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From an Instagram joke to an Alec Baldwin rant: The Hilaria Baldwin accent controversy, explained

Hilaria Baldwin with husband Alec. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
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The holiday season has been unusual, to say the least, but we can always rely on celebrities to chime in with some last-minute drama before the new year.

Perhaps you noticed “Baldwin” trending on Twitter over the weekend and decided you couldn’t handle any more of that guy after his countless appearances on “Saturday Night Live” as President Trump. Can’t say we blame you! The 2020 twist of it all, however, is that the trending Baldwin wasn’t Alec, but his wife, Hilaria.

Before this past week, Hilaria Baldwin (nee Hilary Hayward-Thomas) was only known to most as the yoga instructor and lifestyle podcaster who wed the “30 Rock” actor back in 2012. The pair met the previous year at a Manhattan restaurant, where, as Hilaria once told the New York Times, Alec “walked up and took my hand and said, ‘I must know you.’ ” They now share five young children who frequently appear on Hilaria’s personal Instagram account.

Then last Monday, the Twitter user @lenibriscoe tweeted, “You have to admire Hilaria Baldwin’s commitment to her decade long grift where she impersonates a Spanish person.” The thread documented several instances of Baldwin speaking with a Spanish accent and seemingly claiming heritage, despite having spent most of her childhood in Massachusetts with seemingly non-Spanish parents.

A controversy was born — and only made worse when Baldwin eventually responded on Instagram. Here’s how it all unfolded.

How did this all start?

It started, as it often does, with an Instagram post. The comedian Amy Schumer reposted an image of Baldwin wearing a bra and underwear as she holds her months-old son, Eduardo Pau Lucas, and jokingly passed it off as a photo of herself and her own young son, Gene.

“Gene and I wanted to wish everyone a happy holiday season,” Schumer wrote in the since-deleted post, according to People magazine. Baldwin took offense to the conversations that ensued in the comments section, claiming they were “getting into a place of body shaming” and calling for “body inclusivity.”

“There’s the whole thing of, ‘Oh, moms don’t look like that,’ ” Baldwin said in a video. “Some moms do. This mom does. I am included in the inclusivity.”

The Twitter thread popped up around the time of this back-and-forth, drawing attention to Baldwin’s explicitly American accent in some older videos.

And then it started trending?

Yup! With festivities over, it seems everyone returned to Twitter to share negative reviews of “Wonder Woman 1984” and express general confusion over Baldwin’s accent. Vulture’s Jackson McHenry killed two birds with one stone: “Hilaria Baldwin whispers, ‘I renounce my wish’ and turns back into Hilary.”

What’s the actual story?

The Twitter thread painstakingly details how Baldwin has long spoken with a vaguely Spanish accent — as demonstrated in a “Good Morning America” interview following her wedding to Alec, as well as a “Today” show appearance where she struggled to recall the English word for “cucumber.”

In her first Instagram video addressing the confusion, Baldwin blamed members of the press for routinely flubbing details of her ancestry and background. News archives indeed show that reporting around her upbringing is all over the place: A 2012 Vanity Fair article cited her “mixed Yankee and Spanish stock.” A New York Post dispatch from the couple’s wedding reported that the ceremony was “conducted in English with readings in Spanish” and that “the bride’s family is from Spain.” A New York Times column about the ceremony mentioned that Baldwin was raised in Boston and Spain and that “her parents now reside on Mallorca.”

This is where we remind you to support local news organizations: A Boston Herald item about the Baldwins’ lavish wedding noted that “the blushing bride grew up in Spain and Beacon Hill, where she attended the Advent School,” and where — according to the paper’s unnamed source — “she was known as Hilary, not ‘Hilaria.’ ”

An even clearer picture emerges from a 2003 Beacon Hill Times story about Baldwin’s father, David Thomas. The paper described Thomas, a former lawyer then serving as treasurer of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, as a Nebraska native who grew up in Upstate New York.

The article detailed Thomas’s long-standing presence in Beacon Hill, noting he had “lived in the same home on Pinckney Street” for nearly three decades. He had been married to Baldwin’s mother, internist Kathryn Hayward, for 24 years by that point. The paper briefly mentioned their two children: “Jeremy, who is a sophomore at New York University, and Hilary, who lives on Beacon Hill and plans to start college at New York University in the fall.”

So is she actually Spanish?

Well, the Beacon Hill Times article did confirm the family’s connection to Spain — but as a summer destination, not a motherland. It noted that David Thomas, who studied Spanish literature at Pennsylvania’s Haverford College, “speaks fluent Spanish and enjoys vacationing in Spain and Mexico.”

Thomas’s father, David Lloyd Thomas Sr., was an Iowa native who frequently traveled to Argentina as an auditor for General Electric. According to Thomas Sr.’s obituary, published earlier this year, the family’s travels there “instilled in his children a curiosity about the wider world and inspired them to become proficient in the Spanish language.”

Baldwin’s mother, meanwhile, grew up in Springfield, Mass., according to local news reports from 2017, when she gave a speech at her alma mater, Bay Path University, in western Massachusetts. That doesn’t speak to ancestry, of course — Baldwin told her Instagram followers that her ethnic background is “a mix of many, many, many things” — but it does make it odd that she would forget the English word for a vegetable in a cooking segment, or that she would say, as she reportedly did on a podcast this year, that she moved to the United States at 19 to attend NYU.

Has Alec addressed this at all?

In addition to making a brief off-screen appearance in Hilaria’s second Instagram address, Alec posted his own video online with the caption, “Consider the source… ”

He began the eight-minute clip sitting in eerie silence, eventually whispering, “Hope you had a nice holiday.” After several minutes of railing against Facebook and its founders, Alec pivots to calling Twitter a “swap meet” and likens tweets to trashy secondhand goods: “used coasters with the rings on them,” “vintage bottle openers from some bar,” “empty coffee cans” and so on.

“You have to hack your way through the debris,” he says of the platform before mentioning Pizzagate and Jeffrey Epstein. Ironically, it takes him more than six minutes to get to the point: “There’s things that have been said lately about people I love and care about deeply which are ridiculous. I mean, just ridiculous. Consider the source. Consider the source.”

So what if she fabricated her bio?

Some on social media have wondered what the harm is in Baldwin passing herself off as Spanish — a layered question. As many of her critics (including the author of the thread that started it all) pointed out, her public image and statements about it evoke the otherness that people of immigrant backgrounds often feel.

Baldwin confessed to being “a White girl” in her video response, but it’s her ethnicity, not her race, that is in dispute. There are people of all ethnic backgrounds in Spain, of course, and many of them are White. (Remember colonization?)

Baldwin’s defense seems to cast the issue as ignorant backlash against her bicultural background. “I’m proud that I speak two languages, and I’m proud that I have two cultures,” she said in her Instagram. “I’m proud that I’m raising my kids that way. I’m proud that my family is that way. And I don’t really think that that’s a negative thing.”

In another since-deleted post, Schumer seemed to agree with those who found the entire controversy as funny as it was frustrating. “I get it. I went to Spain a couple times and loved it too,” she wrote Sunday on Instagram alongside a cucumber emoji.

Read more:

How long can famous people get away with dismissing criticism as ‘bullying’ from ‘haters’?

All the times Alec Baldwin has suggested he’s done playing Trump on ‘Saturday Night Live’

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