Gerald Rivera was born on July 4, 1943, at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan, New York. He is one of four children of the late Cruz Rivera and Lilly Friedman. Throughout his life, Rivera has explained often his Puerto Rican heritage. According to Rivera's autobiography, his father was born in Puerto Rico and was one of thousands of Puerto Ricans who migrated to the United States seeking work and better living opportunities during the 1930s. When he married Rivera's mother, Lilly Friedman, he changed his first name to Allen to avoid offending her Jewish family; the name Cruz means cross in Spanish. At the time of their marriage, crosscultural marriages, and families were not well accepted in U.S. society. Thus, when Rivera was born, his mother named him Gerald and changed the spelling of his name to Riviera to give it a more generic European connotation.