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Juan Julio George

Speaking her Language

The Capital Region’s latest newspaper fills a long-neglected niche

By Chet Hardin

Photos by Chris Shields

 

Luisi, a Puerto Rican native, comprises the one-person editorial staff of the fledgling publication, housed in the halls of sister paper The Record. All around her, the employees of the Troy-based daily newspaper stir. It is the typical newsroom—hushed, bustling, and intense. There are the occasional blusters, the disjointed halves of phone interviews, and the clacking of keys. Her desk sits at the edge of the large second-floor newsroom. She is the lone reporter, editor, events-calendar compiler, and page designer.

“It’s very hard,” she says. “It is a really big challenge.”

Luisi is a relative newbie to the world of journalism. She moved to the states three years ago, after graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in comparative literature, and landed a job with the then nascent Spanish-language Registro in New Haven, Conn. She started as an editorial assistant, but quickly moved up to reporting.

When Journal Register Co., the owner of Registro and The Record, decided to start an offshoot of the New Haven paper in Troy, Luisi jumped at the chance.

The number of Spanish-language news outlets in the United States is growing at a steady clip. The paper in New Haven, she says, went from a staff of two—herself and an editor—with a circulation of 10,000 to a staff of four in just two years, boasting a circulation of 90,000. She knows that the opportunity for growth in Spanish-language news is great. It is a vast new market that major corporations, like JRC, are finally recognizing.

Latinos are the largest minority, right now, she says, in the United States.

“There are a lot of newspapers coming out in Spanish because, let’s face it, the Latino market is growing. It is a very big growth market for people to advertise. Just to tap that market and get that money,” she says. “That is very American.”

Ladan Alomar was not sur-prised when a mainstream media corporation decided to bring a Latino-aimed newspaper to the Capital Region. She was only surprised that it took so long.

“This is something the Latino community needs big time,” says Alomar, executive director of Centro Civico of Amsterdam.

The Capital Region’s Latino community is a strong and vital one, Alomar says. Since starting with Centro Civico 17 years ago, she has watched the nonprofit grow from having no office space and $100 in the bank to a budget of more than $1 million. This is a direct reflection, she says, of the growth of the Capital Region’s Latino community.

“Not only is it a sizable community,” Alomar says. “It is a community that has been in the region for a very long time and it is growing very rapidly.”

But in reading the newspapers, or watching the TV news, you wouldn’t know it, Alomar says. “The community is invisible. It doesn’t exist. Mainstream media ignores the community of color continuously. And the only time you see something in regards to Latinos in general is if it’s an issue of crime—then we get the front page!”

Luisi agrees, pointing to the recent coverage of Jose Munoz, the Schenectady man sentenced Tuesday (March 20) for brutalizing his girlfriend’s daughter, Xctasy.

“He obviously has a Latino last name,” she says. “I mean, it doesn’t matter if he had any other last name, he would still get the same coverage. But it is surprising that it is all that you see” of the Latino community.

There are events that occur within the white community that the mainstream press will pick up on and present as news, Alomar says, but the same kinds of events in the Latino community, or the community of color, will go largely unnoticed.

While this lack of attention bothers Luisi as well, she notes that there is nothing sinister or intentional about it. It is no secret, after all, that most newsrooms lack a strong representation of bicultural, bilingual reporters. “If you are not part of the community and don’t understand what it is about, then it is hard to cover it.”

“For example, I covered a quinceanera,” she says, stopping to spell out the word. “That’s like a ‘sweet 16’ for girls in Latin America when they turn 15. Quinceanera—the girl that becomes 15.”

“I wrote it,” she continues, “for the Registro [in New Haven] but did a translation for the Register. Someone from the New Haven Register, had they covered it, it would have been for a different prospective audience, ’cause they aren’t from the community. And there aren’t many bicultural reporters in Anglo newsrooms to go cover these events, or to even know the importance of them. They just don’t know what is happening or how to transmit that.”

Juan Julio George, the pub-lisher of Latino New York, the Capital Region’s only bilingual magazine (every article published appears both in English and Spanish), puts the Latino population in his coverage area—Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, and Saratoga counties, plus Amsterdam—at around 41,000.

George works as a manager at the Desmond Hotel in Albany. Before Latino New York and Registro, he says, if you wanted to read a Spanish-language paper, you would have to track down a New York City-based publication. So he and some friends got together and started putting out Latino New York in September of last year. It is a lot of work, he says, considering that everyone involved volunteers their labor.

