You already know Sunny Hostin. Even if you don't know her by name, you've seen her as a talking head on CNN, or as a voice of reason on The View, where she serves as co-host. And if you've ever thought that articulating so many opinions on different topics must be exhausting, you'd be right. Hostin tells Latina to Latina host Alicia Menendez exactly how she does it in the second episode of Bustle's newest podcast.
"We get like, sixty hot topics the night before, and we have to read it and be well-versed in it," she explains of her daily grind on The View. "And by the time we get there in the morning — I usually get there around 8, between 7:30 and 8 — there are new topics on the list!"
It's important to Hostin that there be a Latina at The View's table, especially when it comes to politically fraught topics like immigration. But the fact that she also identifies as an African American has, somehow, sparked controversy. "I've been embraced by the black community, and then I've been considered not black enough," she tells Menendez. "I've been embraced by the Latino community, and then sometimes I'm not Latina enough!"
Hostin also tells Menendez about whether she thinks she'll run for office, why she doesn't go by her real name, and the one Twitter insult that she felt she had to reply to. You can listen to the entire episode here.
Music fade in.
Alicia: Welcome to Latina to Latina, a Bustle podcast. I’m your host Alicia Menendez, a contributing editor at Bustle.
Clip of Sunny: My dad called me, and he said, "I just saw you on CNN, you looked devastated." I was like, "It's just so unfair." and he said, "You were great, but you're gonna lose your job. And the opposite happened. My career took off.
Alicia: That was Sunny Hostin, one of the co-hosts of The View. A former lawyer and a federal prosecutor, she broke into television as a legal analyst. So how did she do it? Why did she do it? And how does she stand up to the trolls every day? Sunny, you're gonna get so much time to talk today, you're not gonna know what to do with yourself.
Sunny: I was gonna say, I'm always interrupted on a daily basis. I can't believe I'm gonna be able to talk.
Alicia: I want you to finish thoughts. I want you to take a thought from the beginning to the end. You are now a cohost on The View. Was this the dream?
Sunny: It wasn't, actually. You know, I feel like I've had different dreams, and I think it's okay. I've finally given myself permission to be okay with the difference, the different dreams, rather. My dream was always to give voice to people that don't have a voice. So law school made so much sense to me and I loved being a federal prosecutor. It meant everything to me and that was always gonna be the dream. And then TV happened to me. So now I have a new dream.
Alicia: It happened to you, or you went out and pursued it?
Sunny: That's a great question, because people always ask me, "How did you get on The View?" I was very happy being a lawyer. I got pregnant with my first child and I wanted to be at home with him for a year. It's what I wanted to do. We moved from Washington to New York, and after about six or seven months, I think I drove everyone crazy. Being a stay-at-home mom is the hardest job in the freaking world. And I started going to little speaking engagements here and there. But they were all legal panels and it was about work-life balance and what we really are looking for, as women, to be fulfilled.
I spoke at a conference, and someone came up to me. And she said, "You should do television." I had a journalism degree, undergrad, and I said, "Well, from your lips to God's ears; I'm not gonna be plucked from obscurity." And she gave me a card and her name was Sabrina Thompson and she was a senior producer at Court TV.
She said, "Have you ever done television? Have you ever done anything like this?" I was like, "No, I haven't." "Do you have a headshot?" I was like, "I have nothing, I'm a stay-at-home mom who was a federal prosecutor and I'm just here trying to find my way." And she led me through the entire process. Within a week or two, I was on-air with Jack Ford. And it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I know a lot of people say being on television makes them crazy. They get so nervous. I felt on TV the same way I felt in the courtroom. When I first walked into a courtroom, I felt at home. When I walked onto the set to talk about the law, I felt at home. And at the end of that one, it was, I think, a two-hour show, Jack turned to me and said, "Sunny, thank you so much for being on, but this won't be the last we've heard of you." And that was 10 years ago, almost 11.
Alicia: It's part of what people don't understand about being on television, which is: It does take time. So you got a very lucky break at the beginning.
Sunny: Very lucky.
Alicia: But that journey from someone who's on TV unpaid, to do a quick hit, to where you are now, it's a 10-year journey.
