Luisana Pérez embodies an accelerated version of the American dream: in 10 years she went from a 24-year-old Venezuelan immigrant who had just landed in Miami working in whatever job she could find — with a visa thanks to her Venezuelan-American husband — to becoming a U.S. citizen and director of Hispanic Media at the White House. During an interview a few days ago at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, the spokeswoman reflected on her arrival in the United States, her team’s daily work countering disinformation and the work of the entire administration against attacks on democracy.
Question. You claim that you came from Venezuela to the U.S. seeking democracy. What did you think on a day as significant as the assault on the Capitol?
Answer. I didn’t believe it at first. All of a sudden you say, “No, this is not happening here in the United States.” It was worrying. It is one of the reasons that drives me to continue in this work, doing what I do. As a nation, the last thing we want to happen is for democracy to be lost. We try to protect it every day. This has also been one of the president’s causes.
Q. You emigrated to the United States in 2011 and in 10 years you got to the White House. How was that journey?
A. It was long. I came to the United States like any other immigrant. I did jobs that had nothing to do with my career. I was a nanny, I was the manager of an office that distributed meats to restaurants in Miami. I worked at the Dolphin Mall [a shopping mall]. I was a little desperate because they were not the jobs I was looking for and I started volunteering with pro-immigrant organizations. And there I made a connection with a state representative. At that time, I was looking for someone [in politics] and that’s where I started my political career.
Q. Have you noticed any changes in society’s attitude towards immigrants?
A. The United States is a country that knows very well what immigrants bring. There are parts of society that have become radicalized and try to discriminate against migrants, try to use them as an excuse to generate a certain kind of rhetoric. I had the opportunity to be where I am, and the community I mix with has given me that boost and helped me. And I hope that this is also what immigrants receive.
Q. Your story seems like the embodiment of the so-called American dream, but for many people the immigration process can be nightmarish. What do you feel when you see the images at the border?
A. It is not easy, because you understand that people are coming to look for an opportunity. The administration wants to have an immigration system that is legal, fair, and, above all, that is humane.
P. Biden promised to fix the immigration problem and regularize millions of undocumented immigrants. That has not happened.
A. From his first day in office, he sent a bill to Congress to solve the immigration problem. He has taken alternative executive actions that have attempted to alleviate the situation somewhat. The president remains committed, but Congress must act.
Q. You are dedicated to political communication in an era of fake news and disinformation. How does the White House approach these issues?
A. We monitor the media very closely; we also monitor social networks, which is mainly where we see disinformation. I do a lot of interviews on a daily basis and not only myself, but also others in the administration. We are in constant communication with reporters, so that the real information is there. We are always telling people that it is very important to look for official sources and also to speak to the community in their language. With Spanish-language media we send information in Spanish. We try to always be on top of things when something happens.
Q. How are you facing the challenge of artificial intelligence, which is developing rapidly?
A. The president met with business leaders who are also concerned about artificial intelligence. We are well aware of the scope it has and we are on top of it to see what is the best way to ensure that, firstly, it respects privacy and, secondly, that the information being given is truthful.
Q. When a part of society, such as large sectors of Trump supporters, believe in alternative facts that are contrary to reality, what can be done?
A. The main thing for us is to work with all media. We are not going to control what one medium or another says. Our idea is to always have transparent and truthful information so that it can be accessed.
Q. How much weight does Latin America carry in the Biden administration? The perception is that he has not bet as much on the region as Obama did.
A. We have just had a meeting with the President of Uruguay. We had the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last year. The region is very important for the president; not only now, but also when he was vice president, and it will continue to be so. For him, the well-being of his neighbors in Latin America is synonymous with U.S. well-being. In recent years he has received the presidents of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
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