Spanish-language press Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Spanish-language press has long played an important dual role in the lives of Hispanic immigrants by providing news in their native language and by helping them assimilate to American culture. The press also has played a significant role in fostering awareness of Hispanic heritage, and it continues to contribute to the maintenance of Hispanic culture and traditions. As a shared-language medium, it is one of the most important elements in molding the diverse Spanish-speaking communities in the United States into a single Hispanic American community.

The history of the Spanish-language press can be traced back to the early nineteenth century. Spanish-language newspapers have been published for a variety of reasons: as pure business ventures designed to generate profits, as culturally specific political tracts, and as media generated for both business and cultural reasons. The goals of the press have varied considerably over time–from providing news of readers’ native homelands, to calling for political action, to serving as essentially American publications for Spanish-speaking readers. In all their forms, however, components of the Spanish-language press have consistently addressed the culture and traditions of Hispanics in the United States.Latin American immigrants;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Press;Spanish-language[Spanish language]Latin American immigrants;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Press;Spanish-language[Spanish language][cat]COMMUNICATIONS;Spanish-language press[cat]JOURNALISM;Spanish-languagepress[cat]LATIN AMERICAN IMMIGRANTS;Spanish-language press

Nineteenth Century Publications

The first Spanish-language newspaper in the United States was published in 1804 in New Orleans;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]New Orleans, Louisiana. A four-page publication called El Misisipí, it targeted Spanish speakers who had come to the United States to escape political unrest in their homelands. It was published by the William H. Johnson Company, a non-Hispanic firm, as a purely business undertaking.

The true center of the early Spanish-language press, however, was in the American Southwest, a region populated during the early nineteenth century mostly by Mexicans who already had a strong tradition of reading papers published in their own language. For some time, after California and the Southwest were annexed by the United States during the 1840’s, southwestern newspapers such as El Crépusculo de la Libertad and La Verdad continued to publish articles mostly about events in Mexico and their local communities. As local populations became more and more involved in American life, especially in seeking work and necessary services, and became more politically active, the focus of the newspapers shifted from Mexico to the condition of Mexican Americans in the United States. The weeklies and dailies published in the Southwest began a campaign to raise the residents’ consciousness of their Hispanic heritage and to encourage active response to discrimination at work, poor working conditions, and low wages.

Twentieth Century Trends

During the early twentieth century, the tradition of Spanish-language newspapers speaking out for the Hispanic community continued in California and in the Southwest. New publications also emerged in major metropolitan areas, such as Chicago;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Chicago, where many Mexicans had immigrated in response to the job opportunities created by World War I. This activism, which at times became militant, was not without risk for the journalists and publishers. For example, the Mexican-born journalist Ricardo Flores Magón, whose newspaper Regeneracion advocated the overthrow of the Mexican dictator Díaz, PorfirioPorfirio Díaz and labor reform in the United States, was jailed for violating neutrality laws in 1907. During World War I, he was imprisoned for espionage and died in Leavenworth’s federal penitentiary.

Woman looking over a selection of Spanish-language newspapers and magazines at a downtown Los Angeles newsstand in 1986.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

After World War I ended in 1918, work opportunities for the Hispanic population changed. Jobs, especially in agriculture and government-sponsored employment, were often of short duration and required workers to develop a migratory lifestyle. The Spanish-language press was affected by this development, as many local papers were published only during the brief periods when substantial numbers of Spanish-speaking workers were in an area. Around this time, the papers tended to become less politically oriented.

After World War II, the Spanish-language press in general continued to follow a more conservative trend until about 1960. Many papers continued to promote Hispanic culture and traditions, as well as use of the Spanish language, but they also tended to place more emphasis on assimilation. Texas;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]La Prensa in San Antonio, Texas, and La Opinión in Los Angeles;;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Los Angeles, California, were representative of such papers. However, there were also other papers whose editors and writers continued to encourage both social and political activism.

During the Civil Rights movement;and Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]national Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, Spanish-language newspapers again spoke out strongly for rights of workers and condemned discrimination against Hispanics in the workplace, in the political arena, and in all aspects of life in the United States. Throughout the United States, Hispanic newspapers reflected this focus on political and social issues, a trend that continued through the 1970’s.

From 1969 to 1976, the United Farm Workers;newspaper ofUnited Farm Workers union under the leadership of Chávez, CésarCésar Chávez published El Malcriado, demanding improved working conditions for agricultural laborers. From 1968 to 1980, the Crusade for JusticeCrusade for Justice published Le Gallo. The Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de AztlánMovimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) called for political and social action in La Causa, which was published from 1969 to 1972. From 1974 to 1978, with Sin Fronteras, the Centro de Acción SocialCentro de Acción Social encouraged the Mexican community to engage in both political and social action. The most radical of these papers was the prosocialist El Grito del Norte. Founded byMartínez, ElizabethElizabeth Martínez andAxelrod, BeverlyBeverlyAxelrod in 1968 in Española, New Mexico, the semimonthly paper attacked the policies and activities of local government and worked to eradicate negative stereotypes of Mexican Americans that proliferated in the area. The paper ceased publication in 1973. During this period of intense social activism, other well-established Spanish-language newspapers, such as La Opinión in California and La Prensa in Texas, continued to serve the Hispanic community with articles emphasizing Hispanic culture and others addressing the rights of Hispanics but without the militancy of the activist papers.

