Meet Lisa Guerrero – a Latina leader in investigative journalism. You probably already know her from her reporting on Inside Edition.
Lisa Guerrero started her career in California as a reporter and became the first female in L.A. to receive a contract for sportscasting. Fox Sports Net hired her away from local Fox affiliate and didn‘t know what to do with her and her very strong opinions and ability to stand her ground with the male athletes, sportscasters and fans. She was there for her strong opinion and to mix it up. She was perfect for The Best Damn Sports Show Period.
I asked Lisa, “What was it like to be a female – a Latina – on such a hit sports show?
I always thought it was funny that people were shocked when they saw me (doing a sports show).
There weren’t that many women doing sports and there were no Latinas on national TV doing sports. It was tremendous blessing to argue with athletes be seen not just as a preport but someone who knew enough to John Salley, Michael Irvine and John Kruk. It was an amazing experience and helped me build my confidence.
Did your role help open doors for other women and/or Latinas?
When other GM’s saw the ratings go up (after the station signed me for sports casting), they began to hire other women. Claudia Trejos now works for ESPN but she started at local news at Channel 5 in L.A. Typically, a few women were covering sports but they were not glamorous. When I got hired they asked me to cut my hair, wear little makeup, not to wear nail polish, etc. I said, “I have big hair, I love makeup and I dress like a woman. I happen to love sports. I’m going to look the way I do and deliver myself and we’ll see what the ratings say.”
And of course, they went up. You don’t have to limit yourself to whatever society (or your general manager) wants to label you as.
You can be yourself and find an audience. I think I helped to open that door a little bit. Now there are all these female sports casters like Erin Andrews. There are so many women who are on ESPN who now look attractive. That used to be taboo.
When I was in college and saw Lisa’s name on The Best Damn Sports Show Period, I thought to myself: Wow! A Latina talking sports with the big boys! That’s a role model. I asked her what it meant to see her name on the show each week.
I felt it was very important for young girls to see my name kyroned under my face and think “I can do that! I love sports, I play soccer, basketball, etc.” It was important to extend that message.
How did covering sports impact what you are doing on Inside Edition?
My experience in sportscasting set the foundation for what I’m doing now. When people see me cover topics that are edgier than they are used to seeing women cover, I know I can cover them because I was already a woman working in a man’s world. I was already in an environment where women were not embraced.
I had to physically fight my way in, not literally. If you want TO GET the sound bite and get a one-on-one, you have to physically be ready to fight your way through. I had to get sound bites because I was going live in 20 minutes.
Now I go and chase people and do investigations that can be scary.
Lisa once, literally, crawled on the floor underneath a crowd of reporters to get to the players in the Lakers locker room. She got the interview she wanted.
Why do you put yourself in dangerous situations for the stories?
I wish more reporters were holding people accountable and not just taking ‘no comment’ for answer. ‘No comment’ does not hold water with us. We live in a society where we are highly litigious. Some stations don’t want to deal with the hassle. It’s easier to take ‘no comment’. Inside Edition has a gutsy investigative unit but it’s expensive. I love it! It’s not an easy job. People look at the finished product but never see the hours of stakeouts and traveling, etc.
I started out as entertainment reporter on the show. I saw the investigative unit and I knew I wanted to cover that. I asked to be put on if they ever needed a woman to chase these stories. I think they liked it because the majority of the audience is women. There are no other national shows with a female investigative reporter doing what I call ‘confrontational journalism’.
Lisa has had her throat grabbed, has been threatened, has been hit by a car (a dentist that didn’t appreciate being investigated for abusing his patients).
FAMILIA AND BEING A LATINA
Lisa’s mom moved to Chicago from Santiago, Chile with her family in 1959. Lisa’s mom immediately learned English but became self-conscious about her accent. She met Lisa’s dad at church. He spoke no Spanish but spoke the language of love. Her dad moved the family to San Diego to work with Salvation Army as a social worker. Lisa’s mom wanted her and her brother to be Americanized so she didn’t teach them Spanish. Lisa’s mom passed when Lisa was only eight very quickly from Lymphoma.
When I got older, I felt something was missing. Not just my mom. I wasn’t just missing something in terms of gender identification but also cultural identification. We were raised around a lot of other Latinos and looked like my mom (Latina) but I had my dad’s last name – Coles. I didn’t feel like an all American kid.
When I would visit my aunts in Chicago, they would ask, “Do you feel the jungle drums? Do you feel your heritage pull? You look like your mom and your personality is like your mom.”
When she was sixteen, she was discovered as a model. Later in her twenties, Lisa asked her dad if he would mind if she changed her name to Guerrero (her mom’s last name). She was being asked if she was Latina and she felt like a Latina. His response with tears in his eyes, “Your mom would be so proud of you.”
He supported Lisa and helped her determine what her image would be in her work. When TV people would ask what her heritage was, her dad was the one who walked her through what it meant to be a part of her mom’s family. She credits her dad for making the bridge from Southern California All-American girl to identifying with her Latina heritage.
I made the transition to Guerrero and I didn’t take my husband’s name professionally. He loves that I keep my name. For me, I want little girls to know that there are opportunities on TV and in media for Latinas. I’m lucky to have had my heritage.
