Born of El Sol

Germinated in the rich tradition of El Sol de Texas, the Spanish-language press takes root in Dallas

El Heraldo publisher Torres occupies a middle ground in such discussions. "Being an immigrant is a sad thing," he notes, "because we always dream of returning home. Until we decide that we're going to stay, it's hard. We have to decide that this country is now my house, that we're going to learn the language, and that we're going to accept the customs, even if we don't like them."

At the other pole are Juan and Emmy Torres, who, unlike the other publishers, show no preference for conducting interviews in Spanish. "We are citizens, and why not?" Emmy says. "We have raised our children here, we have a son-in-law who is Chicano. We have left our lives in Mexico and Guatemala behind."

The essentially involuntary or forced nature of most emigration, however, has its upside. It gives the Hispanic press a ready focus for local reportage: Actions by immigration authorities are the hottest stories on any page.

Last November, for example, the managers of Poly-America, a Grand Prairie firm that manufactures trash bags, called the company's 400 or so employees to an assembly. Forty-five agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service burst into the gathering, shouting, "Nobody move! Nobody move!" Nearly 150 workers were hauled away in vans; 78 were deported for lack of proper immigration documents.

The weeklies jumped onto the case with passionate reporting. "They call them to a meeting to deport them," El Hispano's headline raged. El Sol's Fernando Duran reported that the employee meeting was "a trick hatched by the bosses." His story quoted the wife of one of the deportees, Humberto Romero, as saying that Poly-America "knew perfectly well that Humberto didn't have his papers in order and that lots of others were in the same shape."

After the raid, between 300 and 600 protesters demonstrated outside the offices of the county jail, and most of the weeklies gave partisan coverage to the event. El Extra reported that Poly-America fired 21 employees suspected of being sympathetic to the protesters, and published a color photo of the alleged martyrs on its front page. The Morning News ran a story about these events, but on Page 36.

It was a front-page scandal only in the Hispanic press.
But despite partisanship on issues like immigration and police brutality, the city's Hispanic publishers balance their activist sympathies with commercial conservatism.

"We are the voice of the people who can't go out and say 'you're wrong,'" comments Hispano's Suarez. "This is a business, not the Salvation Army. A newspaper isn't a charity, and it doesn't exist for good causes alone. On the other hand, a newspaper isn't a tortilla factory, either."

Despite their common readership, political outlook and commercial appeal, the publishers of the seven weeklies strive not to compete. None of the publishers openly spreads gossip or even strongly critiques his competitors. On this score, Jesse Gutierrez seems to speak for them all. "All of our newspapers are good. They all do good journalism, because most of their editors and publishers learned at El Sol."

Perhaps their unity stems from a common vice. Former employees of several of the newspapers tell stories of circulation boosts made to please national advertisers, and of reductions in times of high newsprint costs. "I know of one paper that claims a circulation of 40,000. I only say that I print 15,000--and I know I print more papers than they do," Enrique Gomez declares. The seven publishers all admit, or charge, that among their number there are some whose circulation claims aren't reliable--but none will finger any of the others. They have all survived, even prospered, despite defections and spin-offs, and none believes that he can force the others to the sidelines. "Even El Sol is today part of an avalanche," publisher Santillan observes.

But their mutual admiration, even if it's sincere, is strategic as well. All of the weeklies do much of their distribution through six-, eight-, and ten-rack newsstands whose ownership is now confused. "We've lost count of the number of racks we own," Juan Silva confesses. The racks, with multiple shelves, are scattered at grocery stores, restaurants, beauty shops, and dance halls across the Metroplex--and they are shared by all the papers alike. Antonio Torres says that he brings out his weekly on Fridays, instead of Wednesday or Thursday, so that nobody will place another newspaper on top of El Heraldo. But generally speaking, sharing rack space has created a business state of coexistence.

If do-or-die competition ever overtakes the Hispanic press, grocers and waiters will be the first to know.

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