In Focus

‘SuperLatina’ Gaby Natale has made her American dream come true

Gaby Natale with her Daytime Emmys
Gaby Natale with her Daytime Emmys rhailey@star-telegram.com

'SuperLatina' uses her voice to power her dreams and inspire Latino voters

Gaby Natale wasn’t counting on winning.

The effervescent TV personality — host and executive producer of SuperLatina, a talk show that airs on Vme-TV, the Spanish-language sister network to PBS — had been nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards.

So there she was on the first day in May, walking the red carpet outside the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, rubbing elbows with giants of the genre: Larry King, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the women of The View and dozens of soap opera stars.

In Natale’s two categories, Outstanding Entertainment Program in Spanish and Outstanding Daytime Talent in a Spanish Language Program, she was competing against heavy hitters from CNN en Español and Univision. SuperLatina delivers programming of comparable quality to the big boys, but it does so with a smaller budget, a smaller staff, a smaller set — a smaller everything.

And it’s based in Fort Worth. Natale’s production headquarters, her cartoonishly pink set and her offshoot marketing business, are hidden in plain sight, located within a honeycomb of offices at La Gran Plaza shopping center on the south side of the city.

Hers was the only independently produced show nominated in either Emmy category. She was the underdog in every way.

So with no expectations of bringing home any hardware, Natale simply savored the moment. She mingled on the red carpet, posed for a photo with Larry King, took a selfie with Sesame Street’s Elmo.

But then, as soon as everyone moved inside for the awards presentation, the vibe changed. There were little hints, subtle signs, that the stars might align for her on this night.

And before she knew it, presenter Teresa Castillo of General Hospital had torn open the envelope for “Outstanding Entertainment Program in Spanish” and was uttering those immortal words:

“And the Emmy goes to …”

 

Ambition, for a woman, is not something that should be penalized. Latinas should own their own voice. You should never be afraid to express yourself or to pursue your dreams.

Gaby Natale

A decade earlier, SuperLatina was just starting to find its footing.

Natale and her husband, Andres “Andy” Suarez, had moved away from their native Argentina in 2003. She quickly established her bona fides as a journalist by working as a reporter for TV Azteca in Mexico (2004) and as a news anchor for Univision in Texas (2004-2007).

She ultimately grew restless, however, because she had little creative freedom.

“The stories I was pitching to my news director were not resonating with him,” she recalls. “It doesn’t mean he was wrong or right. He just had different priorities. But for me, it was frustrating.”

She had spotted an opening within the television marketplace. There was an underserved audience of Hispanic women. They needed a show that catered to their interests and their needs.

There’s an old saying that rankles Natale every time she hears it.

“It’s used a lot in the Hispanic community,” she says. “In Spanish, the saying goes, ‘Calladita te ves mas bonita,’ which means, ‘When you’re silent, you’re prettier.’ I think that’s a horrible message.

“Ambition, for a woman, is not something that should be penalized. Latinas should own their own voice. You should never be afraid to express yourself or to pursue your dreams.”

Natale’s message to Hispanic female viewers would be one of empowerment and self-confidence.

As soon as Natale earned her green card in 2007 (“I had to apply three times — it was a long, long process”), she quit the Univision job, got a $20,000 business loan and started her own company. That’s when she and Suarez developed the interview-and-lifestyle show that would come to be known as SuperLatina.

“A SuperLatina is a woman who fights, a woman who stands up for herself,” Natale says. “The SuperLatina is the best part of you.”

A SuperLatina is a woman who fights, a woman who stands up for herself. The

Gaby Natale

 

For a brief time, the show’s working title was From Woman to Woman. “Which is a very lame name,” Natale concedes. “Once we came up with the name SuperLatina, we knew we had something.”

SuperLatina went on the air in 2007, originally in only one small television market: Midland-Odessa. Her headquarters were located in an Odessa shopping mall. The warehouse space that became SuperLatina’s studio also was being used to store carpeting. “When we built our set,” she says, “the only condition was that all of the set pieces had to have wheels on them, because they would need to push everything to the side whenever the carpets had to come and go.”

Defying long odds — most such programs quickly disappear without being anything more than a blip on the pop-culture radar — Natale’s upbeat programming started to connect with viewers. She moved the operation to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2009 after SuperLatina expanded into syndication in Lubbock and then throughout New Mexico.

In July 2014, less than a year after Natale became a U.S. citizen, SuperLatina went national on Vme-TV, the once-a-week show suddenly available in 43 media markets serving more than 70 million viewers.

