Happy New Year!
The hellish year that was 2020 is finally over. While it was mostly a nightmare—I won’t rehash all the reasons why—it did give us a small parting gift near the very end, a tiny little morsel of schadenfreude.
Of course I’m talking about Hilaria-Gate! In case you don’t live your life on Twitter—good for you, teach me how to do that— and you missed the big celebrity scandal of the past week, here it is in brief: Hilaria Baldwin, yoga instructor, podcast host, and wife of Alec Baldwin, was called out on Twitter for allegedly fabricating her Spanish upbringing and accent.
And the person who called Baldwin out about this was none other than the gymternet’s own @lenibriscoe.
I don’t know how long I’ve been following @lenibriscoe on Twitter, but in 2019, I finally met the now-famous Internet sleuth at a hangout for gymnastics fans. Since then, we’ve met up in person a few more times. I even went to Leni Briscoe’s Chanukah party last year in [REDACTED] and had a good time despite the fact that there were no latkes left by the time I arrived and her cat Theo refused to play with me.
Anyway, here is the tweet that got the whole thing started.
In the thread that follows, LB documents the evolution of Baldwin’s Spanish-accented English: Baldwin pours it on thick in her earlier media appearances, but it comes and goes as time goes on...and sometimes completely disappears! She also shared a video in which Baldwin, a woman born and raised in Massachusetts to very white Anglo parents—here are some links that demonstrate that Baldwin has no Spanish lineage on either side of her family—is doing a cooking segment and claims to have forgotten how to say the word cucumber in English.
Words sometimes slip my mind, too, and that is worrisome. But the issue isn’t that she simply forgot how to say “cucumber,” but that she asks for the word in English, which seemed intended to augment the “Hilaria is from Spain and English is her second language” narrative.
The thread was something of a slow burn; it didn’t take off immediately. But by the time Christmas Eve rolled around, it had gained a lot of traction, with many blue check mark accounts on Twitter sharing it. People started to send even more proof of the grift and share even more video evidence. High school classmates tweeted, saying that the woman known as Hilaria had been known to them as Hillary Hayward-Thomas and that she didn’t speak accented English when they knew her many years ago. Yearbook photos of her that had her name as the uber-WASPy “Hillary Hayward-Thomas” surfaced. People had a bit of fun online. It was a great way to spend Christmas for this Jew.
By Sunday, both Baldwins weighed in on the controversy. Hilaria, admitting that she is a white woman who was born in Boston, tried to blame journalists for getting her background information wrong. Pretty rich when you consider that her bio at CAA, her own agency, had her listed as born in Spain at the time she made the claim that it was all the reporters’ faults. (They have since deleted this.) Sorry Hillary, you can’t pin this one on us.
And Alec, proving that he hasn’t lost his oratorical gifts since leaving this voicemail message for his daughter several years back, posted a video where he talks about used coasters, looks directly into the camera and whispers menacingly like he’s Batman.
(I reached out to Hilaria Baldwin via email and direct message on her Instagram account for comment and haven’t yet received a response. If I hear back, I will update this post. In the meantime, here’s an interview she did with the New York Times where she tries to rationalize away all of the inconsistencies in her story. It doesn’t go very well.)
I asked LB if she would do a Q&A, not just about the role she played in a very bizarre Internet drama, but also gymnastics. It is only right that she should use her newfound popularity to spread the gymnastics gospel to the heathens.
While I normally don’t let interview subjects review their quotes, I feel like “don’t get sued by Alec Baldwin” was a reasonable exception to the rule so I sent “Leni” a readback of her quotes with the cuts and changes I made so she could approve them and suggest others if she felt it was necessary. Just wanted to tell you guys in the interest of transparency.
Here’s the Q&A with gymternet and now Internet hero, “Leni Briscoe.”
Dvora Meyers: Like most people who fell down the rabbit hole you so expertly dug, I knew very little about Hilaria Baldwin until last week. When/how did you become aware that maybe, just maybe, Hilaria wasn't a Spanish woman? And what inspired you to compile all of this evidence in a thread?
Leni Briscoe: Something felt off to me in her accent and her story. There are plenty of hot normies married to celebrities who don't get followed around by paparazzi because they haven't gone to great lengths to cultivate a public image. It was very hard for me to believe that someone who allegedly didn't own a TV wanted to immediately become an Extra correspondent as soon as she got married (to a very rich person — it's not like she needed the money).
I guess at the end of such a bad year, I was upset at the audacity of this gringa from Boston appropriating the experience of immigration and learning English as a second language when there are mothers who aren't with their caged children at the border because they aren't rich white people.
DM: Your thread sort of had a slow burn. I recall seeing it earlier in the week and chuckling to myself but it took a few days for it really to take off. Why do you think it went viral when/how it did?
LB: It was a slow burn! Maybe because I heard there was some holiday that Christians celebrate at the same time? Something about someone's birthday and maybe they were born in a tree or something? I think a few verified accounts saw it and retweeted or added things and it eventually took off. I think we all need this gossip right now. It's punching up and they deserve it. They are wealthy white people benefiting from a manufactured spicy white/Latina image and it is gross.
DM: It's weird that we're making jokes about cucumbers that aren't dick jokes. Not counting English, how many languages can you say "cucumber" in?
LB: Uno (espanol, la palabra es pepino)
DM: What are some of the best reactions — videos, tweets, etc — that you've seen to Hilariagate?
