Voices for Justice from the Latino press

Did you know the first printed news in the Americas was published in Mexico, in Spanish, more than a hundred years before Ben Franklin and English-language newspapers? And that the first printing press on the continent was brought to Mexico City in 1535? I didn’t know, until I listened to Felix Gutierrez, a professor of journalism and communication at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, when he visited the University of Minnesota in September as a guest of the journalism school. He’s an impressive scholar, and the pre-eminent historian of Latino media in the United States.

The beginnings of the Latino press in this country go back more than 200 years to a New Orleans newspaper called El Misisipi, an anti-Napoleon newspaper founded and published by political exiles escaping from Napoleon to the United States to advocate the liberation of Mexico. A few years later, in 1813, La Gazeta was published in Texas, calling for the liberation of Mexico from Spain. In New York, José Martí’s Patria similarly advocated liberation for Cuba.

These early Spanish-language newspapers carried on a proud tradition of reading and writing, which Gutierrez said moved not from the east coast to the west coast, but from south to north.

As a historian of journalism, Gutierrez has put together a 24-panel display called “Voices for Justice: 200 Years of Latino Newspapers in the U.S.” According to U of M journalism professor Giovanna Dell’Orto, who organized the events, the panels will be in Wilson Library (on the West Bank of the U of M campus), in the reference room on the first floor, which is open to the public, at least through the end of October. They present a fascinating story of the evolution of Spanish-language newspapers in the United States, beginning with early news for Mexico de afuera, which helped Mexican-Americans both to preserve their culture and to learn how to navigate the systems (government, schools) of the new country. Youth newspapers grew up in the 1930s, along with support for unionizing efforts.

Juan Gonzalez, a columnist for New York Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now, was prominent in Pa’lante, a newspaper of the Puerto Rican Young Lords Party in New York City. He was one of the new breed of activists who arrived on the scene in the 1960s and 1970s, epitomized in publications such as El Grito, Pa’lante, El Malcriado and El Tecolote.

As an academic, Gutierrez said, he has long since “realized that most people who read what I’ve written have been forced to do so.” That’s why he is now working on a video to bring this history to a wider audience.

Latino Communications Network is the largest entity among Minnesota’s Spanish-language media, including Gente de Minnesota (a community media partner of TC Daily Planet) and Vida y Sabor, as well as La  Invasora radio station. Other local publications include La Voz Latina and Latino Midwest News.

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