a very put together idea that I had thought about in the last couple of months and that I wanted, I wanted to kind of connect with on a different level. So that was really the first time that she started asking me about my background, because I said, you know, I wanted to create a platform called Access, to give opportunities for women to, to grow their value and to know how to grow it, who, you know, lived in, live in the middle of nowhere and don’t have professional mentors and don’t have.

You know, the know-how and, you know, that have grown up with without access to opportunities. And I said, it’s because that’s my story. That was my story. And that was the first time that she said, well, what is your story? Where are you from? Like, what’s, what’s your deal? And that was the first time, you know, I told her how I grew up.

I told her that I was undocumented. I told her about the summer in New York. I told her about, I got into the page program and she was like really quiet for a bit. And just like, ask me questions here and there. And then we like, didn’t talk about it. And then a couple months later, she calls me up on FaceTime and she’s like, I’ve been thinking like what you told me Access.

You’re going to get to that. But first why I want to write a book together. And, you know, we spent years working on “Earn It” together, interviewing amazing women and men who are like at the top of their fields, you know, including Sarah, Jessica Parker, Eva Longoria, Andre, Leon Talley, the CEO of Deloitte, and just like tons of other amazing people, but also, you know, telling my story and telling young women about the importance of, of how and how you approach, you know, new opportunities and how do you advocate yourself for yourself from day one? Because at the end of the day, it’s far beyond my story and that’s why I think I’m so passionate about talking about that because it literally dictates every asset of your life. But it only, it dependent on you on how you find that voice.

ILV: I love that. It’s such an empowering message. So what’s next for you?

Daniela: Well, it’s constantly moving. I think I know better than to plan out like really long-term and I think that’s the note through “Earn It” it even like I had no idea that so many stories would come out of the woodwork from other women who weave stories resonate or whose live resonated with mine.

Not only just because of the struggle, but because of their lesson to find themselves and opening up access to them opportunities. And I think. No, it’s because of those women that I have been able to create this platform called “Accesso” instead, instead of Access, I went back to my original roots and named it and Spanish with the same meaning, access with community.

And I have been diligently kind of piloting it so that it actually helps women dig deep into finding their voice in every facet of their professional career. So I’ve, I’ve kind of broken it down to three sort of key categories that we’ll really dig deep into. So whether it’s networking, whether it’s getting unstuck or whether it’s advocating on the job there are different women who fit these different profiles, but we really do thinking into finding.

Finding your voice and finding your advocating power and knowing that tactics on how to do it and connecting them with mentors along the way. So that has been really rewarding and something I hope to grow in the long-term. You know, right now I’m doing it myself. So who knows what the future looks like on that end?

And then, you know, working on my second book, the first solo book is out spring of 2020. And you know, my day job fitting in my day job in there, I love it.

ILV: And in the meantime, if our listeners want to connect with you and learn more about you, where can they go?

Daniela: Well, if they want to learn more about access to community, they can go to www.accessocommunity.com. And I always love to connect with people who have. You know, listened to the podcasts or read the book. I met @dpierrebravo on Instagram and Twitter

ILV: Well, Daniela, it’s been such an absolute pleasure having you on the show today. Thank you so much for your time.

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