Longform

Born of El Sol

Page 6 of 7

The editorial approach of the seven papers rests on two somewhat contradictory notions. The newspapers try to inform immigrants about the many-faceted process of assimilation. But at the same time, they try to encourage the preservation of Hispanic culture.

They also try to hold together the sometimes hostile elements for whom Spanish is a common language.

Talk about these goals, however, quickly leads to confusion, resentment, and more confusion. The problem begins with the word "Hispanic," which is rarely used by Spanish-speakers to refer to anyone they know. "Hispanic" is a one-size-fits-all term whose main virtue is commercial: El Hispano News, or Hispanic News, the Suarez weekly, attempts to stake a broad claim on the market by putting the word in its name.

"I have learned here at the newspaper to use the word 'Hispanic,' but whenever we discuss terms, it leads us into dialectical discussions," shrugs El Sol publisher Santillan.

Inside the "Hispanic community" and its press, nationality terms are far more relevant. In daily conversation, no one refers to "that Hispanic." The references, instead, are to "that Mexican," "that Cuban," or "that Salvadoran." Grocers stock merchandise not so much for Hispanics as for Mexicans or Hondurans or Cubans.

But American-born Hispanics present problems that nationality designations don't solve. During the 1980s, most organizations that would have formerly called themselves Chicano--a term that probably comes from the Aztec pronunciation of the Spanish word "mexicano"--adopted the label Mexican-American instead. That label, however zealously its proponents defend it, is used only in political and bureaucratic affairs. It isn't used in the Hispanic press.

The terminology differences reflect something deeper: ill-will within the Hispanic community, differences among its nationality strands. El Hispano reporter Fernando Zapata, a Mexican, commented on one face of this rivalry in a recent column.

"Mexicans and Chicanos of the United States note differences among themselves," he wrote. "One cannot confuse them with being from the other group, because people will get offended...the Chicanos scorn the immigrants for being newcomers. And the Mexicans make fun of the Chicanos for not knowing how to speak Spanish well...While we come to agreement about which of our peoples is 'better' or 'worse,' and who merits more than the other, outside of our ranks they discriminate against all of us."

The city's Hispanic publishers agree that they must encourage assimilation--but they don't agree about the essential nature of the experience. At one pole are the opinions of Jesse and Sara Gutierrez. "For most of us, immigration is tragic," Sara declares. "People who come to this country are exploited and humiliated, and who doesn't lose their family here?" In their retirements, Jesse Gutierrez says, both he and Sara have begun to think of returning south of the border. "I don't want to die here," he says.

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."

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Dick J. Reavis