Sunny: It's been a 10-year journey. It hasn't been an easy journey, either. Someone saw me, Bill O'Reilly saw me on Court TV, with Nancy Grace, actually. I started doing Nancy's show a lot and I'm so thankful to her, because she's guided me a lot in this industry. And I was on Fox News for a year, which a lot of people don't know. I worked with Bill O'Reilly. I was then seen by CNN, and CNN signed me to my first big deal. It took me, I guess then three years, maybe, to really make money doing it. And I will tell you it took me at least eight years to make the money I was making when I left my practice. So there's that as well, that people don't understand. They think you get paid a lot of money to be on television. And sure, some people do, but I did not for a while.
Sunny: I did it because I really liked it.
Alicia: Although I know about you... that you had the same tension about being on TV, that I have about being on TV. Which is, "Am I doing enough? Is this actually a public service, or is this a vanity project?"
Sunny: Yes. You know, a lot of people know, I grew up in the South Bronx in the projects.
Alicia: Teen parents.
Sunny: Teen parents. My goal was always to contribute to society somehow, because I got so many lucky breaks. I mean, I worked hard and I was skipped a grade, and I was always in the books. I went to high school at 12 and college at 16 and law school on full scholarship. So I've been given so much that I always wanted to give back, to my community in particular. I will say, it was really difficult not to go back to practicing law, because I always...
Alicia: You also did some of the most legit law...
Sunny: Yes, I did!
Sunny: I was prosecuting child sex offenders. There's nothing more gratifying than that. I mean, a lot of people burn out doing it, but it just energized me. When you can protect a five-year-old from being continuously molested by their father, you know you've done good work. You know you've changed the world. And I found myself night after night at CNN, like, "Am I really doing anything? I'm talking a lot and stuff, but am I really doing anything?"
And then I started covering the Trayvon Martin trial.
Alicia: That was, in many ways, a big turning point for you.
Sunny: It was the turning point, for sure. Because I started becoming almost a caricature of Soledad O'Brien, like, I started thinking, "Okay, she's successful."
Alicia: I love Soledad O'Brien. Yes. No, I did the same thing.
Sunny: Right? That's what you do.
Alicia: And you end up being a lousy impersonation of someone else.
Sunny: Because no one does you as well as you do. But I didn't know that, and I'm like, "Soledad is fierce." She's a friend of mine now, but I'm like, "She's fierce, she knows what she's doing, she's so successful. That's what a television reporter is. That's what an anchor, that's what a 'she-ro' looks like." And I even cut my hair like Soledad's; I started talking like her.
Alicia: Let's take a time out to say: That makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. But among those reasons is the fact that there are not a lot of people that look like you and Soledad on TV.
Sunny: Exactly. I'm like a Puerto Rican, African-American woman and she is a Blacktina as well. So I was like, this is what I need to do to be successful. Then, finally, I was sent to cover Trayvon's murder, or I should say death, because George Zimmerman wasn't found guilty. And I found my voice. It's really, it sounds cliché, but I was so shocked at the result. Because I had been in the courtroom day in and day out. I was almost embedded with the prosecutors at one point. And I saw the evidence very differently than the jury saw it, and I just expected a guilty verdict.
When it didn't happen, I was outraged. And I sort of took the Soledad hat off, and I put my Sunny hat on, which was former federal prosecutor who saw an injustice. I went off. "This is ridiculous!" My dad called me, and he said, "I just saw you on CNN, you looked devastated." I was like, "It's just so unfair." And he said, "You were great, but you're gonna lose your job. It's over for you, and just be prepared for that." And the opposite happened. My career took off, and it's because it was the first time I had been authentic on television, I think. Truly authentic.
Alicia: I hear so much about authenticity and I am striving to get to where you are. And I think part of what we don't talk about is that for women, for people of color, it is so hard to earn credibility.
Alicia: That, you know, it is risk and loss in a moment. That's what your dad was responding to, because that what's your dad knew. And your dad wants to make sure you're able to pay your bills.
Alicia: So whenever I'm told, "Be authentic," I want to make sure that the other person knows, okay but that's a gamble now that I'm taking.
Sunny: It's a gamble. I think people of color understand that you wear two ... You have two faces. There's a mask and then there's your face. So the mask is perhaps the Soledad mask. This is what's successful, this is what people have accepted. This is what I'm going to do to make it. And when you take that mask off and you show people your face, oftentimes it's a voice that hasn't been heard. It's a voice that's been suppressed, it's a voice people don't want to hear sometimes, more often than not. And if it isn't embraced by someone, you can lose credibility, you can lose your job. It was difficult for me. But I am so happy that my voice was embraced the way it was.
