Sunny Hostin Struggled to Be Accepted as Black & Latina: 'I Have Lived in the Gray for So Long'
Sunny Hostin is getting real about race and identity.
Born Asunción Cummings, Hostin was raised in New York City by her Black father, William, and her Puerto Rican mother, Rosa. Because she was biracial, Hostin felt from a young age that she didn't completely fit in.
"I have lived in the gray for so long, and it really is an uncomfortable place to be. My Black family considered me an other ... my Puerto Rican and Jewish family treated me as other because I didn’t look like any of them either," Hostin, 51, says in the new issue of PEOPLE.
After graduating at 16 years old from her private N.Y.C. high school, Hostin went on to study journalism and law, then worked as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., before beginning her career in journalism. Early on, she appeared on Court TV with Nancy Grace, who gave Hostin her nickname "Sunny" because she could not pronounce her given name, Asunción.
"She struggled with it so much. 'Asunción, it's not going to work, and you're really good and you're really talented. You should use a nickname,'" Hostin recalls Grace telling her. "I just became Sunny Hostin, and I just went with it, honestly."
All these years later, Hostin wishes she had kept her given name because she feels she lost a piece of her Latina identity.
"I still regret it," Hostin says. "I think I allowed my identity to be stripped from me, for my job. I don't think Nancy was trying to strip me of my identity, or you know, Americanize me, or colonialize me, or anything like that. Nancy's my friend, and it wasn't ill-intentioned. I don't think people would question my identity as much if I stuck with my given name."
Indeed, Hostin says in her professional career, from CNN to ABC and The View, viewers and even colleagues have questioned whether she is Black or Latina.
"I want to be seen in my complexity," she says. "I am Afro-latina; I am many things. And it's weird in this country. People can't acknowledge that — they can't see that."
Despite her fame, Hostin still experiences discrimination.
"I don't want to get dressed up when I go shopping, but it's helpful if I am recognized. Then I get treated well," she says. "It just happened to me a couple years ago — I had just dressed regularly, and they thought I was going to steal something. It's shameful."
For years, Hostin and her husband Emmanuel, a surgeon, have been having difficult conversations with their children (son Gabriel, 18, and daughter Paloma, 14) about discrimination they can expect as young Black people in America.
"We started them with our son: People will perceive you, because of your skin and your height, as a threat. He's this big ball of love, and he's like, 'Me?'" Hostin says.
She recently had another difficult talk with her son about exercising in their predominantly white neighborhood.
"I'm hoping that he'll run track at Harvard when he goes. He wanted to train around our neighborhood, and he wanted to run without his shirt on. It was blazing hot. I said, 'Please don't run without your shirt. Can you put your Harvard shirt on?' Because the calculation that I was making was, if he has his Harvard 2024 shirt on, someone is less likely to perceive him as an interloper in our neighborhood. He wore it, but he said he felt like he was going to have heatstroke because it was so hot. But that was the right thing for me to do. And isn't that sad?"
Adds Hostin: "It's a very difficult conversation to have, but it's a lifesaving conversation."
Now with her book, Hostin hopes to inspire change and open minds: "We need to be less divisive and more inclusive."
Sunny Hostin's memoir, I Am These Truths, is out now.
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