LB: My favorite video is definitely by @sunireyes
I would like to see more attention paid to the Black and Brown Latinas who were most hurt by Hilaria's grift.
[Edit note: LB reached out to Suni Reyes and she responded that she identifies as an Afro-Latina of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent.]
DM: The Baldwins, Alec and Hillary, blessed us with response videos, and they were everything we hoped they would be. What did you make of Hilaria's "explanation" of how she presented herself and her history?
LB: She clearly thinks she has executed this grift in a way that she can talk her way out of it, and she's not that fast or smooth a talker in any language. I also felt a little bad for her because she's clearly bothered by it and it wouldn't have been such a big story if she hadn't made her ridiculous videos. Also, why did she say that she was taking a social media break and then immediately post pictures?
DM: How do you feel about Alec Baldwin sort of calling you a bar coaster with stains that one could purchase at a swap meet?
LB: I spent the entire time laughing at how hard that old man tried to roast me while not managing to be at all funny or vicious. Guess what rich people, there is nothing wrong with buying things at a swap meet (it's good for the environment).
DM: If you were going to burn yourself, what would you say?
LB: As I said on Twitter, the best insults come from teenagers, so I will quote two of my favorites. One of my former clients told me I am white like a diamond, and another said that I must go out of my way to look so stupid when I pick my outfit in the morning.
DM: I feel like most of us have enjoyed this whole saga immensely because it's fun when rich, famous people get knocked down a peg or five, but, in your opinion, how was Hilaria's alleged deception problematic or even potentially harmful?
LB: Hilaria leaned into a sexy Hispanic/Latina stereotype that harms actual Hispanics and Latinas. She also leaned into the angry Latina stereotype and pretended her accent got stronger when she is angry. She appropriated the experience of immigration and learning English in America to make herself seem interesting. There are actual people who have had this experience and they deserve to have their voices heard and stories told authentically. Hilaria also harmed Latina and Hispanic women by being a white woman pretending to be Latina which further contributes to the popular image of Latinas as having light skin and straight hair which particularly harms Afro-Latinas. This is a huge problem in Latin America, especially, where most actresses are white.
Hilaria Baldwin @hilariabaldwin😘“@Latina: @hilariabaldwin,u looked stunning in that red dress this week! Picked u as one of our best dressed stars: http://t.co/MuzJoPRuMh”
DM: Which is the best Twitter — the gymternet, or cat twitter?
LB: Cat twitter; there is too much drama on the gymternet.
DM: Which gymnast would you like your new followers to be aware of and why? It can be a current gymnast or a past one, but not Simone because everyone, living and dead, already knows who she is.
LB: Annia Hatch!
I have been disappointed in the lack of recognition Annia gets. Annia is a Cuban immigrant to the United States who won a bronze medal on vault at the 1996 World Championships representing Cuba and a silver medal on vault as well as a silver medal in team competition representing the United States at the 2004 Olympics. Sounds great, right? It was. It is. However, she is constantly overlooked in media coverage.
When Laurie Hernandez (who has light skin) was named to the 2016 United States Olympic Team, multiple articles stated she was the first Latina to compete for the United States at the Olympics since Tracee Talavera, who I believe is of Mexican descent and competed in 1984. That's ridiculous. Annia competed in 2004. Why is she not recognized? Is it because she is an immigrant? Is it because her skin is darker and she doesn't look like the popular image of a Latina? The media also excluded Kyla Ross who is multiracial (I think she has one Puerto Rican grandparent, one Filipino grandparent, one Japanese grandparent and one Black grandparent, but I might be wrong). I feel she should also be included, but Annia's omission bothers me most because I think it is emblematic of the racism experienced by Latinas with darker skin.
DM: Now that you're famous, are you planning on becoming an influencer? What products are you planning to hawk?
LB: No, that sounds like a lot of work. Before I made the Hilaria thread I was going to make a review of all the sweatpants I bought in 2020. So maybe sweatpants.
DM: Truth time — did you just do all of this so that more people would know about your cat Theo?
LB: The fame is already getting to his head. He won't stop meowing at me for attention.
DM: Like me, you've got curly/wavy hair. Tell me about your styling routine.
LB: I’m still figuring out the perfect routine. Currently I put conditioner (NYM Blue Sea Kale & Coconut water) in my hair while I shampoo my roots. After I rinse I put in more conditioner and squish to condition. Then I usually micro plop but if I’m not going anywhere I’ll do a regular plop in a turbie twist. If I micro plop I put gel in right after. If I regular plop I take my hair down in about 5 minutes. I recently got a gel from Giovanni but usually I use the La Looks Extreme sport gel. I apply the gel using praying hands and then scrunch. My hair takes a long time to dry and once it’s finally dry I scrunch it to make it less crunchy.
DM: Who is your favorite short Jewish writer, say 5'4"and under?
LB: I suppose it is you.
[Edit note: I sort of twisted her arm into saying that, I guess.]
If you want to show your appreciating to LB for the detective work she has done, please consider donating to this GoFundMe which has been set up for the family of Kimarlee Nguyen, a woman who died of COVID-19 earlier this year. Nguyen was a teacher, a writer, and daughter of Cambodian refugees. Nguyen helped provide material support to her family when she was alive.
And if you enjoyed this newsletter, please consider subscribing!