June 18, 2019

Jewish Latina’s Unique Perspective on Local News

Photo courtesy of Giselle Fernandez

Television journalist, producer and five-time Emmy Award-winner Giselle Fernandez brings three decades of experience to her new anchor job at Spectrum News 1, the cable provider’s hyper-local news channel. A Latina and a Jewish woman born in Mexico to a Jewish mother (née Eisner) and a Spanish-Catholic father, she also brings a unique perspective when covering the diverse communities and people of Southern California.

“I think my greatest contribution to Spectrum comes from my multiethnic, multicultural background,” Fernandez said. She grew up all over the Southland, in East L.A., Hollywood, Northridge and Westlake Village. “I see things from a much broader lens and have a great appreciation what our collection of communities have to offer. I’m not covering communities of ‘the other.’ I am the other.”

Fernandez is on the air daily from 5 until 9 a.m., which means rising at 1 a.m. to arrive at work by 2:30. Taking on such a daunting schedule at the age of 57, Fernandez said it gives her more time to spend with her 12-year-old daughter but she also really wanted the job. 

Fernandez, who previously worked for CBS, NBC and KTLA, said she missed reporting. “I’m actively involved in many boards and charities that specifically deal with underserved communities, health care and education — that has been my life off the air,” she said. “This was a chance to go back to basics and tell community stories, get people engaged in stories that affect them personally and build trust and unity at a time when we really need it. It’s so in my passion zone. I really feel that I won the lottery.”

 “I was not quite Mexican enough to be Mexican and not Jewish enough because I wasn’t raised in a Jewish household. I always felt like I was on the outskirts until I created my own identity.” ­

— Giselle Fernandez

Spectrum News 1 has been covering the rise in hate crimes and vandalism against Jews in the Southland. “Synagogues have had to beef up their security because of threats and vandalism. Orthodox women in Hancock Park have had their wigs pulled off. These are stories I advocate for,” Fernandez said. “Local is global. If we can address the ills of our own community and shine a light on them, we have a chance to activate community interest and engagement. That is our mandate and it’s certainly mine.”

Fernandez also hosts Spectrum News 1’s weekly primetime interview show “L.A. Story,” airing Mondays at 8 p.m. “We focus on impact-makers in business, the arts, innovation, the sciences,” she said. Guests have included Lakers owner Jeanie Buss, actress-choreographer Debbie Allen and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, with whom she shares cultural similarities.

“I talked with him about being a fellow ‘kosher burrito,’ his immigrant background and why he feels he should potentially throw his hat in the ring for a run in 2020,” she said. “He spoke very boldly against President [Donald] Trump and why he felt California would be best served with someone like him at the helm.”

Of her own Jewish background, Fernandez said, “I was not quite Mexican enough to be Mexican and not Jewish enough because I wasn’t raised in a Jewish household. I always felt like I was on the outskirts until I created my own identity.” 

Her DNA test results showed she is 49 percent Ashkenazi Jewish and 51 percent Spanish. But she believes that her father’s ancestors may have been Jews who converted to Catholicism but secretly practiced Judaism. She has always had Jewish friends and was drawn to Jewish culture. But it wasn’t till CBS News sent her to Israel to cover the Gulf War in 1991, that she found a deeper connection to her roots. She studied with an Orthodox rabbi upon her return. Ultimately, she realized that she wasn’t cut out for that level of observance. “But I always credit my Halachic training for my interviewing skills,” she said. 

Today, she is a member of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where she had her bat mitzvah at age 50, and her daughter Talei will have hers next June. Fernandez adopted Talei at birth from Guatemala. “I want to be a voice for the voiceless and stand up for victims of oppression and those who are less fortunate,” Fernandez said. “I identify those as Jewish values and teach them to my daughter. ‘You are here to make this world a better place.’”

Taking inspiration from the fictional Nancy Drew and real-life peripatetic journalists Nellie Bly and Margaret Bourke-White, Fernandez set her sights on a journalism career at the age of 7. “I wanted to travel the world and live a life telling stories of human beings, how we managed and triumphed,” she said.

Fernandez has been to Somalia, Panama and Haiti covering crises, but Israel, where she’s returned many times since the Gulf War, stands out in her memory, and she hopes to return with her daughter. 

Another memorable experience was competing on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2006, despite her elimination in the third round. “I was devastated because I didn’t get the chance to do the Paso Doble (dance step) and honor my father. But I loved the experience,” she said.

Owning a bed-and-breakfast and visiting India are on her bucket list, but not in the near future. “I think it’s really remarkable that I get the opportunity to work in my dream profession at this stage of my life,” she said. “As Jews know, how we tell our stories can inform our history. So of all the things I’ve done in life, this is one of the most important jobs I’ve done.”