However they came to be in the United States – whether is was through the violent annexation of Mexico; being forcibly exiled from their country of origin; seeking safety from political persecution in their homelands, in search of a dream, or seeking relief from grinding poverty — Latinos carry a cultural identity anchored in the experiences of their homelands.
When they were ignored or attacked by the Anglo press, Latinos created their own publications which served to keep their communities informed, provided resources, promoted literary works, fought for economic and human rights, and nurtured the link to distance nations.
Latino newspapers have been the voices of their communities across the United States for 200 years. Drawing from the experiences of the early Mexican and Spanish press, the presence of Spanish-language journalism in the U.S. began in 1808 with the publication of El Misisipí in New Orleans. By the late 19th century, Spanish-language newspapers had spread across the nation.
These newspapers gave voice to early Cuban and Puerto Rican exiles on the East Coast, to Mexicans who lost their land and country in the annexation of the northern half of Mexico, and to the growing Latino populations, both immigrant and U.S. born. Today’s Latino media, spanning the Internet, broadcast and print, are building on this legacy, their strength and influence can be seen in the massive national turn out for the spring 2006 Immigrant Rights marches.
The following sections will provide a partial glimpse of historical-thematic eras that the Voices for Justice project will cover.
19th Century Beginnings: A Liberation Press in Exile. In 1808, El Misisipí, the first Latino newspaper in the U.S., was founded in New Orleans. The newspaper served people from Spain and the Americas seeking refuge from Napoleon’s takeover of Spain. Similar newspapers soon appeared in Louisiana, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania. In 1824 Philadelphia’s El Habanero was one of the first exile newspapers calling for Cuban independence. Through the 19th century political exiles such as Félix Varela and José Martí used U.S. press freedoms to advocate independence for their countries and other Spanish colonies in the Americas.
19th Century: Unconquered Voices in Conquered Territories. In 1855, 17-year-old Francisco Ramírez launched Los Angeles’ El Clamor Público. Though admiring the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the politically active editor also spoke out against the violence against Californios by “Yanqui” adventurers coming to California during the Gold Rush and warned of the U.S. imperialism toward Latin America.
Early 20th Century: An Immigrant Press Defends New Arrivals. Throughout their history Latino newspapers have served a continuing influx of new arrivals to the U.S. mainland, especially at entry points such as New York City, Tampa, Key West and along the Mexican border.
During the 1910-1920 Mexican Revolution, Ignacio Lozano Sr. founded La Prensa in San Antono in 1913. In 1926 Lozano founded La Opinión in Los Angeles, which over the years has covered issues such as the massive repatriations of Mexicans during the 1930s Depression, the 1940s Zoot Suit riots in Los Angeles, and the 1960s Chicano movement. Today the third generation of the Lozano family publishes the daily as a part of the ImpreMedia chain of Latino publications in the U.S., which also owns New York’s El Diario-La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language daily in the U.S., founded in 1908.
1930s-40s: Voices of a New Generation. In the late 1930s and ‘40s new Latino voices emerged through bilingual activist newspapers connected to youth organizations and driven by youth seeking to find or make their place in American society while maintaining their Mexican culture.
One of these, the Mexican Voice, was founded in 1938 by Félix J. Gutiérrez in Monrovia, California, as an educational and inspirational publication. Written largely by students, the Mexican Voice reported both the accomplishments of Mexican youths and the obstacles they faced through the late 1930s and into World War II.
In the same era, businessman Pedro W. Guerrero established a youth-oriented publication called Juventud, in Mesa, Arizona as part of the Division Juvenil, a recreational and cultural youth organization he founded.
1960s-70s: An Alternative Activist Press. The anti-Vietnam War, Equal Rights, and Third World Liberation movements of the 1960s and early 1970s gave birth to a new breed of alternative, activist Latino newspapers across the nation that confronted established powers and advocated radical change.
Among the best known of these media are the United Farm Workers union’s El Malcriado, the Young Lord’s Palante in New York, Los Angeles’ La Raza, New Mexico’s El Grito del Norte and San Francisco’s El Tecolote. These newspapers also served as important outlets for Latino art, poetry, and other forms of cultural expression.
1970s to Present: Latino Media Enter the Media Revolution. As Latino communities and their media grew, they also became prominent participants in the media revolution of the last two decades. To gain a piece of increased advertising dollars focused on Latino communities, major media companies began producing targeted Spanish-language publications. The first of these was the Miami Herald’s Spanish-language insert El Miami Herald, launched in 1976 and renamed El Nuevo Herald in 1987.
Today, Latino entrepreneurs and community-based organizations across the country are major players in the media revolution, producing community newspapers, radio programs, websites, etc. that can offer platforms for the voices, culture and passions of local communities.
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As the Latino population grows, so will the need for news media that both serves the needs of the community and interprets Latino life and culture for others. Understanding the history of that news media — the issues they covered and the courageous editors and writers who participated — will create greater public knowledge of Latino contributions and their long struggle for justice. For 200 years the Latino press has covered the unique stories that occur when Latino life and culture intersect with U.S. policy and institutions. It is time to give the U.S Latino press the recognition it deserves. The Voices for Justice project will do just that.