SARALEGUI - A
By Gregory Von Dare
most of the Latin world, just say Cristina and you've identified
her. For those who don't speak Spanish, Cristina Saralegui
may still be a hidden treasure, but that won't last for long.
The dynamic Latina entrepreneur, producer, journalist, and
broadcaster continues to expand her audience and horizons.
First of all, she is a powerhouse of vibrant energy, full
of robust Caribbean charm. To watch her long-running self-titled
TV show is to be exhausted after 15 minutes. How does she
do it? Her smile is charming and mature, her body solid, ready
to withstand the hurricanes of her chosen profession. She's
pretty and has a smoky Hispanic accent that never interferes
with her perfect colloquial English. Her laugh is rich, mellow,
Every day, millions of viewers expect Cristina to make them
smile and make them think. They are rarely disappointed. Each
month, the readers of her magazine look for common sense and
a dash of charm. They find it. ROAD & TRAVEL Magazine
spoke to this beguiling and extraordinary woman to gain a
better understanding of her life and views.
Born in Cuba near the half-century mark, Cristina is a success
in as many media as you care to count. She is the granddaughter
of an important publisher in Cuba, and like most members of
her family, she became a reporter when she was quite young.
Surprisingly, Cristina's first language was English; she learned
Spanish later. She has written for newspapers, magazines and
other print media. She hosts and produces her hit TV show,
her autobiography (My Life as a Blonde) has recently gone
into print, she has a long-running radio program ("Christina
Opina"), and she has just launched a popular web site (www.cristinaonline.com)
in addition to her successful magazine.
Cristina's career is a story of continued success, challenges
met, and increasing visibility. But she is not an ambitious
woman in the usual sense, out of touch with those working
and living in less glamorous surroundings. She is deeply involved
in women's issues and Latin causes and is recognized as a
major supporter of both. But she also spends a large amount
of time working for AIDS charities and was a spokesperson
for Ford Motor Company in a sweeping breast cancer awareness
Despite all the triumphs, first and foremost she thinks of
herself as a journalist. "I feel like I'm a communicator,"
she said. "I remember that when I signed my original Univision
contract, what shocked me was the word 'talent.' They used
the word 'talent' to describe me, you know? In television,
it meant somebody who sat down and did whatever they were
told. They were not allowed to have an opinion. They were
a piece of furniture. So I was very shocked to find that out.
I took out the word 'talent' from the entire contract and
put 'journalist' in there."
Feisty, yes she is, especially in the sense that one has opinions
of value and acts on them. Unlike many modern celebrities,
Cristina is deeply involved in the lives and lifestyles of
her audience, her "people." She clearly likes to think of
herself as making a difference.
"It doesn't matter what your medium is as long as your message
is the same," she said. "And what I've been battling all my
life since I was 17, and now I'm 50, is a message of self-empowerment
for what I call 'my people.' I happen to be a Cuban-American,
but my people are Latinos from every country of origin who
live in the U.S. and outside."
Her identification with the expanding Latino audience comes
at a pivotal moment in history. Every projection shows that
people of Latin heritage will be the leading minority, if
not the majority population in the United States, some time
in the next century, sooner rather than later. Cristina sees
this huge constituency, this vast audience, as a trust rather
than a pawn.
the United States, the Latinos are turning into
the biggest minority, but what does that mean? What they call
the 'browning of America' is very good because it means that
all of us communities like in the urban centers, we're all
together. What I see is, for example, we do not run around
Cuban with Cuban, or Mexican with Mexican, or Italian with
Italian, like when our parents came over. Everybody's together," she said.
"But it is incredible how Latinos have grown as a market.
Even though I like to say that we are not a market, we are
still a people," she continues. "But it seems like
everybody's trying to sell us something? It's become hot because
of the numbers. But Latinos have been here all along, and
we're just neighbors."
all in this together." Cristina says this several times in
a half-hour conversation. And it's not just lip service. "What
have I accomplished with my communications — my show, my magazine?"
she asks out loud. "We're all parents and we have the same
problems. So I try to appeal to that common denominator, and
at the same time I try to inform. I talk about a lot of gay
issues; how to help the Hispanic kids not commit suicide.
