Born of El Sol

Page 2 of 7

After leaving La Prensa, Gutierrez worked as an announcer at San Antonio's first Spanish-language radio station, KCOR. He and Sara, an Argentine with a background in journalism, moved to Dallas in 1965, taking jobs as a waiter and hostess at the El Fenix and El Chico restaurant chains.

They began thinking about founding a Spanish-language weekly in Dallas. In 1966, they rented an office and brought out the first edition of El Sol. It was a flimsy beginning, and the couple even hawked their 10-cent paper outside of Catholic masses.

Keeping the paper going was an uphill struggle, as was living in Dallas. "We found the city to be very unfriendly, hostile, and cold," Sara recalls. "As an Argentine, I was shocked by the discrimination. I had read about things like that, but I had never seen it."

"And the isolation!" she adds. "You had immigrants, businessmen and workers who had come from Mexico, and Chicanos, born here. They faced common problems, but they had no means of communicating among themselves."

The late Dallas Times Herald, she says, "was a little better at trying to understand the issues than The Dallas Morning News, whose coverage doesn't deserve mentioning even today. But neither of these papers really understood, or paid much attention."

In the mid-1960s, there was little reason to believe that there was a large enough market to support a Spanish-language paper. Only some 85,000 Spanish-speakers lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to census figures--though there were thousands more who, being here illegally, had evaded the count. But most of the city's Spanish-speaking population was native-born, and many read the language only poorly. Jesse and Sara Gutierrez were playing against the odds. They had 3,000 copies of the first issue of El Sol printed, and the edition didn't sell out.

"At the beginning, people didn't see the necessity of a newspaper. We had to cultivate the idea in their minds. It wasn't an easy job," Jesse says today.

The couple's initial efforts were aided--and then hampered--by the crew that joined them at the newspaper's birth. During its earliest days, everyone's effort was aimed at getting the newspaper out, not earning salaries or enjoying profits. Jesse and Sara's closest collaborator was Guadalupe Duarte, a Times Herald employee with agitation on his mind and ambitions of his own.

Duarte was, quite simply, an advocate of Chicano power. Jesse and Sara shared his views, but also approached their fledgling effort with the caution of business people.

Duarte picked the right place to press his political agenda. The early seventies were a time of turmoil, especially among Mexican-Americans. With photos and reportage, for example, El Sol gave extensive coverage to the 1973 riot that broke out during protests of the police killing of 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez. The paper clamored for an investigation of the case, one whose ultimate outcome was a finding of murder.

In those difficult days, the newspaper became an oasis for leaders of the Chicano protest movement from Dallas and across the country. Among those stopping by the paper's office on McKinney Avenue was Jose Angel Gutierrez, now a Dallas lawyer and UTA professor, at that time a resident of Crystal City and a leader of the Raza Unida Party. California's Cesar Chavez, Denver's Corky Gonzales, and even New Mexico firebrand Reyes Tijerina stopped in, too. The paper was a crossroads for local and national Chicano leaders. It was the place in Dallas to make connections.

Over time, Anglo politicians paid their respects as well. Both U.S. senators from Texas--Republican John Tower and Democrat Lloyd Bentsen--made El Sol a venue on the campaign trail. Letters of praise poured in from presidents of both parties, candidates, and officials on-the-make. El Sol's very existence underscored the existence of an overlooked constituency, and the pols took note.

Neither the city's convulsion nor El Sol's prominence, however, ever translated into much money. Some members of the staff--not to mention mere contributors--weren't paid. "At first we couldn't pay Duarte for his articles because we didn't have the money," Jesse admits. "So we paid him in newspapers. He and his son would go out selling them, and that's how they made any money that they made."

But the newspaper itself proved that there was a market for papers that spoke to the Hispanic community. That promise inspired defections. Duarte was the first to go, setting out on his own with a publication called Chicano Power. A couple of years after it failed, he launched another weekly, the Tejano News. Neither prospered, and after each of the efforts failed, Gutierrez welcomed Duarte back to El Sol. Duarte was employed at El Sol when he died, more than 10 years after the weekly's founding.

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Dick J. Reavis