ON THE COVER
Cathy Areu celebrates the birth of CATALINA 18 years ago with reflections of the past, projects at the moment, and plans for the future. Photographed for CATALINA by Gio Alma.
The former ESL (English as a Second Language) student turned ESL teacher turned print journalist turned television cable news personality is more inspired (and exhausted!) than ever. But she’s certainly not complaining about the “exhausted” part. It helped CATALINA celebrate its 18th anniversary this year, no small feat for a small business or a print magazine company these days. Read on for the “glamorous” details, and more.
Afew nights ago, at 11:45 p.m. to be exact, I was sitting in front of a television camera about to go live in front of millions of viewers on the No. 1 news channel in the country, Fox News. I was representing myself, CATALINA’s founding publisher, and a journalist with a critical view of the current Administration in the White House. I was, and often am, the hen in the Fox house. And I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m thrilled with that, which many people think is insane. Actually, if I really think about it, my sanity has been questioned on many occasions – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and by thousands of conservative bloggers over the years. What “Latina,” “minority,” “woman of color” would want to debate others for viewers who probably don’t agree with her? … well, me. I want to discuss today’s most important issues affecting my life and my community with the most notable journalists, activists, commentators, and politicians in our lifetime. The mere thought of a former ESL student being able to debate immigration
issues on national television 18 years ago, when I founded CATALINA, was … what’s the word? … oh , yeah: “insane.”
I remember complaining to anyone who would listen (who weren’t many people) about the lack of diversity on Sunday morning news shows. I also complained about the how the magazines for “Latinas” were all owned by men or non-Latinas. I just complained. To myself mostly. What was I supposed to do about it? My parents told me that we were going to return to Cuba by the time I was six, so there was no reason I should learn English or go to “nursery” school in “America.”
When I turned six, it was pretty obvious that we weren’t going anywhere. But that didn’t mean that I should dream too big either. Both of my parents had college educations and middle class jobs. They told me that they were living the American “dream,” but it didn’t mean they were “happy.”
“If work made us happy, they wouldn’t pay us now, would they?” my dad told me. (I think he wasn’t too happy about the whole Castro Revolution thing that brought him to this country and took away his childhood home.)
The bottom line is that I believed in learning English and living the American dream. I just didn’t think I would be too happy or could possibly make a difference in a country I wasn’t supposed to be in to begin with. That’s when I turned to journalism for answers.
I didn’t major in journalism in college. I didn’t even know that career existed. I just wanted to learn to speak and communicate in English really well. So, I studied English for six years and earned a bachelors and masters of science in all things English (literature and education degrees, to be exact). But I wrote for my university newspaper to ask everyone as many questions as possible. “What is it like to play college football?” (I interviewed Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward.) “What is it like to star on a game show?” (I interviewed Vanna White, from The Wheel of Fortune.) “When did you decide to fight for your cause?” (I interviewed Nikki Craft, a women’s activist.) I asked so many questions because I was so driven to understand how influential people made a difference.
But, when I graduated, I decided to do as my parents had told me to do: to work at a job I may not like so I could earn a paycheck. I wanted to do something a little more interesting but not too wonderful (because work, as my dad had told me, was never wonderful.) So, I got certified and decided to teach English to public school students like me: kids who couldn’t speak English well yet.
Thanks to my college newspaper background, I also was able to teach high school journalism while covering local news for the Florida Sun-Sentinel as a freelance journalist. I felt that I had to show the students that I could talk the talk and walk the walk. And I did. Until I decided to actually follow my American dream of doing what I felt I was meant to do fulltime, like so many of the people I was interviewing were doing. There were so many people that were happy. And they were making a difference. And some were immigrants or had been raised in a multilingual and multicultural home like mine. Turned out my papi was wrong – I could make a living while making a difference and be happy too. (Teaching was rewarding, but my true passion was journalism.)
After becoming a tenured public high school teacher, I left the classroom to pursue writing fulltime. I found myself in Washington, D.C. interviewing notable and inspirational figures “inside the Beltway” for the Washington Post Magazine, as a contributing editor, for a Sunday newspaper column called “First Person Singular.” After interviewing activists like Dorothy Height (one of the Civil Rights leaders who worked alongside Martin Luther King during the “I Have a Dream Speech,” in 1963, amongst other things), I wanted to change the world – or do the next closest thing: start a magazine for women like me – women trying to live multicultural lives in a country that didn’t seem to know how to talk to us.
At the time, the biggest magazine in the country for “Latinas” was telling us how to be “sexy,” one of our biggest stereotypes at the time. And the United States Department of Labor found that my demographic was earning “48 cents to every white, non-Hispanic man’s dollar.” Things were not looking good for the Latinas in the U.S. So I did what Vanna White or Dorothy Height would do (at least, that’s what I told myself), and I sold my car to start a magazine to tell the stories no one else was telling.
In 2003, I moved to New York to grow CATALINA and started my career as national television news analyst – from Telemundo, Univision, and NY1 Noticias to CNN, MSNBC, HLN, CNBC, and more. Then, over a decade later, and many things in between, Fox News invited me to “defend” my “liberal” views on their No. 1 show at the time. In primetime. In front of millions of viewers. Live! And I haven’t stopped defending my views since.
I mean, I’m not afraid to talk about the things I’ve learned, and the things I continue to learn, in front of millions of people who may not agree with a word I say. At least I got to say it. In English. And in a country I wasn’t supposed to be in (but I love being in) right now.
So, I don’t think my life is as insane as it apperars on cable news. And the great news is that it’s 18 years later, and I’m still running “the first Latina magazine dedicated to breaking the stereotypes of Latinos in the U.S.” Then again, it’s like 1 a.m. right now, and I need to get up in five hours to start my work/life day. But, if you asked me if I’d rather be riding a merry-go-round, knowing what would happen next, or if I’d like to go on a roller coaster which held many surprises, I’d sign up for the roller coaster every single time. Does that make me insane or happy? I’m not sure. I’m too inspired to tell the difference right now. … and I think that’s a good thing. ■