Michael Aushenker is a staff writer for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
L.A.'s Top Morning Newswoman Shares Her Passion for Her Twin Heritage as a Jewish Latina
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and is reprinted with permission of the author.
LOS ANGELES, June 17--Even a casual viewer of KTLA's Morning News knows this much about co-anchor Giselle Fernandez: she's informed, attractive, and very proud of her Latina and Jewish culture.
Since she joined the breezy, ratings-leading Channel 5 newscast in October to replace founding co-anchor Barbara Beck, Fernandez--who helms the 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. editions with Carlos Amezcua--has felt at home on the multiethnic program. She has found a place on television where her ethnic beauty and her dual heritage are actually an asset.
"I just kibbitzed naturally," Fernandez told The Journal of the trial shows which snagged her the job over five other candidates. "They're very talented, goofy, real." For Fernandez, the program heralds a return to broadcast news after having left for a few years to create Latina-empowering Internet ventures and seminars.
"I hadn't done live TV in a while," Fernandez said, but added that she had no problem getting her news groove back.
If the high-profile program is a major comeback for Fernandez, it is perhaps a bigger coup for KTLA. The Emmy-winning newswoman--a seasoned veteran at just 40--brought with her two decades of on-air experience as an anchor, host, and correspondent. Her past career highlights include work on NBC (Today, Nightly News), CBS (Face the Nation, CBS Evening News, 48 Hours), "Access Hollywood," The History Channel, and anchoring and stringing gigs for local news stations in Miami, Chicago and Santa Barbara. Fernandez has gleaned valuable experience covering the Gulf and Bosnian Wars, the 1993 World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, and a rare English-broadcast interview with Fidel Castro. Not that she ever anticipated any of this.
"You know the old adage, 'Life is what happens after you've made your plans,'" Fernandez asked rhetorically. "Nothing has turned out how I planned."
Fernandez grew up in Los Angeles and Mexico City. Her father was a flamenco dancer from Mexico when he met her mother, an Ashkenazi Angeleno. Fernandez, who was born part-Catholic, practices Judaism.
"I've always felt so at home with Jews," she says. "I felt comfortable with their commitment to family, food."
A turning point in Fernandez's life came in 1991, during a month-long assignment in Israel. From her taxi drive from Ben Gurion Airport, it was Judaism by fire. As Iraqi SCUDs rained down on Tel Aviv, Fernandez watched her Yemenite driver abandon their cab. A citizen gave her a gas mask, and she hid under a bench during the attack.
The assignment not only won Fernandez an Emmy, it developed her connection with her Jewish side. Upon her return to the States, she began studying intensely with Rabbi Howard Bald. Fernandez found the experience "active and cerebral and engaging and exciting. It taught me how to think in a different way. I consider it some of the greatest study I've undertaken, in the greatest way. It was not just memorizing. I know more about halachic law than most Orthodox Jewry."
Fernandez, who spent Passover with Moroccan Jews from Spain reading the haggadah in Hebrew and Ladino, said that she prizes her Jewish Latino friends of Mexican and Argentinian descent, as well as the good friends she made while in Israel.
"I can discuss a tomato with them and it will be fascinating conversation," Fernandez said. "I feel way at home culturally with my friends in Tel Aviv." "She's really raised the bar with that type of breadth of experience," says KTLA News Director Jeff Wald. "She has been to most of the places she's talked about and brings with her that insider knowledge. She's also brought more male viewers into the tent. They find her appealing."
So which type of male does Fernandez find most appealing? The vivacious Latina, who has alluded to her single status on the air, told The Journal that she is still looking for Mr. Right. But the majority of guys out there who would love to wake up next to Giselle every morning can turn on their bedroom TV sets--Fernandez will not settle for anything less than her ideal.
I want a man who can add to my experience," she said, "and has a sense of life and adventure, an intellect. Someone who can spice up my life. I know I can spice up his."
If KTLA's Morning News has brought any spice to its medium, it is news mixed with personality, spontaneity, honesty, self-deprecating humor, and ethnic diversity--all of which Fernandez's colleagues say describe the newswoman herself.
"She's an informed anchor, and totally unafraid to be Jewish on the air," Brandwynne said. "There was a time when it wasn't such a hot idea to admit that you were Jewish. We've come to another place."
"I love our history, our perseverance, our individuality and devotion to family," Fernandez said. "I'm very proud of the Jewish people and its contributions to society and world culture."
A language, also known as Judaeo-Spanish or Judezmo, once widely used by Sephardic communities, but now close to extinction. It is influenced by Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and Turkish. It is comparable to the language of many Ashkenazi communities, Yiddish. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.