Lisa, what does it mean to you to be a Latina?
It’s incredibly encouraging. I wasn’t given that gift to be around it as a child. I’ve embraced it as an adult. The older I get, the more important it is for me to look back. I took a trip to Chile last year with my husband. We will be taking a family trip again. We will get to explore Santiago where my family is from. My grandma still has a house there.
Right now more than any time, people are looking at us to be leaders.
Last year, Lisa was a guest co-host on The View. At the time, The View announced Joy Behar and Elizabeth Hasselbeck would be leaving the show. The TV show has since replaced one seat at the table with Jenni McCarthy. Many of us are waiting and asking for a Latina to be seated at the table. Now, Barbara Walters will be leaving later this year. As a long-time fan of The View, I was curious about Lisa’s thoughts so of the lack a Latina at the table and her experience on the show.
It’s incredibly important to have your voice be heard – through social media. Those messages are getting through – it might be filtered but they are being heard. I think that it used to be you would sit at home and watch a show and if you got fired up, you would write a letter. Now, your voice is heard immediately. It’s important to contact The View and ABC and let them know that you want to have someone there that reflects how you feel.
Now nobody is going to represent EVERYBODY. If I got the job, I will be obligated to listen, have meetings and get to know what Latinas feel. Whoever gets that job has an enormous obligation to be able to communicate what the majority of us feel on topics like immigration, education, job opportunities. For example, when you talk about building a 700 mile fence on the border, what does that mean to the Latino community? There should be a person at that table who represents Latinos. That person now has an opportunity to listen to the community and then present it at that table. It’s not just a talk show but also a listen show. That person would represent the fastest growing population.
When I knew I was going to be on The View, I went on the Facebook groups to reach out to the Latinas in those groups.
As a guest co-host, Lisa was the one who pitched the story of San Antonio’s own Mariachi to be discussed as part of Hot Topics. (Remember, there was backlash during the NBA Finals when the Mexican-American mariachi sang the National Anthem.) She watched it in real time as a huge sports fan, she saw it all happen on TV and on Twitter.
I was proud that I could contribute a topic that people in Latino community were upset about and have that discussed on the show.
Lisa is a great example of the type of Latina that would fill the seat at The View or any major TV talk show (she’s been on The Talk since our interview, as well) because she’s in the trenches now. She’s in touch with her viewers locally and that’s really nationally because she travels all over the country.
We also talked about the controversial Lifetime TV show Devious Maids. Lisa is not a fan and she makes her good argument.
If there were more options, I wouldn’t have a problem. Since it is the only option, I’m not watching that. It’s not written, developed, or produced by a Latina. If a Latina wrote it, it’d be different because it might be her own story.
Gut instinct is that it hurts us not helps us. By the way, I have something out there with a show about a Latina investigative reporter, Sonia Santiago. Why isn’t anyone producing that show?
On that note, there’s an argument that there aren’t enough Latino stories because they aren’t being written. Lisa, what are your thoughts?
It’s a legitimate argument. Stories can’t be featured unless they are available to read. We all need to share our stories as Latinas not just verbally but we need to write them down. I think that process is starting because of social media. Microblogging is a way of writing your story. Our families all came from different countries for different reasons … political turmoil, torture, social destruction there are many stories of overcoming these and come here. We are thrown in to this melting pot and how do we make ourselves better from when our families came here.
My interview with Lisa turned into a personal conversation. I shared with her my cultural identity crisis. Here’s the inspiring message she shared with me.
I hear that so much. “I don’t think I’m Latina enough if I don’t speak Spanish.” It hurts us all if any part of our community feels like we can’t really be a part of this community. Don’t we want to embrace all of our community? It’s not a bad thing to encourage kids to be bilingual but we can’t dismiss a whole portion of Latinas who only speak English. We have to own our heritage.
We are currently raising the future President of United States of America; One day we will have a Latina president. It might be two generations from now but they need to know it’s okay to look like us to have that cultural identity. We have to embrace all Latinos. We can’t make anyone feel like they are less than. It’s the polar opposite of what Latinas want to encourage. My mom felt so ‘less than’ that she didn’t want to speak her native language. She didn’t want to teach her daughter Spanish. We should be empowering each one of us with our culture. As Latinos, we should look at other communities and see the mistakes made that causes division and avoid them. We should embrace all Latinos – English, Spanish-speaking, documented, undocumented. If you want to be embraced, we should embrace them as Latinos.
Follow Lisa on Twitter: @4LisaGuerrero or FB: LisaGuerreroPage Plus, you won’t want to miss any updates about her upcoming projects. Lisa is currently writing a memoir about her career called ‘Between a Jock and a Hard Place’ and is expecting a Fall 2015 release.
**UPDATE: Lisa is still making a name for herself in the sports world. At the recent NBA news conference regarding LA Clippers former owner Sterling and his racist remarks, Guerrero as the billion-dollar question (according to Jane Velez Mitchell) to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: “You said that you were personally outraged. Yet many people believe that they are outraged that for years people have known that this man is a racist slumlord, and the NBA hasn’t done anything until today. ” Read more from Twitchy.com about the praise she received online about her remarks. Watch her on HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell here.