If you don’t watch Spanish-language television, chances are you might not have heard of Dr. Ana Maria Polo. However, she is one of the world’s most influential Latino TV stars. Often referred to as the Latina Judge Judy, Polo is a lawyer and host of the insanely popular court show “Caso Cerrado” (Case Closed) on Telemundo.
In 2010, the show made history as the first show on a Spanish-spoken broadcasting company to be nominated for an Emmy award. Polo is also a verified social media superstar with more than 15 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter combined.
I caught up with the Miami-based at the Los Angeles Health Expo “La Feria de la Salud,” an annual event at the LA Convention Center that provides free health services and information to Spanish-speaking communities. Amid the noise and excitement of the event–attended by more than 25,000 people–we met backstage where we chatted about success, struggles and what it takes to make your dreams come true.
You’re the host of the longest-running, most successful court show in Spanish-language TV. “Caso Cerrado” has been on the air since April 2001. How did you make this happen? What do you think accounts for its success?
Oh, I don’t know. I have no idea. How did it happen? I wanted to do it since I was a little girl. I have to be honest about that.
It was your dream?
That was my dream…to be a television hostess. A communicator. I like to communicate.
And you do it so well.
Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
But did you always want to be a judge? Were you always judging people?
You want justice!
Yes! I like to resolve conflict, that’s what it is. I know that life is riddled with conflict. Without it, [life] would be boring, it would be nothing. So I think that every conflict has a solution, and more than one solution and I’m into that. And I like to communicate and I like to reflect on society and I’m a humanist. I believe in human beings and in their rights and in their liberties, so this is why I enjoy doing this so much.
Speaking of human rights and liberties, in addition to being a TV star, you’re an activist. Tell me a little bit about that. You’re very big on women’s rights and immigration.
Anything that has to do with prejudice and discrimination I’m against and I’m very vociferous about it. I speak my mind.
Where does that strength come from … your ability to have the confidence?
I think that there are a number of factors. One of them is that I’m an immigrant myself. I arrived from Cuba.
When was that?
In 1961, I was two years old when I got here from Cuba. So as a Cuban I’m very conscious about liberties, first amendment liberties, free speech, being able to speak your mind, that kind of thing. As a woman I had to face a lot of things, [also] as a lawyer. I remember going to court and everyone being a guy except me and my client.
Did it also make a difference that you were Latina, not just a woman?
I think that all those factors had a lot to do with my personality and my character. And naturally, I come from a very outspoken family — my mom, my dad are very outspoken, so I learned to speak freely about what I think and not be afraid. And these are important times to do that!
Especially now with the #MeToo and Times Up movements.
For Latinas in particular, women in general, what is your advice if they might not have the financial or social access to pursue their dreams? I came from humble beginnings and I didn’t feel like I was connected and it made me wonder, ‘Can I really make my dreams come true?’
So did I. I came from very humble beginnings. My parents were very modest people. But I’ll tell you something, I never felt the prejudice or the fear. I was so concentrated on my dreams, on my wanting to develop myself, to move forward, to do what I wanted, I wouldn’t give it a thought. If somebody treated me with prejudice or discrimination, I would simply ignore it and do what I had to do.
You didn’t have time for that!
I had no time for that!
Maybe you were just born that way.
Like Lady Gaga! I was born this way!
Cos she said ain’t nobody got time for that!
But you know what, in the end, whether you’re born that way or not, we all have the ability to just move forward. We set our dreams, we prepare ourselves, educate ourselves and we simply move forward like a horse [mimics a horse with blinders on]: Focused!
Is there one particular motto or quote or piece of advice that has carried you throughout your life?
Never, never, never give up.
If you never give up, you never lose, right?
You never lose. Because losing is a state of mind. There’s always options, there’s always ways to move ahead and you can reach your goals and your dreams.
I love it. You’re so inspiring. OK final question: You’re a judge. You can be kind of serious and you definitely speak your mind. What do you do to let loose?
Oh my God, I love the ocean. I go out on the ocean, I do boarding, paddle board. And I like to play the guitar and I sing and get together with my friends.
Oh, you like to sing, too?
I wrote the theme song for the show!
Oh wow, ‘Caso Cerrado’ girrrrl! You’re multi-talented!
Yeah, I wrote that theme song. So that’s what I like to do.
Is there anything else you want to say to all the homegirls out there who can get some wisdom from you?
Girls, just fight to stay concentrated, prepare yourselves and never, never give up.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, how poor or rich you are, none of that matters. Just do it. Don’t wait for somebody to give you that opportunity, you gotta take it.
That’s right. Take it!
For more inspiration, be sure to check out Ana Maria Polo’s Facebook page.