Alicia: I watch you do something very interesting on The View now, which is, I find you constantly have to situate yourself for viewers. By reminding people sometimes that you're black. And, sometimes, by reminding people that you're a Latina.
Alicia: Because people look at you ... how do most people process you in the world?
Sunny: Different ways, and that's been sort of my entire life. I've been embraced by the black community, and then I've been considered not black enough. I've been embraced by the Latino community, and then sometimes I'm not Latina enough.
Alicia: So did you ever think about dropping Sunny and going by your given name?
Sunny: I went by my given name at first.
Alicia: Can you just tell everybody your given name?
Sunny: My given name is Asuncion. Asuncion Providencia, actually.
Alicia: It's hard to debate the Latin merits.
Sunny: When your name is Asuncion. My family, they still call me that; my husband does as well. That's what I started with, and Nancy Grace... It was on my chyron, and Nancy says at the break, "Can I say something to you?" I said, "Yes." "Asuh-sun-soh, whatever your name is, no one can remember it, they can't pronounce it, it's hard." And she said, "What do other"... This is a true story. "What do other people call you?" And I said, "Well, in college some people called me Sunny." Literally, she was like, "Perfect. Change your chyron." And I became Sunny Hostin that day. Thanks, Nancy.
Alicia: You okay with that?
Sunny: You know, my grandmother was always so irritated about it. She passed away recently. My mother doesn't love it, but if it makes me more accessible, I'm cool with that. I think people that know me now know that my real name is Asuncion, that Spanish is my first language, and that I'm fluent. That I love being Puerto Rican and African American. There are people, though, it's so interesting, that have a problem with it. I got a tweet recently that said, "When Sunny has a Spanish guest or a topic about Latino issues, she speaks Latina. And when black people come on, she speaks black." Which I don't know what speaking Latina is, actually, and you know...
Alicia: You probably said their name correctly.
Sunny: Exactly. And the Twitter guy says something like, "She's confusing all of us and she's a freak." I generally don't respond to stuff like that, but I responded, "I'm half black and half Puerto Rican. Should I somehow leave behind half of my culture and half of my heritage, to make you more comfortable?"
And it's a space that I think a lot of biracial people live in, because it's gray. You're not black, you're not white, you're gray. And people need to fit you in a box. I refuse to do that. Denying that I'm Latina means, what, I don't have a mother? In Puerto Rico, that's a saying, because you take your mother's last name as well. And if you don't have your mother's last name in your name, they say, "What, you don't have a mother?" That's how I've always felt. If I'm not black and if I don't say I'm black, then what, I don't have a father?
That has been an interesting challenge in my career, because I know ... When I was first auditioning for The View, they felt like, "Well, are you black or are you Latina?" I said, "I'm both." "Okay, well, the viewers may not understand that." I'm like, "I'm gonna make them understand that." And I think people get it now.
Alicia: Yeah. It's the benefit of sitting at that table day after day.
Sunny: Yeah, people get it now.
Alicia: And processing things. Especially because so much of what we're talking about right now is immigration.
Alicia: I think it's critical that there is a Latina at the table, even though this is an issue that expands beyond our community into a number of communities, including the fact that there are black immigrants, which is something we often don't talk about.
Sunny: But it's important.
Alicia: What's your take on this moment that we're in?
Sunny: I think what is happening is very un-American. I feel that to my core. My grandmother came from Puerto Rico and, of course, Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, it's a commonwealth. I find it so un-American, when people say, "We need to not accept people from certain nations. Make America great again." Since I thought America has always been this bastion for people and has always been great. So I feel like if people know the history of the country, if they really understand the history of the country, they understand how important immigration reform is. Rather than what we're seeing. This weird nativism where people are closing their doors and wrapping themselves in the flag and saying ... And at the same time, saying things that are very un-American, which is, "Keep those people out." That's not what America looks like.
Alicia: In some ways, it's most distilled by the Dreamers or DACA recipients, because they have lived here most of their lives.
Sunny: That's what they know. One of my producers, they came with me to do the Puerto Rico special that I did for The View. We were talking and he was almost in tears, he was like, "I want to tell you, I'm a DACA recipient, and I don't know if I'll be able to come with you for the follow-up special." I was like, are you kidding me? And he works for ABC News. He said he's been in the United States since he was like six months old, and they want to send him to Mexico. He doesn't know that country. This is his country.
