Thursday - May 23, 2019

A tradition written in Spanish

­by José de la Isla

HOUSTON — At a time when so much that is significant about Hispanics is commonly believed to have little or no precedent, two national Latino groups celebrate journalistic landmarks this year.

The series of examples come out of journalism history and lead right to what you are reading today.

The first printing press in the New World was installed in 1539 by Spaniard Juan Pablos in Mexico City. It wasn’t until a century later, in 1639, that José Glover took the first press from England to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The earliest Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, El Misisipi, began publishing in 1808 in New Orleans. The territory had been bought from France only five years before. The paper was affiliated with the Louisiana Gazzette, much as some metropolitan English-language newspapers today publish separate Spanish editions. In 1813, William Shalter and José Álvarez y Dubios brought out La Gaceta de Texas in Natchitoches, nearly a quarter century before Texas became an independent republic.

Between 1813 and 1937, there are records of 431 Hispanic newspapers published in the United States, nearly all in Spanish. Their scope spanned the virtual birth of the nation all the way to the eve of World War II.

Most of them appeared in California, Texas and other Southwestern states. But the Hispanic press was also significant in New York, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

In no small way, these presses circulated the news and drove home important concerns — the annexation of territories, settlement and environmental issues, labor concerns, wars and conflicts, urbanization and poverty. A number were affiliated with unions, faiths and causes, taking sides on public policies.

They disseminated important expressions of working people, creating a publishing tradition. Every U.S. region has its unique Hispanic publishing legacy, leaving its distinct marks in state histories.

From these independent enterprises emerged two professional organizations a quarter century ago. Both were born in the Southwest, where they held their annual conferences together for the first couple of years. They have since moved their bases to the Greater Washington, D.C. area because so many of the decisions that affect their members are made there.

The National Association of Hispanic Publications today serves some 150 owners of Spanish-language and bilingual newspapers that reach 25 million readers.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has more than 2,000 members who work as editors, reporters, photographers, news directors and other professionals in broadcast as well as print media. Both are celebrating their 25th anniversaries.

While their coverage often overlaps what Englishlanguage media report on, there’s an important difference. They stress what their Latino communities need to know, and they speak editorially on their behalf.

Emphasizing that commitment is the Leadership Award NAHJ is bestowing Oct. 4 at its annual honors banquet in Washington, D.C. The recipient is a former newsroom colleague, Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez, now a University of TexasAustin journalism professor.