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The Hidden Story of the U.S. Hispanic Press

The Hidden Story of the U.S. Hispanic Press

LOS ANGELES (By Lauren Alicia Mendoza, News Trust) September 27, 2009 ― As the year-long bicentennial celebration of Hispanic 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. Hispanic 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. Hispanic 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. Hispanic newspaper would be in New Orleans?”

Throughout the 200 years, U.S. Hispanic 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 Hispanic publications.

During the U.S. war with Mexico in 1846, hundreds of Hispanic 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. Hispanics.”

In the late 1930s Hispanic newspapers emerged as a voice for Hispanic 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. “Hispanic 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 Hispanic 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. Hispanic 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 Hispanic Press in the U.S.” an exhibit presenting Hispanic newspapers and their stories, followed by a discussion on the future of U.S. Hispanics and the media.

“We were looking for a theme that would translate 200 years. Voices for Justice seemed to fit. Hispanic 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, “Hispanics 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 Hispanic press. Its history is still being made. It will never be done.”

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