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One On 1: Latina Magazine Editorial Director Betty Cortina

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NY1's Budd Mishkin continues his series, "One On 1," with a profile of a woman who's achieved plenty of success in the magazine world: the editorial director of Latina magazine, Betty Cortina.

 View the full, uncut interview with our web-only "One On 1 Extra" feature at the bottom of the page.

Betty Cortina's work revolves around words. But who she is? That's all about math.

“I’m 100 percent American and 100 percent Cuban, and if that math doesn't make any sense to anybody, or if you're not Latina, it makes total sense to me,” she says.

Cortina is the editorial director of Latina magazine, where everything is seen through the lens of the experience of living in two cultures.

“The toggle between two cultures is a reality for Latina as a magazine, and for every Hispanic woman who was either born here in America, first generation or second generation, or raised here,” she says.

The 34-year-old Cortina came to Latina in 2001 after stints at People magazine, People Espanol, Entertainment Weekly, and then as one of the founding editors of Oprah Winfrey's magazine, O.

“A lot of people did say, ÎAre you kidding me? You're leaving O? It's the most successful magazine,’ and blah, blah, blah,” she says. “I wanted to do something that woke me up in the morning and I really, really wanted to go to work."

Cortina was born in Chicago and raised in Miami by parents who left Cuba 40 years ago. Part of the lure of Latina is working with and writing for mostly women who have a shared experience, such as being the first in your family to go to college, or to have a career rather than a job.

"It's the experience of being the first in your family, the experience of being 12 years old and reading bank statement to your mom because she can't read it in English, and you are 12 but you’ve been given the responsibility to translate it because you're the only one who speaks English in the house," she says.

The articles in Latina look a lot like articles in other magazines for women, but Cortina says the writing is always from a Hispanic point of view. The faces look familiar too, but Cortina claims these are not your typical celebrity articles.

“We treat them very differently. It's not about gossip — it’s about they are a role model,” she says. “Jennifer Lopez is a role model for a lot of little girls who grew up in the Bronx. They live on blocks not unlike where Jennifer lived and go to schools not unlike where Jennifer went to school. And Jennifer had a dream, worked really hard and did it. So that says if that’s possible for Jennifer, it's possible for me.”

While she may not have the visibility of Jennifer Lopez, Cortina is in a high profile job filled with interviews and deadlines and travel. But there's always a balancing act between how to thrive in a modern world while never straying from the traditions of her family and the old country.

“When I take a stage or do an interview or do anything, I feel like I am most definitely not alone up there,” she says. “I am standing on a lot of people's shoulders who came before me, and sharing the stage with a lot of other women who came from backgrounds just like mine.”

Betty Cortina works in the heart of the most diverse city in America, but she grew up in Miami, and everyone in her neighborhood was the same.

“[It was] solidly Cuban. Not even Hispanic, but solidly Cuban,” she says. “If you look at my high school yearbook, there are rows and rows of brunettes and one little blond, a bottle blond."

And from her parents there was talk, plenty of talk, about the homeland they left.

“The mangoes were sweeter, the sun was brighter, the moon was bigger, and everything was better in Cuba,” she says. “Except that there was a revolution and everything changed, and the one thing that wasn't better was that they lost their freedom.”

Early on Cortina felt the push and pull of her parents' sacrifice to immigrate here. Her desire to go to college was encouraged, even required. But leave home to go away to school? That they weren't so crazy about.

“That was quite a spirited discussion that day, and that was one of the first moments that I really struggled with my upbringing, my sense of tradition,” she says.

She left Miami for the University of Florida in Gainesville, thinking she'd had it with what she calls "this Cuban thing." But after experiencing being a minority for the first time, she started holding Cuban nights at her apartment.

"I realized for a second I tried to run away from who I was, and wound up right back where I started,” she says.

After college, she worked at the Miami Herald, and then got a job with People magazine in Los Angeles. There was little time for adjustment. Cortina was immediately sent to Corpus Christi, Texas, to cover the aftermath of the death of Tejano singing sensation Selena.

"If it had at all occurred to me the enormity of that story, I wouldn't have been able to perform at all,” she says. “It was my very first story for People magazine.”

Cortina's article became part of a special issue of People. It was so popular, Selena's sister called to try to get a few copies.

“I was like, ÎOh my god, of course. You shouldn't have to go out and buy them,’” she says. “She said, ÎNo, I went to the store to go buy it, but the thing is they're not getting to the store. They're taking them off the trucks and selling them on the street for like $50.’”

The intensity of the reaction to the special issue led People magazine to start a new edition in Spanish, which brought Cortina to New York, and eventually to Latina.

“I never would have dreamed that that story would have ultimately launched a magazine career for me and really ultimately led me to sit here,” she says. “I fully believe that's what happened.”

Cortina likens working at Latina to "coming home." She's done some television, and has had offers to do more.

For now, she's happy running the type of magazine that helps her link her modern life with her family's past.

“You grow up with that sense of history, of, ÎWe came here for you and the success and dreams and the reputation of your whole family rests squarely on your shoulders, in that sense,’” she says. “You better believe that when I'm confronted with something I hear a voice. I can't let them down.”

- Budd Mishkin


 Take a behind-the-scenes look at this week's "One On 1" profile with Budd Mishkin's full, uncut interview in Real Video:

  PART 1

  PART 2

  PART 3

  PART 4 ClientIP:, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP