Written By Zennie Trieu
On a brisk Saturday, Meranda Yslas and I take a stroll through the East Village shortly before the early autumn sunset. We discuss the up-in-the-air future of independent media, her current role as a video journalist at an exciting company with an electrifyingly diverse and youthful staff, and the drive to uncover the necessary—yet often painful—truths of individuals via narrative storytelling, an ambition that often goes head-to-head with the simultaneously occurring desire to stay sane and focused in the age of ceaselessly disheartening headlines and the baffling yet pervasive lack of concern from certain people in our lives.
Our November afternoon promenade features dogs of all shapes and sizes and energy levels, flowers of the most magnificent magenta shades and brilliant purple hues, and an underlying yet unexpected sense of optimism in Meranda’s realistic idealism.
“Wow. Beautiful.” Meranda is referring to an adorable puppy that passes by as we sit on a bench in Tompkins Square Park. Just ten minutes prior, she had pointed to a tree branch populated with leaves of the most vivid tint of yellow. “Amazing,” she had remarked in awe, though remaining completely self-aware of her propensity to find such immense delight in what some of us sometimes take for granted while we’re rushing to the subway station or hurrying to get back home. When we walk westward as the sun is setting, Meranda takes a few moments to just stop and stare. “It’s such a nice afternoon, dude.” I nod in agreement.
Despite her wide-eyed and easily impressed demeanor, this afternoon is, in fact, not Meranda’s first time ever in public. I know this because, during this past summer, I had worked a couple of shifts with her at the front desk of a boutique fitness studio in downtown Manhattan. In late September, Meranda left this part time job for a full time career as a video journalist and editor at INSIDER, a site “about all the adventures life has to offer.”
Launched just a few years ago while Meranda was pursuing her undergraduate degree at NYU’s School of Journalism, INSIDER is the latest standalone website from the international online newspaper Business Insider. If you enjoy posts from sites like Thrillist and Eater, you’ll be a fan of Meranda’s work from these past three months. Her collaborative video topics have ranged from watercolor tattoos to the detailed manufacturing of baseballs, from the success of horror films in 2017 to luxurious hammocks specially designed for cats.
Most delightfully for someone like me who’s permanently on carpe diem mode, a number of the videos that Meranda’s team has worked on are dedicated to the latest food trends and the most low-key gastronomical finds. Thanks to Meranda and her coworkers, my food-and-drink bucket list now includes a Long Island surf ‘n’ turf burger and a free, 24/7 wine fountain in Italy (after I, of course, eventually complete the 196-mile Cammino di San Tommaso pilgrimage from Rome to a local winery in Ortona).
When Meranda first talked to me about her position at a relatively new, up-and-coming brand, she had gushed over the team. “The staff is very diverse. There are young people who are just starting out with a bit of experience but are ready to work, like me. And I’m surrounded by women. Hispanic women, especially! It’s really refreshing.”
I ask her if she finds what she does at INSIDER to be fulfilling. She considers this and offers the utmost candor with a critical eye: “Well, I’m just starting out. And it’s not like a video about customized mac ‘n’ cheese is going to change anyone’s life or seriously impact the world. Food videos aren’t my end-goal, but for now, it’s fun and it’s the kind of stuff we do want to see, especially if we’re young and living in the city.” Does she consider this kind of work to be a necessary first step in her artistic journey to eventually dive into more crucial and in-depth journalism later on? “Definitely.”
We watch glorious dogs freely frolicking, proudly barking, and rambunctiously chasing each other in the park’s designated playing space as Meranda considers her professional plans for the future. I ask her about the kind of work that inspires her, lights her fire, and pushes her to become a more prolific writer, reader, and artist. “I like documentaries, but more so the ones about people. I’m not as into documentaries about things. They’re just too much to really take in. But when the stories are focused on individual persons or groups of people, it’s more accessible, and much easier to take in. And it means more to me—matters more to me—when a documentary film has a story where I can learn about different people, especially if they’re usually underrepresented in society or in media. Giving them a voice is the kind of work I’d love to ultimately be a part of.”
