León Krauze is the nightly news anchor for Univisión. Born and raised in Mexico City, he began his journalism career focusing on sports, but later turned his attention to politics and culture. Before taking part in a Zócalo/Getty “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” panel discussion titled “Is Los Angeles Really Part of Latin America?” at The Getty Center, he spoke in the green room about Rio de Janeiro car traffic, his favorite Mexican soccer team, and getting toys from Octavio Paz.
Your parents knew many prominent people when you were growing up in Mexico City. Who would show up at the family dinner table?
You know, we were a tight-knit family. My parents weren’t very social—I know that might be surprising. But it wasn’t that sort of tertulia [social gathering] oriented family. But when it did happen, people like Octavio Paz and the Vuelta [magazine] circle, and that group of intellectuals, I remember very well. I remember Mario Vargas Llosa being there. I remember people like Leon Wieseltier and The New Republic crowd very well—maybe not at the house, proper, because my mother was not one to organize dinner parties, but certainly in other venues. That’s certainly how I grew up, surrounded by these people. It was very stimulating, although I only realized that Octavio Paz was Octavio Paz later in life. When I was a kid he was just Octavio, my father’s friend, who gave me toys. [Laughs] And then I got into poetry and discovered him and that was a shock!
When did you first get the idea that the United States might be a place where you could live the rest of your life?
From a very early age. Through my father—who I would characterize as a man who has studied democracy like very few people in Latin America—I’ve always admired the American democratic process. Even now that it has gone through such a difficult period I still feel that the foundation of the country is profoundly virtuous. And so I had always wanted to come and live in the United States, study in the United States. And then, when I finally found my vocation, to become a journalist in the United States and talk to, and about, the Hispanic community. So for as long as I can remember, to be honest. And I’m not being romantic; that’s just the way it is.
I imagine that in certain parts of L.A. you’re very recognized and a celebrity, and there are other parts of town where you can go and just blend right into the background.
It’s absolutely true. It’s always very, very touching, because the bond that one develops with the audience is different from any other experience that I’ve had. In Mexico there’s some sort of distance between the broadcaster, be it radio or television or whatever, and the audience. There’s a certain emotional separation. And here that doesn’t happen. People approach me as if I were literally part of the family, and tell me things that might sometimes sound inappropriate for people who are just meeting, but they relate to me that way, and it’s really very touching. And of course when you see that disconnect between the people who get very excited and those who don’t know who I am—for example, in a restaurant I always like to go into the kitchen and just hug people, and sometimes the maître d' just looks at me and says, ‘Who the hell is this guy?!’
But all the workers know who you are.
Absolutely. And that means everything to me. That’s why I go to work every single day, to tell their story. That’s, I think, my calling in life. Increasingly so, since I came to Los Angeles, I realize that.
Do you have a favorite Latin American city, apart from Mexico City?
I really love Buenos Aires. I’ve been there once. I love Bogotá. I recently went with my wife to Havana, and I found Havana to be an incredibly touching and infuriating place—in that order—and a beautiful place. I went to Rio de Janeiro when the World Cup was going on and I found it gorgeous, but it was just too busy, and the traffic was just too crazy. And this, coming from a Mexican! The 405 was for kids.
Speaking of the World Cup, who’s your team?
Well, México is my team, of course.
How about a club team?
I’m a professional sufferer, so I root for Cruz Azul, which has been on the verge of winning for 20-odd years and is just a professional sufferers’ club. And I hope that Argentina wins the World Cup if Mexico doesn’t, which it won’t, just because I love Lionel Messi and I think that he deserves to win the World Cup. But I think that Germany will win it.
So—fútbol or baseball?
Well, fútbol, but just barely. I love baseball, too. And one of the highlights of my life was when I got to throw the first pitch at a Dodgers game. I got it all the way to the plate and I think it was a slow strike, which was good enough for me. It was an incredible feeling.
Don Quixote or Moby-Dick?
Moby-Dick. I find more human pathos in it. And it’s less romantic; the obsession is more brutal.
Turning to musicians, Shakira or Taylor Swift?
I have to say Taylor Swift, because I find her so beautiful. I’m sorry, Shakira!
Are there places in L.A. that you go to when you feel homesick for Mexico?
Many places. Guisados in Boyle Heights. La Guelaguetza as well. Or even a taco stand. There are a bunch of taco stands popping up all over the Westside now. Just the sight of them, and the smell—I get goosebumps now—and the long lines of people from every ethnic background. That’s very touching to me. Another favorite of mine is the Plaza del Mariachi in Boyle Heights, just because of the connection to that kind of music. And then lastly, something I just discovered recently, and I made a piece about for Univisión, is the [David Alfaro] Siqueiros mural, “América Tropical.” I wasn’t aware that it existed, and when I saw it I immediately wept. I just felt like I was in front of my country— even though Siqueiros was slightly insane. To say the least.
Who would you like to interview that you haven’t already?
I would like to interview Donald Trump, although it would be very, very difficult. Because he’s beyond dogmatic. I’ve interviewed dogmatic [people] recently, and my worst experience as an interviewer has been, bar none, Bernie Sanders. It was very, very uncomfortable as an interview. I thought I was in front of a Latin American strongman. But if not Trump, Elon Musk. Or Jennifer Lawrence.