By Ale Russian
March 30, 2017 05:11 PM
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Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty

Beauty influencer Mariale Marrero didn’t think much about the making if her first YouTube video — she really just wanted something to help her get over her fear of public speaking.

“It was terrible — anytime I was with a group of friends and people would shut up and listen to me, I would get nervous,” she tells PEOPLE. “I was like, ‘Maybe this will help me.’

The 26-year-old also decided to jump in front of the camera because she realized that all the beauty channels she so avidly followed didn’t feature products she could actually find in Venezuela.

She was an instant hit. “I remember I filmed at like 3 in the morning and everything was so improvised,” she says. “The response I got was really interesting cause I didn’t expect that many people to find my video.”

As her audience grew as she regularly posted videos about makeup, beauty and style, her followers soon started inquiring about her life. So she decided to create a personal channel where her viewers could follow along her life as she navigated her studies and her relationship with her now-husband Luis Valera, whom everyone calls Gordo.

What her viewers didn’t see was Marrero struggling through the emotional toll of her dad having cancer. Since he was the only one who worked in her family, Marrero says money was always really tight in her household and it was a stressful situation — though people watching her videos would never have guessed.

“It was hard for me to be at home so I was like, ‘I’m going to focus on my filming,’ ” she says. “He passed a little before I moved here and people didn’t even know because I was so keen on it being a positive space. I feel like people watch me because they want to get away from the problems, not because they want to hear about mine.”

Shortly after her father’s death, Marrero and Valera decided to move to the United States in order to escape a life where she “didn’t feel like I had a future.” The two moved to Pittsburgh where Valera pursued his master’s degree in tech and Marrero was able to focus on her YouTube channels. Once there, she decided to venture into the English market to practice her English. As her popularity grew, more and more brands wanted to work with Marrero and her unique brand and multi-cultural followers.

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“I feel like I have such a big responsibility because I’m kind of paving the way for anybody that wants to jump from one language to the other,” Marrero says. “There are so many people like me who are bilingual and identify themselves as Latin, but they also live here so they’re a part of both cultures.”

Marrero’s audience has now grown to over 10 million followers across her three channels and other social media platforms. The influencer has also partnered up with brands like L’Oreal and traveled to cover both the New York and Paris Fashion weeks with them. But although she’s achieved success in her field, Marrero, who now lives in Los Angeles, says she feels the pressure of being one of a kind. “I feel really lucky because a lot of people have supported me, but it’s definitely harder when you’re the first person to do something,” she says.

For more on American Voices and diverse stories, go to time.com/americanvoices.