September 19, 2008

Project to document 200 years of Latino journalism in the U.S.

On the heels of the 200th anniversary of the first Spanish-language newspaper in the United States and the absence of any visual documentation on the history and evolution of the Latino press, “Voices for Justice: The Enduring Legacy of the Latino Press in the U.S.” is a dream come true for City College of San Francisco journalism instructor Juan Gonzales.

The dream, a multimedia project that will tell the story of the establishment, growth and current strength of the U.S. Latino press, is being spearheaded by San Francisco-based Acción Latina, a nonprofit organization that publishes El Tecolote, a bilingual, biweekly newspaper founded in San Francisco’s Mission District in 1970.

“This is a historic time for the Latino community as we remember the milestone feat of the Latino press,” said project coordinator Gonzales, who chairs the City College of San Francisco journalism department and who is founder/editor of El Tecolote. “This is a time to pay tribute to the countless number of publishing pioneers who provided a vigilant voice for our communities and who championed for their needs.”

The project includes a documentary film for possible airing on the Public Broadcasting System and for use in the classroom, a companion book with added details and stories, and an interactive website, Gonzales said.

Dr. Félix Gutiérrez, one of the project researchers, said the film itself would document stages in the development and growth of the Spanish-language press.

“The story begins in New Orleans with the founding of El Misisipi in 1808 that set the stage for thousands of publications, broadcast, and Internet news outlets currently serving Latinos,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez added that “Voices” will also trace the early exile press on the East Coast, the many newspapers established during the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900s, the youth publications of the 1930s and ’40s, the Puerto Rican and Chicano activist newspapers of the 1960s and ’70s, the emergence of major media corporations publishing Latino newspapers and magazines, and the growth of Latino broadcasting and online media used by Latinos into the 21st century.

“Throughout the last two centuries, Latino/Hispanic communities from coast to coast have supported newspapers ranging from eight-page weeklies printed in Spanish or bilingually to highly entrepreneurial large-city dailies published completely in Spanish,” said Nicolás Kanellos, project member and University of Houston professor and author of “Hispanic Periodicals in the United States (Arte Público Press, 2000).

“Most newspapers have protected the language, culture and rights of an ethnic minority within a larger culture that was in the best of times unconcerned with the Hispanic ethnic enclaves and in the worst of times openly hostile,” added Kanellos, who has gathered the largest collection of copies of Latino newspapers and magazines.

Acción Latina, according to Gonzales, is also orchestrating a yearlong national call to commemorate the bicentennial year of the Latino press in the United States.

“From coast to coast we will encourage cities to host events to help draw attention to this historic time.” he said. “It will also include securing a congressional proclamation, as well as city proclamations paying homage to the nation’s Latino press.”

In September, Gonzales plans a series of kickoff events including a news conference, symposium and reception in New Orleans, birthplace of El Misisipi.

To date, according to Eva Martinez, executive director of Acción Latina, the project has secured initial funding from the Ford Foundation to create a short pilot of the film by September.

It has received other resource support from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, the Department of Journalism at City College of San Francisco, the University of Houston Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage and Arte Público Press, the Freedom Forum Trustee Initiative, and La Raza Media Education Fund of the San Francisco Foundation.

“We welcome all the support we can get,” Martinez said. “We want to talk to folks who can help us in any way – getting stories written, leading us to funding sources, helping us to do research, directing us to pioneers and archival materials, and contributing money.”

For more information on the project and planned events, visit their web site at:

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