In 2011, she branched out by starting AGANAR Media, a content development firm that specializes in developing TV shows and viral video campaigns, with a focus on Hispanic audiences. Clients have included industry giants such as Ford Motor Co., MetroPCS, McDonald’s and Proctor & Gamble.

In July 2014, less than a year after Natale became a U.S. citizen, SuperLatina went national on Vme-TV, the once-a-week show suddenly available in 43 media markets serving more than 70 million viewers. It currently airs at 3 p.m. Saturdays. Meanwhile, the show built a huge internet following, garnering more than 55 million views on YouTube.

“I met the president of the Television Academy at the Emmys,” Natale says. “He said, ‘They told me your story about starting your show in a carpet warehouse in Odessa, Texas. Very interesting.’ I said, ‘I guess you might call it a nontraditional way of making television.’ And he smiled at me and said, ‘No, I wouldn’t call it nontraditional. I would call it an innovative way of making television.’”

 

You’re never too old, you’re never too fat, too ugly, too gay or too undocumented to make your dreams come true!

Gaby Natale in her Emmy Award acceptance speech

The first indication that the Emmys might be a special night came when Natale and the others in her party found their table inside. It was much closer to the stage than they had anticipated. Maybe this was a good sign, they agreed.

“Then the ceremony started,” Natale says. “At about the same time that Mario Lopez, the host, walked onstage, a producer came over to us and said, ‘You guys are from SuperLatina, right? Your category comes up in eight more awards, so pay attention and don’t go anywhere, just in case.’”

Just in case?

“I promised him, ‘Even if I have to go the ladies’ room, no matter how bad it gets, I will hold it.’”

A few minutes later, after winners in two more categories were announced, a second producer and a cameraman approached the table to position a camera in front of the upstart nominee. “I said, ‘Oh, I understand. You want the shot of the gracious loser face, right? OK, I can do that. I can play along.’”

But there would be no loser face on this night.

And even though Natale did not expect to win, she had a just-in-case winner’s speech handy. She’s no fool. “I didn’t want to be the dumb person who goes up onstage and doesn’t know what to say,” she explains. “Even though the odds were against me, I still had to be prepared.”

Every time she had rehearsed her speech, in which she dedicated the victory “to the dreamers, to the rebels, to the ones who wake up every day and do not allow anyone to define their capabilities,” she would start to cry. But in delivering those lines when it counted, she was loud and proud and did not break.

Natale closed by declaring, “You’re never too old, you’re never too fat, too ugly, too gay or too undocumented to make your dreams come true!”

 

Natale will get to vote in her first presidential election as a U.S. citizen in November. She is taking that right, that privilege, to heart. She’s also urging others to be politically active.

She has become a passionate member of and spokesperson for Voto Latino, a national get-the-vote-out organization that encourages members of the Hispanic community to make their voices heard.

“I remember when I first arrived in the United States in 2003,” Natale says. “People were talking about Latinos and the elections and they were calling us ‘sleeping giants.’ Like, ‘Oh, one day they’re going to wake up.’ Well, this giant is not sleeping anymore. We have become part of the national dialogue.

“The Hispanic community is growing, and there is so much opportunity for us to help shape the identity of this country and make a stronger, more inclusive democracy. But there is still work to be done.”

Natale and her husband chose to leave Argentina first and foremost because of work opportunities in the U.S. that didn’t exist for her in her country. One of her first jobs in the States was with a Washington, D..C., public relations and TV production company catering to Latin American and U.S. Latino clients.

“Where I lived in Argentina, there was, like, 24 percent unemployment — and probably worse for recent graduates,” Natale recalls. “I would go on job interviews and the news director would say, ‘Yes, you’re very qualified, but I’m laying off half of my staff today.’

“There was nothing for me going on in Argentina. So coming here made sense. Finally I would get to work in the field that I had chosen, the field that I trained for.”

The longer she lived in the U.S., however, the more it became about more than just work. She fell in love with the country.

She has embraced Fort Worth, as well. It’s worth noting that the SuperLatina studio set no longer has wheels, an indication that she and the show might be in North Texas to stay. “I’m not saying that I would never, ever, ever move, because in my life I have moved so many times,” Natale says. “I lived in Argentina, in London, in Washington, in Mexico and now in Texas. But there’s something special here. I travel across the whole country for interviews. But every time the plane lands at DFW, it’s such a comforting feeling. That’s when I’m like, ‘Ah, I’m home.’”