I hope that people reach out and either watch our show or try to meet with people that are DACA recipients, so that they realize that this could happen to anyone. That these are really Americans. Sometimes you don't have empathy unless you really know someone that's going through it. And I know so many people that are going through it.
Alicia: How do you manage to have an opinion every day? It's the hardest ... I've done that show four, maybe five times, and you all make it look easy. But it is not as easy as you make it look.
Sunny: It's not, right? It's not. And people think, "Oh, you're on an one-hour show," I mean, the night before-
Alicia: I mean, listen, there are people who are doing hard manual labor and I'm sure, as an attorney, those were long days. But the actual nature of the work is challenging.
Sunny: It's challenging. And you know, a lot of people say, "Well, you were just on a one-hour show." That's not really true. You've done the show. We get like, sixty hot topics the night before, and we have to read it and be well-versed in it. And by the time we get there in the morning, I usually get there around 8, between 7:30 and 8, there are new topics on the list. I've got to get read in on that, and then what I try to do is have a moment for every topic. Give voice to someone for every single issue, from my perspective. So if we're talking about perspective, I give my perspective on that. If we're talking about relationships, I give my perspective on that. And I give my perspective on politics, of course, because our show is really political this season. It has to be.
Alicia: You have had a pretty incredible life.
Sunny: I'm very blessed.
Alicia: But also a lot of heartache. You were exposed to a lot, very young. Even just the reality of growing up poor, it is not a reality that all people are familiar with. And then to operate in the elite spaces that you have operated in, whether that's going to Notre Dame for law school, or whether that's being-
Sunny: Or the Justice Department.
Alicia: Or the Justice Department. How did you learn how to maneuver?
Sunny: It's still a challenge for me, honestly. I'm still trying to figure it out. I'm fairly lucky in that we didn't grow up with a lot, but my mom ended up going back to college, or going to college. She had me, she had to drop out of high school. She went to college, got a master's degree, became a teacher. My dad went to a technical school, became a supervisor with a big IT company. They poured everything into me. They truly did. But most important, it was "be humble, be kind, be focused. Be loyal, be a good person, be a person of faith." When you have that sort of...
Sunny: Brick and mortar, yeah, framework, I think you navigate pretty well. But I oftentimes just don't know what the rules are. I think that's what happens with women, with people of color. Like you said, I show up, this kid from The Bronx, who worked really hard to get where I am. And I'm with all these legacies, that their parents worked at the Justice Department, their parents are politicians, and I didn't know what the rules were. Sometimes there've been really hard lessons. I certainly have made mistakes at CNN, probably made mistakes at ABC. But I'm learning the rules and it's a learning process.
Alicia: The tough-skinned part of that is the fact that now we live in a constant feedback loop. It comes into ... I mean, there's the obvious way which is now via Twitter. We all just have it and you don't know who it is that's yelling at you about your fat arms or your stupid opinion.
Sunny: Yeah. The Twitter thugs.
Alicia: Yeah, so there's that. And then there's the reality that I don't think most people know, which is that when you're on-air talent, talking about you and your look and your this and your that. And everybody has an opinion. I once had a meeting at CNN where I walked into one executive and they were like, "The hair, gotta cut the hair. You look too young." And I go into the next meeting, "I've cut my hair!" And the person's like, "Oh god, what happened to your hair?"
Sunny: Yes, I've had those meetings.
Alicia: It makes you Looney Tunes, first of all, if you let it. Right?
Alicia: Because you're like, "I ... wait, but," and that's why at some point you have to decide, "I am me." So did you develop the tough skin?
Sunny: I've always had it. I think you tend to have it when you see... you're seven years old and you see your uncle stabbed in front of you. Which happened to me. And your best friend's father gets shot in front of the candy store on the corner and you're right there. So I've had tough skin my whole life, but it still hurts when people don't see your value. I've found it very painful. And I've had those same discussions. My hair's naturally curly. They're like, "Doesn't work for television." But I'm working on television and my hair's naturally curly. It's all these really crazy things in terms of: You need to wear dresses. I like pants.
It's been really challenging, especially when people talk about what you look like as opposed to the words that are coming out of your mouth. I think it's fine to be the smart girl, and I was raised that you should be the smart girl — don’t care about the way that you look. But television, they care.
Alicia: What's left? What do you want still, that you don't have?