What I try to do is play down the differences and portray
us as what we are — which is that everyone is in this together."
Another one of Cristina's causes is breast cancer awareness
and prevention. For her, this is a women's issue but also
one that touches on her Hispanic roots.
"Latino women are so traditional," she said. "You're taking
a bath, you're like a nun. You don't look at your body. You
make love with the lights turned out! So we tell them you
do look at your body, your breasts. You find out if there's
a lump or a problem. Then you go to your doctor. So whenever
I can go public with something like that, I'm very proud to
Cristina is clearly a socially involved woman, she is equally
unafraid to take a controversial stance on political issues,
think that anybody who comes to the United States, for example,
and doesn't learn English is suicidal," she said forcefully.
"I think that not only are they killing all their opportunities
for advancement, but they're killing all their kids' opportunities.
I also think that if you come to the United States and you
allow your kids to forget their roots, and you allow your
kids to forget their Spanish, you are also doing them a disservice."
From there, global politics is only a short step away. Cristina
understands that her beloved birthplace, Cuba, is still the
center of intense debate in the United States. But it may
not always be so. Again, she has a viewpoint that is reasonable
and intelligent, even if many people would strongly disagree
Measuring her words, Cristina says, "Castro is getting on.
He's been a very wily man. I think that once he dies, the
legend of the revolution that he created — that is based on
an illusion — will be over. And then everybody is going to
see the harsh reality of a country that is caught in a time
warp. When you go to Cuba, it looks like 1950. Little by little,
I think the country will go back to an economy that is based
on dollars. If you go to Cuba now and you don't have dollars,
you can't buy asthma medicine for your five-year-old. If you
are a Cuban, you're not allowed to go to the beautiful hotels
and the beaches, unless you go with a foreigner.
"I think Castro was such a charismatic person that once he
passes, the reality is going to slap everybody in the face
about what's been going on there for 30 years. Americans love
to go to Cuba; we're close by. And I will go too, but I will
not move! For me it would be like a second exile. When I was
brought to this country, I was a little girl. And I just want
my kids to be solid. This is their country; they were born
here. So I will help rebuild my old country, but I want to
be buried in Miami."
While we're on the subject of politics, I ask if the United States
can elect a woman president. She laughs uproariously. "This
country is a lot more machismo than all of the Latin American
counties put together," she said. "They just don't realize
it. And you can have a Margaret Thatcher or a Violetta Chamorro,
even Eva Duarte Peron, but in this country, I just don't know.
A woman vice president, sure. A token, why not? Maybe a Hispanic,
maybe a black? A black Hispanic woman! You can kill all birds
with one stone. Vote for her? Hell yeah!"
Like many successful women, Cristina has chosen her car carefully,
yet her choice was one of the heart as well as the head.
"I've had a white Jaguar," she tells us, "this is my fourth
in a row. The same car. My mother said, 'Weren't you going
to change the car?' and I said, "I just did." So obviously
that's my favorite car. I love it. I just do not thirst for
anything else. In the beginning, many moons ago, they had
an electrical problem, but they don't now. My car never breaks
down. My daughter has a Ford Explorer, and my husband has
Talking about her car gets Cristina thinking.
"It takes a big-hearted company to help in the manner that
Ford is helping," she said. "And let's face it: nobody does
it because they have to. If you do it, it's because you want
to. It always feels good to hook up with companies that you
see pouring money back into the communities."
Typically, her future is planned and organized, with many
"The internet has been incredible. Everybody just wants to
talk, so they hook in and they tell me their life stories.
That's a completely new world we're embarking on."
Journalist, entertainer, social reformer, wife, caring mother
of three, and one of the Latin world's leading celebrities,
Cristina is also a dreamer, a visionary of a better world
to come. She says softly, "My dream is to see the Latinos
and the blacks and all the minorities join hands with the
Anglo Saxon Protestant Americans. In other words, instead
of everybody dividing and creating more conflict of interest
so you see more warfare and bloodshed in the cities, we all
have to join hands. Or we're just gonna kill each other."