“I have a lot of good friends who are good collaborators,” he says. “It pushes the friendship to a limit. But they haven’t complained yet.”

He got the idea to start the independently owned monthly magazine after a few years of running a Web-based radio station, laradionet.net.

“It was just a natural progression to publish the magazine,” he says. “It is just another way, we think, to keep the community informed. I have always been very concerned about the community and what we as so-called professionals can do to help the community. The more informed, the better educated, the more entertained a particular community is the better a whole community is.”

Each issue of Latino New York focuses on a theme, George says. The February theme was education. This month’s theme is health.

“People see a publication typecast to whatever they think the community is they service,” George says. “But if we are good publishers, good editors, and good reporters, we will try to take a general, more global approach. Just because you happen to be Hispanic doesn’t mean you don’t like to go to Proctor’s and listen to the music. So we try to take a whole, wide-spectrum view of society and the community we live in and see how we fit.”

This is why, he says, he made Latino New York a bilingual publication. “We wanted to do something that wasn’t just for the Latinos, but it is something for the Latinos and for the Anglos at the same time. So you can read a column by my doctor about high blood pressure in both English and Spanish. Plus some teachers are using them as an educational tool.”

Latino New York has been well-received, George says, not just by the readers but by the advertisers. “Every month is a better month. And to me that says that people recognize that this community is a community that is here to stay, first of all. And it is a progressive community that has resources to spend in the local economy.”

He points to the National Latino Conference being held this weekend (March 24-26) at the University at Albany that will bring 600 students from all over the SUNY system to Albany. Also, he says, there is the Latin Fest at the end of August that usually draws 11,000 people to the Washington Park area.

“Having two newspapers in the area makes perfect sense,” George says. “Having the radio station, having the barber shops, having the beauty parlors, having the mom-and-pop stores is a creation of a community.” As long as the mainstream community is willing to accept the minority community, and the minority community is willing to bring positive elements, he says, “it makes sense for everybody.”

A copy of the second issue of Registro lies folded on Luisi’s desk. On the cover of the free tabloid is a photo from the center-spread story—a profile of Jose Malone’s, an Irish-Mexican restaurant in Troy. The headline shouts: “ˇFeliz día de San Patricio!” Underneath that is a photo of Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D-Brooklyn), a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

“The area I cover is quite vast,” Luisi says, “and I only come out every two weeks. I only have five local pages, plus the center spread. Some days there will be five activities going on in five different places that I would love to cover.” But, she says, she obviously can’t split herself into five people. So, instead, she will try to find those stories that will have the broadest appeal.

“What I try to do is have at least one article that tackles how to do things around the area,” she says, giving as an example an article she did about Free File, an IRS program that is available in Spanish. This past issue, she wrote an article about how to get a driver’s license.

She also did a profile on a Spanish-language nonprofit organization, which, she says, will probably become a mainstay in the publication.

“So people know where to get services, what is available to them,” she says.

Already she has been receiving phone calls from people in the Spanish-speaking community who view the paper as a social service. “I am providing information for people that they wouldn’t get it elsewhere. A lot of state agencies don’t even have staffers who are bilingual. And a lot of people who only speak Spanish are falling through the cracks. In that way, I am trying to get information to them.”

“But I also want to entertain those people who are here and can read media in English,” she says, “but still would be willing to pick up the Registro and be interested.” This, she says, is the reason for putting a dance troupe or a restaurant on the cover of the paper.

Registro, which covers local, national, and international events, does keep an eye trained specifically on Latin America and immigration. In these issues, Luisi says, the paper will try to go beyond what the mainstream media provides.

“I don’t have to be from Spain to care about what is happening in Spain. Or President Bush visiting Colombia,” she says. “To me that is important. I don’t have to be from Colombia to be interested in what is happening.”

Tucked back in the classifieds is a feature Luisi isn’t keen on, however. Every issue showcases an attractive young woman clad in a scant bikini—the Mamacitas. Luisi rolls her eyes.

“I was cringing that you were going to ask about that,” she says. “It is surprising that more people haven’t asked me about it. Journal Register Co. has the feature in all the [Spanish-language] publications.”

What are you going to do, she says, with a shrug of her shoulders. It is a business, after all.

The third issue of Registro will come out March 30.

chardin@metroland.net


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