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Journalist and Lawyer Sunny Hostin on Identity, Achievement and Passion

Barrier-breaking Afro-Latina talks about dreaming big and making it

Television host and executive producer Sunny Hostin takes part on a panel for the Investigation Discovery show "Truth About Murder with Sunny Hostin."
REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Today, millions of viewers know lawyer, journalist and television host Sunny Hostin from ABC's The View, where she began as a cohost in 2016. Before arriving at the talk show, the three-time Emmy winner was a host and legal analyst at CNN, a fill-in coanchor for ABC News programs and a regular guest on the Fox News Channel. But Hostin's path to a successful TV career was often marked by an evolving sense of her own mixed-race identity as she confronted prejudice.

"What has always been difficult for me to understand is why there is so little room for people to fully embrace someone like me, someone with more than one cultural identity,” she writes in her 2020 debut book, I Am These Truths: A Memoir of Identity, Justice, and Living Between Worlds. Born to a Puerto Rican mother and an African American father, Hostin was raised by her teenage parents in the housing projects in the Bronx, New York. Hostin, 52, went on to graduate from Notre Dame's law school and become a federal prosecutor, a legal consultant on several TV programs and eventually a host at The View, an experience, Hostin shares below, that still strikes her as “fascinating” and “surreal.”

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In this edited interview — originally posted on Facebook as part of the video series Real Conversations With AARP — Hostin discusses her heritage, tells how she came to change her name, and offers advice for other Afro-Latinas.

On her multicultural heritage

My grandmother, my mother's mother, was born in Puerto Rico. She is what we in Puerto Rico call a Taíno, she was a native there, indigenous to Puerto Rico, so sort of an Indian Puerto Rican. My mother's father is a Sephardic Jew, so Jewish but from Spain. And then my father is African American. So I am definitely multiracial.

Sunny Hostin on her Afro-Latin Identity

The evolution of identity

Growing up, I was just a person who was Black. That is what I identified with in many ways because that is how I was seen. Now I'm able to identify all parts of me, but growing up in the ‘70s, that just wasn't something that I think people understood or acknowledged. It was almost that one-drop rule: You are Black. Now I think we have language for being multiethnic, biracial, Latin, Afro-Latina. There is so much language around it as we have evolved as a country and as a society, but certainly my 5-year-old self in kindergarten did not have the language. It just did not really exist then.

A winding career path

I had a journalism degree undergrad and I always wanted to write stories and tell stories. This was before Oprah and, on a national scale, we just didn't have real representation. When I told my parents, especially my mother, that I wanted to be on television and tell people's stories, she saw it as acting. She said, “You want to be an actress? As smart as you are? We have all these dreams for you. There's nobody on TV that looks like you. What are you talking about?” In her mind, it was medicine or law. Those were the things that were safe, that provide a real life, a real future. I just kind of put the dream away, put that degree away and got another degree [law], but I always had that burning passion to tell stories.

As a lawyer, I was at a bar association event and I raised my hand and started asking questions, and a producer from Court TV just came up to me and said, “You know, you should be on television.” I was on television maybe a couple of weeks later, and I never stopped. I was 38.

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On breaking barriers in her profession

I was often told, “You don't look like someone that can be a national anchor. You don't really fit the bill.” Ultimately, I realize now that people want to know what you are in order to decide who you are, to determine how they should treat you, to determine which spaces you're allowed in, and I definitely confronted that. For me, it was extremely difficult. I oftentimes was passed over for various opportunities because I think I didn't look the part.

It is still kind of a pinch-me moment when I'm reporting or I'm doing something for Nightline. It's still kind of fascinating and surreal that I sit at the table where Barbara Walters was every day on The View.

What her name change signifies

My real name is Asunción Hostin. I was convinced to change my name to Sunny because it was more Americanized, you can pronounce it, you can remember it. It was hard because I am named after my grandmother's sister, a name I am very proud of, actually. My family didn't call me Sunny; they still do not call me Sunny. It's like a stage name, really. My grandmother just couldn't understand. She was like, “Are you not proud of your culture? Are you not proud of your identity or where you came from?” It's like, no, it's not that. I think my family in one sense felt like I was trying to cut that off. I can understand how that would feel. You know, you should be very proud of where you come from.

Advice for other Afro-Latinas?

I would say that you may have this dream that you are kind of keeping to yourself. Or you may have told people and they have been dismissive, they tell you it's not possible. All of that is OK because the dream was not meant for them, the dream was only meant for you. So, you take that dream and that passion, and you make it happen for yourself in whichever way is most comfortable because you aren't truly living unless you fulfill that.

Words of wisdom for a younger self

I would say to a young Sunny: You are in for such an incredible ride. Follow your instincts; enjoy every moment; live in the moment. Something that my father told me recently and reminded me that he told me before is that no decision that you actively make and intentionally make after thought and consideration is a bad decision. It was the right decision that you made at the time and you have to forgive yourself for it.

Carlos J. Queirós contributed to this story.