Sunny: I know. Everybody keeps on asking me, "What's your five-year plan?" I don't know. I want my children to be happy and healthy. I'm happily married, I want the best for our family. But I've been so blessed with all these opportunities. I'm really looking forward to the future. I don't know what that even looks like.
Alicia: That might look like freedom.
Sunny: I don't know what it looks like.
Alicia: You and I share a lot of things, I think. I hope you find that to be a compliment.
Sunny: I agree.
Alicia: I didn't end up going to law school, but I took the LSAT and I thought about going to law school. And I always wanted to run for office.
Sunny: Yeah, you have to.
Alicia: So much of what I hear you talk about points in that direction, too. If your entire ethos as a person is giving voice to the voiceless, I still don't know that there's any more nobler way to do that.
Sunny: I think it's something that I will do. I haven't taken it off the table. I actually took some, like, a course, I think it was called [VoteRunLead]. Just about figuring out if I wanted to run. I've spoken to a lot of folks that have run for office and have held office and they've encouraged me. So I can't imagine that's not something that I will do, actually.
Alicia: Breaking news. Sunny Hostin for president. Heard it here first.
Sunny: It's something that I've really thought about.
Alicia: Okay, but I don't want to see you doing a bad impersonation of Kamala Harris when you do it, okay? I want to see you doing you.
Sunny: She is so badass. I love her. I've met her several times and I adore her. I think she's great. And, I think, with the reckoning that's going on, we are going to see so many women in leadership positions. I think that is going to be the story going forward, five to ten years. We will have a female president, no question about it, but we're also going to have women in leadership positions like we've never seen before. In government. I'm convinced of it.
Alicia: I have one last question, because of the way you just said "no."
Sunny: I know, my accent comes out.
Alicia: No, I mean, like, two glasses of wine, if my mom is in the room too, then I'm talking like this. Like it's very ... for me, it's a Jersey accent, it's different. Have you worked on that?
Sunny: Yes. Yes.
Alicia: So what do you sound like, if you just like, before-
Sunny: If I leave it? You know, Spanish is my first language. I actually learned English around four or five, and I've been speaking and reading since I was very, very young. But I did work on it, and I was asked to work on it. Yes. Someone at CNN felt that I was pretty heavily accented. And I probably was.
Alicia: In terms of being a Spanish speaker, or in terms of being from The Bronx?
Sunny: Oh, Spanish speaker. For sure.
Alicia: It's hard for me to imagine, because what I hear now is like a tiny bit of The Bronx.
Sunny: Of The Bronx, yeah.
Alicia: But I don't hear ... You don't have trouble with "ch,” “sh".
Sunny: Oh no, I know, right? I know I have... I have friends that have a lot of trouble with that. I think I worked on it also in law school, because I was on the national trial time. Oftentimes back then, I would think in Spanish first and have to translate it. And I think a lot of bilingual people do have that challenge. But I did, I worked on it, and I worked on the Bronx too. I worked on that part when I was prosecuting cases in Washington, D.C., because that's a very Southern area. They have their own thing going and it was difficult for them to understand me, apparently, when I was giving my opening statements.
Alicia: I need to find raw footage of this. I actually can't imagine it.
Sunny: I've worked hard on it. I went to a speech class as well. I mean, it's one of those things, right? When you want to fit in-
Alicia: Be understood.
Sunny: Be understood. You do that work. But then there were plenty of people like an Ana Navarro, who has a Spanish accent and she's done-
Sunny: Incredibly well. So I think the bottom line is, today, I will say I don't know that I would have felt the need to take the speech classes, or to sanitize the way that I speak. Now, it's how I speak. I think we're in a really different world. I think now it's: you do you, and if they don't get it, then the problem is theirs.
Music fade out.
Alicia: Those are great departing words. Thank you so much.
Sunny: Thank you for having me.
Alicia: That’s it for now, but we want to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com, send us ideas for awesome guests or whatever it is you’re thinking about right now. Remember to subscribe to Latina to Latina on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you’re listening. And please leave a review… we love hearing from you. Latina to Latina is produced by Lantigua Williams & Co., mixed by Oluwakemi Aladesuyi, with assistance from Anna Parsons. Our executive editor is Emily Anne Epstein, our editorial supervisor is Rosanne Salvatore, and we gotta give special thanks to Jenny Hollander!
Menendez, Alicia, host. “The View’s Sunny Hostin.” Latina To Latina, Bustle, BDG Media, April 2017. www.bustle.com.