If it weren’t for El Diario: The roles and legacy of a 100-year-old institution

Ten missions that would have been difficult to accomplish without the influence of The Champion of Hispanics
If it weren’t for El Diario: The roles and legacy of a 100-year-old institution
El Diario is leader of social causes, helping to resolve situations of clear injustice against our community.
Foto: archivo

New York — Summarizing the impact of about 36,500 days of ongoing journalism is a daunting task. Even so, we wanted to offer a glimpse at some of the roles that El Diario/La Prensa has played—and continues to play—in the development of Latinos in the New York area.

Whether it’s the challenge of developing an economic, cultural or sports institution, or defending civil rights and social equity, El Diario has been a constant witness and participant in Latino life in this part of the country and an inextinguishable voice in creating awareness about our people’s needs.

The missions that El Diario/La Prensa has taken on have resulted in great contributions. These are some of the roles that El Diario has played and the changes it has promoted in its 10 decades. Of course, 100 years of ink have really been worth it.

1.- Parades, pageants and civic initiatives. New York’s leading Hispanic newspaper has served as a platform, and in many cases, a sponsor for all kinds of civic and cultural activities. In the 1920s and ’30s, La Prensa played an important role in the consolidation of Spanish charities and Puerto Rican societies—initiatives that sought to provide social services to Hispanics. In the ’50s, the “Queen of La Prensa” contest was a big success. Today, the newspaper supports many competitions throughout the city. El Diario has also tirelessly supported cultural initiatives, from the Puerto Rico National Parade and the Dominican Parade to celebrations hosted by newer groups. In the course of time, the community has institutionalized what were once small scale processions..

2.- Champion of little and big leagues. More then just an outlet for athleticism, sporting events are a way to get together as a community. For 100 years, this newspaper has supported a long list of Hispanic little leagues and sports clubs. In the 1920s and ’30s, when there were fewer than 20,000 Latinos in this city, this paper hosted a popular sports tournament, La Prensa Cup of the Hispanic American Soccer League. In 1970, the newspaper sponsored the New Jersey Marathon. Today, dozens of small, medium and large sports organizations continue to use the newspaper as a medium for promotion, and our reporters continue providing game highlights and documenting the role sports play in our neighborhoods.

3.- Leader of social causes. There are many examples of how this newspaper has helped resolve situations of clear injustice. Among the emblematic cases was the exclusive report in 1961 of the mistreatment of 32 Puerto Rican construction workers in Tasley, Virginia. The intense coverage forced Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to open an investigation. Soon after, La Prensa reported the case of Salvador Agrón, known as “The Capeman,” a young Puerto Rican gang member sentenced to death for a 1959 murder. Columnist Luisa A. Quintero led a campaign against the sentence, convincing Rockefeller to commute Agrón’s sentence to life in prison. In the 1980s, the coverage of drug trafficking in the city had a great impact and unfortunately led to the murder of Manuel de Dios Unanue, the legendary ex editor of El Diario. Today, El Diario continues safeguarding the labor and social safety of Latinos, calling attention and action on situations of abuse and negligence.

4.-Promoter of Hispanic representation. El Diario identifies and supports Latino and often non-Latino candidates for public office. Examples abound: from supporting Herman Badillo in 1965, which led him to become the first Hispanic Borough President of the Bronx, to backing Michael Bloomberg’s run for Mayor in 2001 and the bid of Dominican state senator Adriano Espaillat for U.S. Congress in 2011. Now, candidates at all levels of government seek the support of El Diario. Efforts to increase Hispanic representation go beyond the realm of elected officials. In 1985, for example, this paper became a voice in the campaign to pressure New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to establish the Governor’s Advisory Committee for Hispanic Affairs. In 2009, El Diario influenced the decision of U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer to support Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

5.-Creator of democratic awareness. From its beginnings, this Hispanic newspaper has educated Latinos about the importance of being part of the democratic process by voting and other types of civic engagement. Every year, El Diario documents electoral processes, highlights reasons to participate and calls readers’ attention to issues that directly impact equality and the quality of life of everyone in the community. A recent example is the coverage of the 2012 presidential election, which El Diario covered on a daily basis and rallied readers to vote.

6.-Preserver of our Spanish. The use of Spanish is this newspaper’s most distinctive aspect. Therefore, defending the use of the language that unites us is one of El Diario’s main ambitions, achieved through many initiatives. In the 1930s, a popular literature contest, Essays for La Prensa, featured the work of Hispanic writers and raised funds for student scholarships. In the ’70s, El Diario sponsored a Spanish Spelling Championship. For decades, these pages have featured thousands of articles about the challenge of preserving Spanish in a climate that demands mastery of English. More recently, El Diario has reflected Spanglish on its pages. By doing this, the paper seeks to recognize inevitable changes in the language and a common dialect that unites Hispanics.

7.-Advocate of bilingual education. Very few media could express the history and relevance of bilingual education programs in the city’s schools better than this newspaper. For years, El Diario supported a campaign to highlight the benefits that bilingual programs provide to Hispanic students and in turn, to their schools and the city overall. In 1972, EDLP supported “ASPIRA v. Board of Education,” a historic lawsuit calling for bilingual education programs for Latino children in New York. ASPIRA won the case in 1974.

8.-Educator of leaders. It can take time and effort to educate and sensitize leaders about the realities Hispanics face and their needs. A good example is the case of Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator for New York State. Before her appointment in 2009, the lawmaker from northern New York (a rural and majority white area) said she opposed plans to legalize undocumented immigrants and supported counterproductive measures like having local police officers function as immigration agents. After a strong campaign by El Diario, together with elected officials and community leaders, the senator changed her positions. Today, she is a major ally for the state’s immigrant community.

9.-Champion of immigrants. Reporting and documenting the daily lives of Hispanic immigrants—their challenges, contributions and mistakes—is a large part of El Diario’s task. Also, and we make no apologies, is advocating to reform laws and public policies—like the campaign on behalf of a humane, fair immigration reform. But that’s just part of the job. Throughout history, immigrants who didn’t know where to turn have personally appealed to this newspaper to denounce, highlight their achievements or seek help when facing need or misfortune.

10.-Friend to the community. Beyond all these roles, El Diario is a loyal friend to the community. This newspaper, produced by and for Hispanics, has been published every day, even after a terrorist attack, a blackout and a hurricane. Thousands of Hispanic events, goings-on and points of view would have gone unreported without the pages of El Diario and the sensibilities of its diverse staff. From local news in the Metro section and Latino stories captured in Nuestros Barrios, to the ambitious pages of Nuestros Países and sports, on a daily basis El Diario features stories that aren’t covered in other media. That’s our job. And we love it.