Up until the last week, Hilaria Baldwin — the wife of actor Alec Baldwin and mother to five of his children — was arguably one of the most famous Spaniards in Hollywood (apologies to Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas). That is, she was one of the most famous Spaniards in Hollywood until a still-anonymous Twitter user admired “her decade long grift where she impersonates a Spanish person."
Outed as a fake Spaniard, she is now known to the world as plain Hillary Baldwin née Hayward-Thomas from Boston — just a girl "living life."
Except that that life was built in part on appropriating the persona of a white, Spanish-speaking (albeit European) immigrant with an accent palatable to a white elite, at a time when brown and Black Latino immigrants are persecuted and belittled in the United States.
After first denying the anonymous allegations, Baldwin, 36, eventually acknowledged that she is not even half-Spanish (both her parents are U.S.-born), that she was not born in Mallorca, Spain, and that her real name is Hillary. She now insists that she was being “misrepresented” by the media she so assiduously courted after first marrying into Hollywood royalty and then shilling her yoga and wellness business — during which she inundated social media with lingerie-clad selfies with babies in an expensive Manhattan apartment and appearances on television in mutating Spanish accents.
Stereotypes damage people of color, but for white, privileged women like Hillary Baldwin, they are a way to climb the Hollywood ladder.
“There is not something I’m doing wrong," she told The New York Times. "I think there is a difference between hiding and creating a boundary.”
Alec Baldwin defended his wife in a video in which he says we should consider the source of the allegations (rather than, one presumes, the truth of them). But he had been part of his wife’s act, both pushing her Spanish roots and even making fun of her accent on "The Late Show with David Letterman" in 2013. “My wife is from Spain, you know,” he told Letterman as he imitated her supposedly poor English when discussing pregnancy: “I have to pee every five minutes! I can’t believe it!”
In a self-made video clip of her own, Hillary Baldwin also tried to explain her story — with a lot of hair-tossing and no-makeup lighting — in a flawless American accent. “I am a white girl," she said. "Let’s be very clear that Europe has a lot of white people in there,” she also said, unnecessarily belaboring the obvious.
But then she added: “My family is white. Ethnically, I am a mix of many, many, many things. Culturally, I grew up with two cultures. So it’s really as simple as that.”
Well, Hilaria, Hillary or whatever your name is, actually, it isn’t that simple at all.
Perhaps the age of thinking a spray tan qualifies one as "spicy" — as white people are prone to call Latinos — is coming to an undignified close at long last.
In reality, one couldn’t care less about this latest episode of “white woman appropriating a different culture to advance herself” if it hadn’t gone so far.
But for years, Baldwin had gotten good press in the Hispanic media, which described her as Latina or Hispanic. “Hispanic” refers to someone from a Spanish-speaking country and is inclusive of Spain and white people (though it is rarely used that way in America or by nonacademics), while “Latina” describes only people with roots in Latin America and the Caribbean — much of which was colonized by Spain — the vast majority of whom are brown and Black (though, because of colonization, there are white and white-appearing Latinos).
And reporter Aura Bogado, for instance, wrote on Twitter that Hilaria's “pretended to be from Spain with that ridiculous accent, while some of us have been denied opportunities for our actual accents, is disgusting."
Indeed, other Latinos in America commented on the difficulties they'd had getting work because of their real accents, even as Hillary Baldwin's affected accent was used to make her lifestyle brand seem more "exotic" than one promoted by just another actor's younger, yoga-teaching wife.
Her life was built in part on appropriating the persona of a white, Spanish-speaking (albeit European) immigrant with an accent palatable to a white elite.
Stereotypes damage people of color, but for white, privileged women like Hillary Baldwin, they are a way to climb the Hollywood ladder and become — as The New York Times wrote — the new Gwyneth Paltrow. But since there's already a Gwyneth from L.A., I guess Hillary from Boston had to be Hilaria from España — because passing yourself off as Puerto Rican, Dominican or Central American just wouldn’t carry the same cachet, now, would it? (Though she was seemingly happy enough to benefit from the impression that she was Latina.)
"When I moved from Puerto Rico stateside, I had a lot of difficulties getting theater roles in college — even in a play written by Ariel Dorfman, an Argentine writer — because of my accent,” Suset Laboy, founder of A Little Awareness and co-founder of Lalaboy PR, told me. “But here is this person failing up, with a made-up accent,” she said.
Still, between Hillary-cum-Hilaria-cum-Hillary and a handful of other racial or ethnic pretenders exposed on social media this year, perhaps the age of thinking a spray tan qualifies one as "spicy" — as white people are prone to call Latinos — is coming to an undignified close at long last.
“When you seek to upgrade yourself socially by adopting a fake cultural background, you actually achieve the opposite,” Bobby Moya, a Puerto Rican choreographer and director, told me. It should be “enough to make anyone reconsider hypocrisy as a tool for success,” he said.
Hillary: Live your life, teach your kids Spanish and vacation as much as you like in the rich people's playground that is Mallorca (though please do tip the locals) — just stop stripping bits of Hispanic culture off to sell your own lifestyle brand to the mayo-white masses.