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When radio stations need to make a big change to their programming, they introduce themselves to their new market by doing something called “stunting.” It usually lasts one to two days and it’s always something that will get your attention.
I met Sylvia, or La Bronca, when the radio station where I worked 93.3 FM La Raza was on its second day of stunting — a laugh track had been playing nonstop for nearly two days. La Bronca walked into the station wearing a leopard print leotard with five-inch Louboutins and carrying a huge duffle bag of the same brand. I don’t know if it was her outfit, the 36 straight hours of laugh track, or the huge smile, abrazo y beso, that she gave me when we met, but I knew we’d be fast friends. Now we’re both in our 40s and we’ve seen each other move into new careers, mom-life, wife-life, and now through this pandemic.
In November 2020, Sylvia and I sat down for this interview the night before the second wave of shutdowns were announced in California. We had planned on meeting when the world felt normal again, which we had scheduled for the week of Friendsgiving. We got a good laugh out of our inability to predict anything in 2020 as we started to talk about what other surprises — good and bad — this year has brought for La Bronca.
Sylvia Del Valle, aka La Bronca, is a TV/Radio Personality for Univision Broadcasting. Today, her variety show El Free-Guey con La Bronca is syndicated nationally to over 36 radio stations in small and major markets alike.
Sylvia’s stage name, La Bronca, translates to “the fight” or “the ordeal,” an apt description of how she got to where she is today. She immigrated to the U.S. when she was only 16 years old, undocumented and with a minimal grasp of English. While attending high school, she became interested in radio and began an internship running boards for Radio Unica in L.A. There, her natural talent to entertain landed her a spot on the morning show reporting traffic. Not long after, she left Univision for another radio station where she started her own show from 10am–3pm in the Bay Area.
One morning in 2005 as she was walking down Mission Street in San Francisco, Sylvia was passed by a bus wrapped in her image. She realized then she could do big things. Today, those big things include leading the radio industry with one of the most popular radio shows — regardless of language — in Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, Miami, and New York. But her success hasn’t been limited to just radio. She has leveraged her social media platforms to gather a global following with over 1 million Instagram followers.
It’s hard leading a nationally syndicated show. The job itself requires my full undivided attention — it has to in order to stay on top of ratings. My husband and our son also require the same amount of energy. Each of these is a big thing. Add in COVID, quarantine, and keeping my audience informed as their own things or — ¿que decistes? (what did you call them?)— jumbles.
Accepting our situation this year has been a challenge. It’s been hard to stay positive. At the same time, I’m a female leading in one of the largest radio markets in the country, so it’s not all bad. I have to remember that my challenges are really blessings. They’re what I’ve wanted.
My inner power comes from faith. I really believe that my blessings are God-given, so that keeps me from looking at the negatives. I also recognize that perfection doesn’t exist, so I try not to reach for that. Cuando me vuelvo loca (when I feel the most stressed), I go to the biggest source of my happiness: my son, Luca. He’s four and full of energy. Siento que agarrar la energía de él me sirve bien, porque él tiene bastante (I feel like soaking in his energy serves me well because he has so much). I’ve also learned to lean on my husband, Asi. We know we’re in this thing together, no matter how much harder or weirder this year gets. We have each other and our family.
Lo más grande para mi ha sido el poder de ser creativa (the biggest thing for me this year has been the ability to be creative). The thing about having a creative job is that you can pour your energy, good or bad, into it every day. I’m living my passion and that fuels me. In that way, going to work doesn’t feel like work.
Finally, I know that my show helps! We give advice, we laugh, we cry. We do it all, and that’s exciting.
Now that I’m in my 40s, I can’t imagine making those choices again. You can do the same. Just because you’ve made bad choices doesn’t mean that you can’t turn it around.
I feel very comfortable in my skin and with the person I’ve become. That just happened in my 40s. My 20s and 30s were spent having fun, learning how to make mistakes, and how to bounce back. In my 30s, I was very immature and undisciplined, making bad choices in all aspects of my life — especially with men and dating. But I came through — sobrevivi (I survived)— and now that I’m in my 40s, I can’t imagine making those choices again. You can do the same. Just because you’ve made bad choices doesn’t mean that you can’t turn it around.
