The first signs that Hilaria Baldwin’s life was going seriously off the rails came from the same place where she usually derives her sense of control. “I started seeing comments on my Instagram,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
“It’s a very strange thing and you can just be living your life,” she said, when suddenly comments begin to mount suggesting that you, a famous person who has shared so much of yourself with your hundreds of thousands of followers, are not who they thought you to be, and you find your very identity the subject of international debate and skepticism.
Over the last week or so, millions of people, cooped up and tired and probably too online at the end of the year, have been surprised to learn that Hilaria Baldwin, 36 and the mother of five children with her husband, the actor Alec Baldwin, is not a Spaniard but an American who was born and raised in Boston and who was known, at least until 2009, as Hillary.
“It’s very surreal,” said Ms. Baldwin who said she had been called Hilaria by family members for most of her life. “There is not something I’m doing wrong, and I think there is a difference between hiding and creating a boundary.”
For days now, the internet and the news media have dogged her, sharing evidence of Ms. Baldwin speaking in a Spanish accent in this video but not that one, of fluffy magazine spreads in !Hola! that cite her as a native Spanish speaker, of a “Today” show clip showing her making gazpacho and asking Telemundo’s Evi Sisko what the English word for cucumbers is and of a biography posted on the website of Creative Artists Agency, the talent organization, that said she was born in Mallorca, Spain.
Ms. Baldwin is bilingual, and she speaks English with varying degrees of a Spanish accent depending on how happy or upset she is feeling, she said. She didn’t know that !Hola! magazine, for which she has twice posed for the cover and which has written some 20 items about her on its English-language website so far this year, repeatedly reported inaccurately that she was a Spaniard because she said she didn’t read articles about herself. She got confused about the word for cucumber because it was one of her first times appearing on live television and she was nervous (“brain fart,” she said). As for the C.A.A. bio, she can only assume the agency used unverified information from the internet to write a sloppy bio. “I rarely at all work with C.A.A. now,” she said. “It was very disappointing.” (A spokeswoman for !Hola! declined to comment. A spokesman for C.A.A. declined to comment.)
But all these misconceptions are why she agreed to speak to a reporter for 80 minutes as she cuddled and nursed her infant son. “Today we have an opportunity to clarify for people who have been confused — and have been confused in some ways by people misrepresenting me.”
“One of the most important places to start is this idea of boundaries,” said Ms. Baldwin, who invites social media followers into her home life with Mr. Baldwin and their five fair-haired young children by routinely sharing images like her underwear-clad workout routines, innumerable pregnancy selfies and the sponsored diaper-ad videos of her infant son.
“We have this thing called oversharing, which I’ve actually been accused of,” she said. But she says that idea oversimplifies and misunderstands her boundaries. “My children are young enough and I’m just sharing sweet little things of them.”
But when it comes to her parents, well, she even left them out of her 2012 wedding announcement. “Where does something stop being your story and start being someone else’s?” she asked. And, to shield her parents from press attention that would fall upon them simply because their daughter married someone really famous, she said she had purposefully avoided sharing details of her upbringing.
The trouble began for Ms. Baldwin on Dec. 21. That is when a woman who uses the Twitter handle @Lenibriscoe (like the “Law & Order” character Lennie Briscoe, get it?) decided to answer her pandemic holiday ennui by thumb-typing out something that had been on her mind. “You have to admire Hilaria Baldwin’s commitment to her decade long grift where she impersonates a Spanish person,” the woman wrote. She went on to post about the accent inconsistencies, clips showing the decidedly non-Spanish, entirely New England establishment bona fides of Ms. Baldwin’s parents and the unfortunate cucumber moment.
She said that Ms. Baldwin’s American upbringing was an open secret among many people in New York and she just decided to make it less secret. “We’re all bored and it’s just seemed so strange to me that no one had ever come out and said it, especially for someone who gets so much media attention,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity by The New York Times because she said she was scared that Mr. Baldwin, who agreed to take an anger management course in 2019 in order to dispose of charges after a fight with a man over a parking spot and has been arrested, escorted from a plane and suspended from a job as an MSNBC host, all in the last decade, would punch her. (A spokeswoman for Mr. Baldwin declined to comment.)
The tweets took off (“Fake Twitter accounts accusing me of a fake identity!” Ms. Baldwin pointed out with incredulity) and the media found its end-of-December replacement for the fodder usually provided by an unusually restrained President Trump, delivering everything from a New York Post cover to a Washington Post explainer.
Periodistas on the other side of the Atlantic weighed in too, with El Mundo, the widely read Spanish newspaper, writing: “Hilaria Baldwin confesses that she was not born in Spain and her name is not real.”
“The things I have shared about myself are very clear,” Ms. Baldwin said. “I was born in Boston. I spent time in Boston and in Spain. My family now lives in Spain. I moved to New York when I was 19 years old and I have lived here ever since. For me, I feel like I have spent 10 years sharing that story over and over again. And now it seems like it’s not enough.”
Ms. Baldwin said she made her Boston heritage clear to her husband when they met at a vegan restaurant in 2011. She was speaking in Spanish to an Argentine man and his girlfriend who were seated at a table next to one where Mr. Baldwin was seated. “I walked by him,” she said of Mr. Baldwin and he called out to her, “‘Who are you, I must know you, I must know you,'” she recalled. “He said, ‘Where are you from?’ And I said, ‘I’m from Boston.’ That was the first thing I said, that has always been my narrative.” (Still: “My wife is from Spain,” Mr. Baldwin once said, on television, to David Letterman.)
