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St. Louis Post-Dispatch

At Home With... Gilberto Pinela

By SUSAN FADEM Special to the Post-Dispatch

September 4, 2004
Copyright © 2004 St. Louis Post-Dispatch. All rights reserved. 

LIKE THE improbable media career he doggedly pursued, the 1890s house that Gilberto Pinela bought wasn't exactly brimming with possibility. Drab and forlorn, its natural charms masked by drop ceilings and neglect, the house in the city's historic Shaw neighborhood was more or less awaiting demolition. Then Pinela walked in. "I'm going to make something out of you," he recalls thinking. Seven years later, his renovation continues. But meanwhile, he has transformed himself. Since arriving in St. Louis in 1991 from the East Coast, where he lived for 10 years after leaving his native Puerto Rico, he has gone from hotel employee to Hispanic community leader to arguably the leading media personality in the Latino community here.

Q Did your real-estate agent think you'd gone bonkers when you liked this house?

A My agent said, "You're crazy! Let's go." I love the old architecture in St. Louis. But this was a major, major challenge. The house would have been condemned. It was empty for about six months. The kitchen was nonexistent. There was no plumbing. When I moved in, I had to shower at friends'.

Q What drew you to the house?

A This house is kind of a parallel to me. Had nobody paid attention to it, it would have been destroyed. One of the first things that happened to me when I moved to St. Louis is that I looked out the window of my hotel and got very sad, very depressed. Tears came out of my eyes. I felt that I was all alone. For the first time in my life, I said, "I don't know anything here I can identify with my heritage." St. Louis seemed like one very monolithic community that didn't have any diversity. That's what I thought.

I said I wanted to go to school and pursue my dream in broadcast. I thought, "I'm going to make sure that whatever Hispanics come behind me have the opportunity to know what's going on, that they don't feel like they're alone." Now it's slowly but surely coming true.

Q You're on City TV 10's "Best of STL" (televised at various times). You're also part of "Ahora San Luis," the first locally produced Spanish-language TV talk and variety show in the state of Missouri. You collaborate with one of the newspapers here, Red Latino, and you're part of a group that manages Radio Cucui radio in Spanish. Now you'll be doing a two-hour show for Steve and Michael Roberts on UPN cable, from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays, starting this fall. Will you be staying in St. Louis?

A My satisfaction would be to keep this house, even though it is three stories and much too big. Even if I make it big and have houses in LA and New York, I would love to be able to fix this house and always call it home. I love my neighborhood. My neighbors are just awesome, really good people.

Q What are you doing with an old Saturday Evening Post?

A I think I was in Nebraska and picked that up in an antiques shop. I went to Israel last year, and in my kitchen I have tiles from Haifa and Tel Aviv. I like little knickknacks. My little things are a scrapbook of my life. Hispanic is a label for a Spanish-speaking person in the United States. Latino is hot, sexy and passionate, which is what I consider myself. I'm full of energy and romance. I love life. I surround myself with all these little trinkets so I that if I wake up and if I'm having a bad morning, I say, "OK, let me see." I look at something and immediately, it reminds me that I had a great time.

Q Is that Christmas music I hear?

A You can see how busy I've been. That's the last time I turned on my CD!

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