 

This giant is not sleeping anymore. We have become part of the national dialogue. The Hispanic community is growing, and there is so much opportunity for us to help shape the identity of this country and make a stronger, more inclusive democracy. But there is still work to be done.

Gaby Natale

Even as a child growing up in Argentina, Gaby Natale had a charismatic personality.

“When I graduated kindergarten, there was a ceremony where we were all on a stage and they gave us diplomas,” she remembers. “It was very orderly, one diploma after another. It went fast. But when they handed me my diploma, I don’t know why, but in my little kindergarten mind, I associated being on a stage and people clapping with theater and the way that actors say thank you. So I took a bow, a big one.

“The principal said, ‘I think she is going to be onstage one day. She is kind of liking this.’”

Natale didn’t realize that journalism and television were the life for her until many years later.

“I come from a family of lawyers,” she says. “All I knew was I didn’t want any part of that. After high school, I looked at a list of careers. There was journalism, public relations, international relations, etc., and I decided, ‘I like to travel. How about international relations?’ But what did I know? I was 17.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Universidad de San Andres in Buenos Aires in 2000. But during her third year, as an exchange student in London, she fell in love with the idea of becoming a documentary filmmaker, so she followed up with a master’s in journalism.

She loves what she does today with every fiber of her being.

“How many careers are going to allow you to be at the White House in Washington, at a morgue in Mexico, at the border reporting on immigration and to be interviewing all kinds of incredible people?”

When SuperLatina went national, the focus of the show shifted from celebrity-driven “hot topics” toward more long-form interviews.

“The long-form interview is a rare breed in today’s fast-paced television,” Suarez, her husband, says. “But it is a perfect match for Gaby’s skills as an interviewer.”

Typical guests have included such Latino personalities as Carlos Santana, Enrique Iglesias, Don Omar, Prince Royce and Eugenio Derbez. One of her favorite non-Latino interviews, meanwhile, was with author Deepak Chopra. The alternative medicine guru is a personal hero of hers; she has read all of his books.

Natale also seeks out non-celebrity interviews in which people discuss overcoming adversity. It’s an important theme with her. “We talk to people about their roads to success,” she says. “What are the challenges that they faced? Sometimes you would never imagine the obstacles they had to overcome.”

Triumphing over long odds is something that Natale knows a great deal about. That’s why it’s fitting she named her company AGANAR.

The Spanish phrase “a ganar,” after all, means “to win.”

“Gaby serves as an amazing role model and a leading example of the tenacity and dedication of our Hispanic community,” says Ralph Parkman, Vme’s vice president of marketing.

 

We went from a making television in carpet warehouse in Odessa, Texas, to being on the red carpet at the Daytime Emmys. If that isn’t the American Dream come true, I don’t know what is.

Gaby Natale

After she finished her crowd-pleasing acceptance speech, Natale and her husband went backstage for interviews with the press and to collect her engraved Emmy.

“Not many people know this, but the statue they give you onstage is not the one that you’re going to keep,” Natale says. “And everyone who handles your statue while they’re getting it ready wears gloves, so that the first fingerprints on the statue are those of the winner. That’s nice, isn’t it?”

All things considered, the evening couldn’t have gone any better.

“Am I really here?” she remembers thinking. “Somebody pinch me. I must be dreaming.”

But then, as she was walking to the press room, another producer stopped her and said, “There’s still the other category coming up. You need to stay close to the stage, just in case.” And the next thing they knew, they heard Castillo, the same presenter, announcing, “And the Emmy goes to …” and Natale had won again, this time in the talent category.

That meant SuperLatina had earned the distinction of being the first independently produced show in Spanish ever to win a Daytime Emmy — and it did it twice. This Little Show That Could was one of just four programs that night to win multiple awards. Perhaps you’ve heard of the others: General Hospital (five awards), The Bold and the Beautiful (two) and Days of Our Lives (two).

Natale didn’t have a second speech readily available. She hadn’t thought that far ahead. So she improvised this time. “Hello, this is your friend Gaby again!” she began.

Then she hoisted an Emmy statuette in each hand. These same hands, remember, had been covered in pink paint 10 years earlier after the do-it-yourself paint job of the original SuperLatina set pieces.

“We went from making television in a carpet warehouse in Odessa, Texas, to being on the red carpet at the Daytime Emmys,” she says. “If that isn’t the American dream come true, I don’t know what is.”

 

  Comments