As much as she loves Spain, it was not a topic she wanted to discuss publicly because doing so threatened to intrude upon her parents’ privacy. “I want to talk about the things I am passionate about,” she said. “My intention is not to be an American TV personality. My intention is not to be a Spanish TV personality. My intention is to talk about health and fitness and being a mom.”
Spain is a country long loved by her parents, David L. Thomas Jr., who practiced real estate law for white shoe firms, and Dr. Kathryn Hayward, a retired internal medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Through a spokeswoman for Ms. Baldwin, Mr. Thomas and Dr. Hayward declined to comment.
Spain “was something that was part of my father’s childhood,” Ms. Baldwin said. “He would go there when he was younger and created these deep, deep, deep bonds and it was something that was part of my childhood. It was something my father introduced to my mother when they met, when they were pretty young.”
Ms. Baldwin first visited Spain with her parents when she was a baby, she said, and she went at least yearly thereafter. She declined to explain in detail how frequently they traveled there or how long they stayed. “I think it would be maddening to do such a tight time line of everything. You know, sometimes there was school involved. Sometimes it was vacation. It was such a mix, mishmash, is that the right word? Like a mix of different things.”
When the family visited Spain, they spent much of their time in Madrid, Seville and Valencia, she said.
When they were at home in Boston, Ms. Baldwin said, the family spoke Spanish and cooked Spanish food. Family friends from Spain would often live with the Hayward-Thomases for extended stays when visiting the United States. “When we weren’t in Spain, we called it ‘we brought Spain into our home,'” she said.
Ms. Baldwin’s older brother, Jeremy, moved to Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. Mr. Thomas and Dr. Hayward moved there as well in 2011.
These experiences explain why the Spanish language, culture, food and traditional dance are so important to her identity, she said, and she and Mr. Baldwin are working to recreate this for their children. “I send them to a bilingual school where they have Spanish in school and I speak to them in Spanish at home.” After the pandemic, she said, she and Mr. Baldwin plan to spend more time with their children in Mallorca.
“My family, this is where they’ve decided to spend their lives,” she said. “I guarantee you they are going to live there and they are going to die there. That’s their home and that’s because this is not something new, no one put a map up on the wall and threw a dart at it and said, ‘Oh, Spain sounds good.'”
She said she didn’t think that her referring in online posts to her travel to Spain as “going home” was misleading. “Home is where my parents are going to be,” she said. “If my parents move to China, I am going to go to China and say, ‘I’m going home.'” (Though she has said her family has roots in Spain, she said she was speaking colloquially. “These people who I call my family, I am learning in this particular situation, I have to say, ‘People who we have considered to be our family.'”)
She said she did not believe her story was one that bears any connection to cultural appropriation because, she said, as much as American culture has shaped her, so too has the culture of Spain: “Who is to say what you’re allowed to absorb and not absorb growing up?”
“This has been a part of my whole life,” she said, “and I can’t make it go away just because some people don’t understand it.”
She is trying to find value in the drama swirling around her. “There is a reason this conversation is happening right now,” she said. “These are important conversations to have. But as people are able to come out as different parts of themselves and how they identify and have people listen, I think that’s extremely important.”
She doesn’t understand why anyone would think she has portrayed herself as anything other than who she is: someone steeped in two cultures. Evidently, she said, “people don’t have the attention span for that kind of thing.”
Mr. Baldwin, as well, suggests our attention span is limited. “And, as is often the case in a society such as the US is right now, the ravenous appetite for scandal will consume someone else,” he commented on her Instagram feed.
But, she wonders, who is she hurting? “Where is the smoking gun? My intentions are I’m living my life and my life is created by my parents, my different experiences, my languages, my culture and, yeah, my kids do have very Spanish-influenced names,” she said. “You want to know what? Their names are after people who were important to me, they’re not names that we pulled out of a hat. All my kids’ given names, the first names, are all from people in my life, and they have my husband’s last name. And we were very thoughtful about it. Especially the second name, sometimes the first name is something that sounds for me, good in both languages.”
Ms. Baldwin’s name change especially is what confounds people who knew her in her Hillary years. “The whole ‘Hilaria’ thing is hilarious to me,” said Alexander Rechits, who was Ms. Baldwin’s competitive dance partner from 2006 until 2009 and who now is the founder of AVR Dynamics, a business and marketing consultancy.
When they danced the rumba and the cha-cha in events like the New York Dance Festival and the M.I.T. Open, he knew her as Hillary Hayward-Thomas. Sometime after she and Mr. Rechits stopped dancing together, Ms. Baldwin took on the Spanish-inspired version of her given name.
“I understand why she did it,” said Mr. Rechits, who said that Ms. Baldwin was a kind, caring and talented person. “It was always her desire to be considered Spanish. She had roots in Spain, her brother lived there, she visited there a lot. But Hillary is a very good strong name, so why would you change that when you were born here and you weren’t born in Spain?”
“I have a lot of nicknames in Russian,” said Mr. Rechits, who immigrated to New York from Belarus. “But I’m still Alexander everywhere I go.”
Ms. Baldwin said that as she got older, she wanted to choose one version of her name, and she chose Hilaria. And for her, it all comes back to the idea of boundaries. “You are entitled to your privacy,” she said, of all of us on the internet. “I am entitled to my privacy. People say, ‘No, you’re not entitled to your privacy because you married a famous person and you have Instagram.’ Well, that’s not really true.”