Who could have imagined that a once scrappy, four-page bilingual newspaper founded in 1970 in the Mission District would reach a milestone in Latino community journalism. Yes, this month El Tecolote turns 40 years old and that act has made believers out of those naysayers who said that El Tecolote could not survive with only an army of volunteers and a slim pocketbook.
El Tecolote, along with many other volunteer-powered media efforts, was founded during a time of intense activism that gripped the nation. We were questioning the undeclared war in Vietnam and expressing our concern for the disproportionate number of Latinos dying there. We were fighting against injustices in our community and demanding our civil rights. We were taking control of our own community and shaping its destiny. And we were opening the doors of the university to people of color and creating courses relevant to their life experiences.
In fact, the demand for a College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State and open admissions for students of color paved the way for El Tecolote to emerge. I created and taught a course entitled “La Raza Journalism” in the Department of La Raza Studies that brought students and community people together to launch a Mission District-based, four-page tabloid on August 24, 1970. This move was seen as a way of making us more visible and accessible to the community. But, we knew that any hope of gaining community support for our efforts needed to be grounded in publishing relevant stories about our community and consistently publishing for at least five years. El Tecolote also aimed to get more Latinos into journalism and, thus, change the stereotypical and racist coverage provided by corporate media. It did this by providing free training.
So, it is not surprising that El Tecolote’s mission then and now continues to be exposing wrong doings, championing for social change, serving as a steady source of information and becoming a pipeline to journalism careers.
We’ve come a long way from those early years of composing our stories on electric typewriters and then pasting columns of text onto sheets of paper. In those early days we were nomads moving from someone’s home to various community centers to maintain an office in the Mission. Then there were those endless monthly benefits – menudo breakfasts, dances, house parties, garage sales, poetry readings, just to name a few.
We may have been short on money, but we were never short on spirit and commitment. Likewise, we were never short on the constant flow of volunteers wanting to work with us. That army of volunteers over our 40 years has been the life-blood of El Tecolote – writers, photographers, translators, graphic artists, layout designers, and the distributors. They came from the neighborhood, the local universities, as well as from various communities in the Bay Area.
But, our longevity is also due to our foresight in creating a non-profit organization to embrace El Tecolote. This move opened paths to funding by allowing us to seek grants and to provide a tax deduction for donors. Ironically, this is a non-profit model now being examined by the nation’s faltering daily newspapers.
As for the future, I expect to be writing a similar statement when El Tecolote turns 50 in 2020. Likewise, our current online version of El Tecolote will be greatly expanded – giving us the ability to provide breaking news, offer more audio/video presentations of neighborhood news, and create more opportunities to communicate with members of our staff.
But while I am hopeful about our future, the immediate challenge is surviving our present financial hardships. Our call for donations, submitting a congratulatory ad in our coming editions, and attending our upcoming events celebrating 40 years of El Tecolote are ever so important now.
With this said, I know I can count on all our friends and supporters to step forward. If El Tecolote ever needed your help, it is NOW!
For me personally, it has been an honor serving this community for four decades and I have never regretted the commitment of time devoted to making El Tecolote a reality.
In closing, for all of you who have worked feverishly to produce a worthy newspaper that is deserving of this community I THANK YOU!
Least we forget that a great power lies in the news we produce – it is not only the power of information we provide the neighborhood, it is also the power of inspiration we instill in our community.
—Juan Gonzales, Founding editor,