Lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think and let things marinate, thank you COVID19! - and one of the many things my restless mind has been contemplating about is how badass we (woman) are. I don’t know about you, but I think one of the best qualities we, mujeres, have is our ability to excel in more than one area. After each accomplishment - it validates me and opens me up for more. Sometimes between work, the blog and my new musical endeavors I do get a little overwhelmed but it is also satisfying to be able to do a little bit of everything. So I guess we CAN do it all!
This months feature reminded me of that. We can wear many hats to do what we truly love and each one of them represents a part who we are. Let me introduce you to Ana Belaval; a passionate, empathetic and loud (her words! lol) mujer en tacones!
In 2005 Ana joined WGN – one of few Spanish reporters to cross over to the English broadcast market. In addition to Around Town, Ana has also worked as a substitute anchor for the Morning and Midday News as well as WGN Radio 720. A four-time Emmy award winner and six-time Emmy nominee, she received awards for her “Living Green” and “One Tank Trips” series, the community affairs show “Adelante Chicago,” and her coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in her beloved Puerto Rico – an honor for which she is most proud. She was also a finalist for the Peter Lisagor award for the special story, “anabelaval.com.” Ana has also served as the host of Chicago Stand Up Project on WTTW – a documentary-style show featuring two well-known Chicagoans who try their hand at stand-up comedy.
This interview was conducted in the middle of a pandemic. Bare with us!
How was your experience transitioning from Spanish television (Despierta America) to the English speaking Television world? A lot easier than I was told it would be. I was incredibly nervous that my accent would be a distraction for viewers or that I would struggle with the language. Our audience and co-workers embraced my style very quickly and that allowed me to relax and be myself, accent and all.
I have to add a little side note here: As an immigrant myself - I think this continues to be one of my biggest fears. I have an accent and my English isn’t perfect and I’m constantly afraid to say something wrong, make a mistake(which I did today on a pretty important document) or not being understood. But my accent is part of me, its a constant reminder of how far I’ve come and im proud if it. Ok… that’s enough. Keep reading about Ana, but I thought you might relate too. Go on..
Most of us know you from WGN Around Town- but can you tell us about your beginnings on television? I started at age 21, right out of college, as a general assignment reporter at Univision Chicago. I interned with Univison during college and when it was time to find a job as a reporter, my mentor sent my demo tape to the station in Chicago. I was lucky to get offered the job as a rookie reporter so I packed my bags and moved from Puerto Rico to Chicago where I knew absolutely no one. I was a general assignment reporter and weekend anchor at Univison Chicago for 6 years. Then I moved to New York City as an East Coast correspondent for Despierta America, Univision’s international morning show. I was there for 3 years until I did the crossover to English 15 years ago.
What has been one of your biggest challenges as a latina working in an anglo dominated industry? How has it changed since you started till today? Thankfully, the number of Latinas in the general market is growing, slowly, but its happening. When there are not many of you in the newsroom, you have to stand up for your people and make sure that you are well represented. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to work with people who will be culturally sensitive and run things by you so that what goes on the air is appropriate, culturally relevant.
Mom, wife, reporter and comedian. How do you do it all? With a lot of help from a very supportive husband, family and an amazing baby sitter. I realized a long time ago that I can’t do it all, all the time. That sometimes I’ll be a better wife than mother, or better mother than reporter. It’s a very hard thing to come to terms with when you are a Type A perfectionist like me.
We all reach a point in our life when we just want to quit. What was your breaking point and how did you overcome it? To be honest, during this quarantine, I’ve wanted to quit home schooling my seven year old. I would breakdown once a week crying in my room. I just wanted someone to tell me I would never have to teach my son again. Some people told me to do it, “He is in first grade, he should be fine.” But that’s not who I am. I followed my therapists advice and prepared a schedule Alex and I could handle. And I asked for help. His teacher agreed to meet with him an extra day to work with the writing which was my biggest challenge and I also learned that not every assignment had to be perfectly done.
What does a normal day look like for you? Currently, I work from home so I get up a lot later than I usually did. My 7:30AM I’m in our dining room ready to go on the air via an app on my iPad. I broadcast my Around Town segment from home and in between I give the kids breakfast, talk to my producer about the rest of the week, record messages for viewers or for a graduating class. It’s a whole new reality. After 10AM, I help my son with his work, clean the house, workout for my mental sanity and eventually make dinner.
Who is your biggest inspiration? Thankfully, many of my girlfriends and my parents.
What book is currently on your night stand? I just finished “The Water Dancer” by Ta’Nehisi Coats and “Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid.
I’ve had the opportunity to sit at one of your comedy shows- when did you discover you had what it takes to be a comedian? I started doing stand up comedy around 10 years ago and it is the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally. It’s very lonely up there when people don’t laugh and that is always your fear. It is an incredible feeing when the crowd laughs. My comedy is very personal so it ends up being a cathartic experience for me. It takes perseverance, constant writing and a need to do it, to be on stage and to be surrounded by comedians. It is not an easy life so I’m very blessed to love my day job.
Who is the single most influential Latina in your life and why? Right now I admire Eva Longoria, America Ferrara, Salma Hayek for using their power to create space for latino artists and causes. I would also love to meet Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. But I have to say that my mom has been the most influential Latina in my life.
What is a memory from your childhood that encourages you to be true to your roots? Every time I was on stage and the way my family encouraged all my “performances” on and off stage.
What’s your biggest fear? Any one in my immediate family including me getting seriously ill.
If you weren't doing what you are currently doing, what other career would you think you could pursue? Maybe a psychologist or social service worker. Who am I kidding, I would love to have been an actor/dancer.
Your coverage of Hurricane Maria was impressive. Was it emotional for you to report on it and see what was happening in your hometown? Incredibly emotional, bittersweet, sad, rewarding. All at the same time. I never thought I would be part of the story. That’s not the journalism I studied. We were never supposed to be part of the news. But I was sent to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Maria because of my personal involvement. I wanted to make sure that the coverage was balanced and not all about me. We won an Emmy for that coverage and of the 4 I’ve won while at WGN, that now is my most special.
What are some of the challenges of being in an interfaith marriage? How do you decide what faith your children will grow into and how do you even decide? My husband and I respect each others religions but neither one of us is super religious even though we come from 2 very religious families. From the beginning of our relationship we said we would observe both on our terms and with our families and that’s what we’ve done. We wanted our children to know that our religious background are part of what made us love each other and that the can co exist. It can be confusing and complicated but we answer all their questions honestly and tell them if they want to decide what to practice in the future, we will be fine with it but that the must educate themselves about said religion, not just chose one because that is what Mom is or Dad is.
What changes would you like to see in the media to give more Latinas opportunities? I’d certainly would like to see more of us on the air not only as reporters but as experts for all sorts of topics.
You got to tell us about your Ricky Martin Fan moment! Tell us all about it. :) I don’t regret it one bit. Some people thought it was embarrassing and it was but I loved every minute of it. I didn’t know he was listening to my fan melt down but I was not ashamed at all. I told someone I admire the reasons why I admire him and that is priceless.
Anything else you would like to add to all our Latina readers? To celebrate the fact that we can navigate 2 cultures. We can live in the anglo world and in the Latino world almost simultaneously and that’s quite a skill. To honor our roots and wear our culture with pride.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the woman in front of the funniest News Chanel (WGN 9) in Chicago and she motivated/inspired you try something new - maybe you'll find out you really are good at it.
Siempre a paso firme! 👠