As much as she loves her fellow New Yorkers, Meranda’s very much interested in people from all over the country and from around the world. Her cosmopolitan ambition to explore such an eclectic array of topics is evident in some of her and her colleagues’ subject matters for their INSIDER videos, such as a dessert parlor in Miami, live seafood cuisine served in South Korea’s largest market, naturally-occurring thermal pools in Turkey, and a 338-foot surging waterfall in Zambia.
However, the INSIDER video Meranda’s most thrilled to have created (in which she and her frequent collaborator Nick Fernandez both make special guest appearances!) is focused on M. Tony Peralta, a NYC-based, Dominican-American, Warhol-inspired artist and graphic designer who creates Latino pop art on apparel, canvases, and screen prints on paper. His fresh, fun, and fearless artwork celebrates both Latinx heritage and New Yorker pride.
Meranda tells me that it wasn’t until she moved to New York City for college four years ago did she start to feel a sense of pride in her Mexican-American roots. She’s from Arizona, a state I often associate with strip malls and extremely dry, hot weather. I sheepishly confess this to her, and she kindly confirms my assumption.
She asks me from where I got this image of her home state. I tell her that during my sophomore year at NYU, in a class called “Theatre and Religion” (she lights up with further interest and excitement), I read a play by Chicana feminist activist and writer Cherríe Moraga (again, curiosity radiates from my interviewee) called The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea (she makes a note about it on her phone) that’s set in a post-apocalyptic Phoenix. (It is a dramatic work I strongly recommend to both Meranda and to the reader.)
I ask Meranda if she liked her hometown. “Only way after I moved away. The more time passes and the more I travel, the more I appreciate how and where I grew up. And then I get more stoked about where things are headed.”
During the semester she spent studying abroad and working on her thesis in Argentina, Meranda wrote about a local publication created for and by trans Latinx women. While the style of this magazine was similar to that of Teen Vogue and Tiger Beat, the pages actually—and strategically—included vital information for their (often adolescent) readers, such as tips on how to practice safe sex. I then ask about her thoughts on the ongoing—and increasingly alarming—threat to independent media (even in a wealthy and liberal metropolis like New York!) and refer specifically to the news from earlier this month about the sudden shutdown of Gothamist and DNAinfo, two of the city’s most beloved local news websites.
While we both find the abrupt erasure of these sites’ archives to be especially cruel (she reminds me that we still, at the very least, have The Wayback Machine—although I vehemently urge everyone reading this to keep records of all your articles and blog posts), Meranda does carry some hope for researchers, journalists, writers, and editors. “Even with countries in more dire political turmoil, there’s always going to be an underground movement. And as much as those overly paranoid regimes may try, that kind of resistance from the people will always spread. We’ll always spring back. There are always going to be people who refuse to be silenced.”
One of the many admirable things about getting to know Meranda is that, while she’s clearly bright-eyed and optimistic, she’s certainly not naïve or unaware—and she’s transparent about it. She feels guilt (for her privilege, for her education, for her opportunities in life, and even for sometimes succumbing to eating eggs or chicken, because it’s stressfully difficult to financially support a completely vegan lifestyle both here and in Argentina) just as much as she feels immense gratitude (for… you know, just about everything in her life).
Most reassuringly, Meranda doesn’t seem like the kind of person to give up her idiosyncratic determination, and it’s unlikely she’ll fall into that dreaded, perpetual “whatever” attitude—especially during this current era of irrational madness, social and political unrest, and mass skepticism—that so often prompts people to convince themselves that “there’s nothing little ol’ me can do about it, anyway. Time for Netflix!”
In public and on the streets, Meranda’s poker face is a great—and, at least for me, quite enviable—survival skill. However, she tells me that, “I might look like that on the outside. But inside, I’m about to fall apart. There’s always some kind of struggle or conflict. A good day is awesome, but there are people out there who have never had this much. A bad day isn’t ideal, but… I don’t know. I guess I don’t really have that many actually bad days, to be honest.”
As we walk towards Union Square to part ways, I think of how Meranda captivates what it means to be a selfless artist. Her work is very rarely all about her. Sometimes, her projects have literally nothing to do with her as a person and has everything to do with the other person, group, place, or thing in focus. Meranda knows that it’s always her utmost priority to value herself as a human being worthy of being heard—but, as a working artist, sometimes the only thing that’s asked of her is to simply listen.