Family has always come first for me. With the pandemic, I’ve really gotten to experience my family by building a home studio and cutting my commute time. I spend that time with my family instead. That’s been a blessing.
The day-to-day things of this year are all al reves (backward). For instance, Luca was attending pre-K before COVID, and now he’s home full-time. I get to see him during commercial breaks which never happened before.
That’s at home. As far as the radio station, my show is a one-stop information portal for the community that follows me. Since COVID started, we’ve brought these experts to the show to help keep people informed:
Hearing all of this advice on a weekly basis keeps me accountable for everything I’m encouraging my audience to do and reminds me to stay focused and positive.
The community is always managing a certain level of struggle. With COVID, there have been lots of changes. For instance, social pods are happening in the community, but based around big families. This is difficult for us because we’re generally essential workers — at grocery stores, meat packing facilities, gas stations, field and farm work. We’re exposed to the community — and we’ve had to be in order to keep our jobs. When we come home, we could expose each other.
Generally speaking, we’re also a community without health insurance, which means that we’re not necessarily going to the hospital when we get sick. But, COVID is different. Some of us are very aware of what is going on and taking every precaution. Others are concerned with rent more than COVID; survival is about making a living, and that’s much of the community’s concern.
The [Hispanic] community is always managing a certain level of struggle….This [pandemic] is difficult for us because we’re generally essential workers — at grocery stores, meat packing facilities, gas stations, field and farm work. We’re exposed to the community — and we’ve had to be in order to keep our jobs. When we come home, we could expose each other.
What I hear most is that the community is exhausted trying to figure out the rules that are new and changing often.
Being totally exposed now that I have 1 million followers is a lot. Everyone has opinions, and expectations, on what you should wear, what you should do, how you should look. I get these direct messages from strangers — their opinions! It doesn’t bother me but it does feel like a price I have to pay for being exposed on this level.
The hardest thing about pushing forward with Dieta 911, was actually committing to it. Opening any type of storefront or office, signing a lease, and not knowing the future felt like a gamble — because it was and is. But, just like having faith in myself, I had to have faith in my product.
¿La verdad? The truth? I always wanted to be a CEO — I always wanted to be a boss! I always wanted to have something outside of my radio station following, and now I’ve done that. For instance, I have always admired Howard Stern. His voice, his following, his loyal base — I always wanted that. His brand exists outside of his show — ¡En eso estoy! (I’m on my way!)
Did I? I mean, imagine that. Eso es locura (that is insane). Howard Stern is a king and I feel very blessed getting to do what he does.
Not working was never an option for me. I went crazy during maternity leave. I am not made to stay home. Retreating from what I was doing was not something that I even thought about.
Luckily my parents have been the best thing to ever happen to my son, Luca. They’ve stepped in to cover childcare y no te puedo decir cuánto los amo (I can’t even tell you how much I love them). Also, my man is such a supporting father and husband. Even though he has his own career, he never expected me to change my plans when COVID hit. We just kept moving forward.
¡Dejame decirte! (Let me tell you!) My dad, Oscar, to this day gives me show advice. Believe it or not, his ideas work great! Mi Ama Sylvia, or “Bronca Madre,” is a frequent guest on our show. They’re part of the show and part of the dream! They’ve not only believed in me, they’ve allowed me to be whoever I wanted to be from a very early age. I want that for Luca.
Because of them, I’m an example of what can be achieved if you simply believe enough. Listen, I came from nothing — I’ve cleaned restrooms, I worked in restaurants, I did whatever I could — but I always had this dream. If I can keep my dreams alive even though I came here undocumented y todo eso (and all that comes with that), anyone can.
Keep your dream alive! ¡Con fuerza!
Olga Rosales Salinas, along with her five sisters, is a founding member of the Rosales Sisters’ Scholarship. The scholarship helps first-generation or immigrant students from Aptos High School in Aptos, California. She also writes poetry, short stories, and is currently working on her first fiction novel. Her heart center is with her family that includes two rambunctious boys. In fall 2019, she received an honorary mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Prize from the Raw Art Review. Currently she facilitates a poetry writing workshop for 5th and 6th graders at Harbor House, a non-profit in Oakland, California. Between 2009–2011 she was the founding curator for Vettedword, a monthly showcase featuring poets, writers, and musicians.
Olga Rosales Salinas
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