Hispanic Link News Service

As the year-long bicentennial celebration of Latino newspapers in the United States comes to a close, its legacy continues to grow and serve a community.

“The bicentennial is a significant event for journalism and we have a responsibility to document our history,” said Félix Gutiérrez, professor of journalism, communication and Mexican American studies at the University of Southern California. “We have deep roots, We should know them and others should know them.”

Even Gutiérrez was surprised by what he discovered in his research. Before the first U.S. Latino newspaper, the first printed news in the Americas was produced in a booklet, “hoja volante,” by Juan Rodriguez in 1541, nearly 150 years before the first English colony newspaper. And in 1808 the first U.S. Latino newspaper, El Misisipí, was founded in New Orleans.

“I was surprised while digging into all this history,” Gutiérrez said. “Who would have thought the first U.S. Latino newspaper would be in New Orleans?”

Throughout the 200 years, U.S. Latino newspapers played multiple roles. They have been a voice for the people and to the people, whether they were students, women, labor unions or community organizations, said Gutiérrez.

They allowed a Cuban revolutionary leader, José Martí, to call for Cuban independence from Spain in his New York City newspaper Patria in 1892. They allowed people to voice their opinions during the Spanish American War in 1898 through various Latino publications.

During the U.S. war with Mexico in 1846, hundreds of Latino newspapers published stories that differed from what English newspapers were reporting, “reflected their own experiences,” Gutiérrez explained, “…history of America as reported by U.S. Latinos.”

In the late 1930s Latino newspapers emerged as a voice for Latino students, highlighting their achievements and their struggles in education. The Mexican Voice did it for students in Monrovia, Calif.

Then and today, they help immigrants adjust to life in a strange and sometimes hostile land.

“They’re acquainting people to the U.S. who may not have been welcomed but have always wanted to be a part of American society,” said Gutiérrez.

What began more than 200 years ago in New Orleans has continued to flourish. “Latino media in all forms, including newspapers, are growing at a time when others are suffering declines,” he said.

This influence was best portrayed in 2006 when Latino newspapers, including the influential Los Angeles daily La Opinión, encouraged readers to “hit the streets” to demonstrate for immigration reform. Nearly 500,000 people did so in Los Angeles.

Commemorating the bicentennial, the University of Southern California is recognizing this milestone of U.S. Latino newspapers on Sept. 30 with Voices for Justice, an event showcasing their legacy.

The opening event will be at 7p.m. at the USC Annenberg Auditorium and will feature a film preview of “Voices for Justice: The Enduring Legacy of the Latino Press in the U.S.” an exhibit presenting Latino newspapers and their stories, followed by a discussion on the future of U.S. Latinos and the media.

“We were looking for a theme that would translate 200 years. Voices for Justice seemed to fit. [Latino newspapers] were all looking for justice in a society that promises justice but doesn’t always give it,” said Gutiérrez.

The exhibit shows the role newspapers have played in advocating Latin American independence, adapting to U.S. conquest of the Southwest, acquainting newcomers with U.S. ways, serving as a voice for leaders, and using new technologies to reach larger audiences.

Adrianna Venegas, a member of the production team that designed the exhibit, observed, “Latinos are not sleeping giants. We have this strong history that can change the minds of people who still believe that we just started.”

“The exhibit shows that we’re a literate and vibrant community,” Gutiérrez echoed. While much of its history has been forgotten because it has been recorded in Spanish.” its story is just beginning, he maintained. “There is a continuing fight for freedom of Latino press. Its history is still being made. It will never be done.”

(Lauren Alicia Mendoza is a journalism master’s candidate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.)

©2009

By Lauren Alicia Mendoza
eleditor@sbcglobal.net