Born in Miramar, Cuba, in 1948, journalist, broadcaster, and entrepreneur Cristina Saralegui, whose family later moved to Miami, is the most famous talk-show host of all time on Spanish-language TV in the United States.
Cristina Saralegui during her show at the Beacon Theatre, New York City, March 31, 1992. Photo by José Oquendo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Her own background, recounted in detail in her autobiography Cristina! My Life as a Blonde, is a fascinating example of how preserving a Basque sense of identity was crucial to her family. Her grandfather, Francisco Saralegui Arrizubieta from Lizartza, Gipuzkoa, originally went to the Americas at age seven with virtually nothing to his name. Eventually, he became the foremost entrepreneur in the paper industry in Cuba, earning the nickname “the Paper Czar.” With the money he earned, he was determined his own children should not forget their roots and besides a mansion in Miramar, outside Havana, he also set up home in Donostia-San Sebastián for his family. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the family was left stranded in the Basque Country. Francisco, who was in Cuba at the time, could not return because he was a Basque nationalist, and he had to arrange for them to be smuggled out of the country.
Eventually, the family business in Cuba expanded to include broader publishing interests, and Cristina’s father, Bebo Saralegui, was also involved in running the firm. Following the Cuban Revolution, the family–made up of her mother, Terina Santamarina, as well as younger siblings Vicky, Patxi, and María Eugenia–relocated to Key Biscayne, Florida, where her youngest brother, Iñaki, would later be born. Cristina went on to study journalism at the University of Miami and enjoyed a successful career in print journalism, becoming editor of the Spanish-language version of Cosmopolitan magazine in 1979. In 1989 she launched El Show de Cristina (The Cristina Show) on the Univisión channel, which enjoyed an unprecedented run until its final broadcast in 2010.
She has won 12 Emmys and is also a successful entrepreneur, running both lifestyle brand Casa Cristina and media company Cristina Saralegui Enterprises. In August 2005, she was named one of the “25 Most Influential Hispanics in America” by Time Magazine and in October of the same year, she became the first Latina to be inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. She has received the Valor Award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in recognition of her pioneering efforts in educating her viewers on gay and lesbian issues as well as AIDS awareness and education; the ADCOLOR Award’s All-Star Honoree celebrating outstanding achievements by diverse professionals in advertising, marketing, and media; as well as the Raúl Julía Award of Excellence by The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. Together with husband Marcos Ávila (a former member of the band the Miami Sound Machine) she also established the Arriba la Vida/Up with Life Foundation in 1996 to educate the Hispanic community in the US about AIDS prevention.
Cristina Saralegui has never hidden her Basque heritage. In her own words (from Cristina! My Life as a Blonde), “if we Cubans are supernationalistic even though we have been a nation only since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Basques have had that characteristic for a thousand years. I am not a direct product of the tropics… My family is only second-generation Cuban. In fact, we are Basques on all four sides.” She continues: “To be Basque is to be argumentative, complex, unique … Theirs is a reverse society in which the men also cook, the women are stubborn and hard as stone, and everyone survives through obstinacy and pure tenacity.” And for her, Basques are “half savage, half saint–a truly wondrous people.”
Find out more about Cristina Saralegui here.