Although the number of activist Hispanic newspapers declined during the early 1980’s, the Spanish-language press remained a significant force in the United States throughout the twentieth century. More than five hundred local Spanish-language newspapers were regularly published on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The 1990’s began to see major newspaper companies replacing their weekly Spanish-language supplements with daily Spanish-language newspapers. Most important for the Hispanic community, these papers did not merely publish translations of articles in the companies’ English-language papers; they were independent publications with their own Hispanic editors and journalists. New York City;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]In 1998, the Tribune Company founded Hoy New York in New York City as a daily newspaper serving the Hispanic community. Shortly afterward, the Chicago;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Tribune Company created Hoy Chicago, a daily Spanish-language paper, to replace its weekly Spanish-language supplement Exito in Chicago.

Twenty-first Century Developments

The trend toward daily Spanish-language newspapers has continued into the twenty-first century. Recognizing the ever-increasing growth of the country’s Hispanic population, mainstream newspaper publishers have responded to the need to serve this market on a daily basis and as a primary target audience with newspapers written expressly for Spanish-speaking readers, not merely translations of English-language newspapers. The Tribune Company, ImpreMedia, and the McClatchy newspapers all publish daily Spanish-language newspapers that provide international, national, and local Hispanic community news. In 2005, El Paso, Texas;newspapersEl Paso, Texas, got its first daily Spanish-language newspaper, El Diaro de El Paso. It competes directly with the city’s English-language El Paso Times, which it often publishes articles criticizing.

Despite the steady increase in daily Spanish-language newspapers into the twenty-first century, weeklies are still important segments of the national Spanish-language press. Arizona;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]La Voz, a free weekly publication distributed in Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, has continued to publish news of both political and social events in Mexico, helping to keep both Mexican and Mexican American readers in touch with their heritage. Several new weeklies have also been founded in the early twenty-first century. For example, in 2003, the Florida;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Sun Sentinel Company of Fort Lauderdale added a Spanish-language weekly to its publications, El Sentinel del Sur de la Florida. In 2004, El Latino Expresso began publication on a weekly basis in Rhode Island;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Rhode Island, serving the Hispanic communities of both Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.

Español Magazines

Magazines also are a significant part of the Spanish-language press in the United States. In 2007, People en Español had the largest readership of any American Spanish-language magazine with 6.4 million readers. First published in 1996, the magazine was originally merely a Spanish-language version of the popular People Magazine in which about one-half the articles were translations of articles in the English-language edition. However, the magazine eventually evolved into a truly Hispanic publication with a Hispanic staff and about 90 percent original material. The remaining 10 percent consists of translated articles that are considered to have particular cultural significance for Hispanics. The magazine’s editors maintain strict control over its language, avoid regionalisms and slang, and produce a magazine written in a Spanish common to the varied Hispanic populations in the United States.

Another Spanish-language magazine published in the United States, called Alma, targets all segments of the Hispanic population and contributes to the creation of a Hispanic American community. As a lifestyle magazine, it provides articles on culture, politics, and fashion.Latin American immigrants;Spanish-language press[Spanish language press]Press;Spanish-language[Spanish language]

Further Reading
  • Kaniss, Phylis. Making Local News. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Good for discussion of the importance and influence of newspapers generally in politics and society. Includes a detailed study of how Spanish-language newspapers in Miami, Florida, both serve and influence the local Hispanic community.
  • Kent, Robert B., and Maura E. Huntz. “Spanish-Language Newspapers in the United States.” Geographical Review 86 (1996): 446-456. Useful article for statistics about circulation and facts about individual Spanish-language newspapers.
  • Meléndez, A. Gabriel. Spanish-Language Newspapers in New Mexico, 1834-1958. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2005. Reviews the history of Spanish-language newspapers in New Mexico, arguing that these papers established the tradition leading to the Chicano movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s and that they helped ensure the survival of Mexican culture in the Southwest.
  • Subervi-Vélez, Federico A. “Spanish-Language Daily Newspapers and the 1984 Elections.” Journalism Quarterly 65, no. 3 (1988): 678-685. Close look at the impact of Spanish-language newspapers on politics and Hispanics during the 1980’s.
  • _______, ed. The Mass Media and Latino Politics: Studies of U.S. Media Content, Campaign Strategies and Survey Research, 1984-2004. New York: Routledge, 2008. Excellent collection of articles that are especially useful for establishing the chronology of Spanish-language newspapers and their orientation.

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