Last Thursday Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Ruben Vives sat down for a journalist talk in a building across the street from L.A.'s historic Mexican plaza. Vives shared his experiences reporting about the struggle of the Latino residents of Bell to take their city back from corrupt public officials. He was invited by a group of people starting the first L.A. chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
The event added another layer of Latino journalism history to the area. Just a couple of blocks south from the event, the bilingual Los Angeles Star/La Estrella de Los Angeles began publishing in 1851, standing up for the Mexican residents of the region as the U.S. take over of California withered away their livelihoods. A compositor for the newspaper, Francisco P. Ramirez, left the Star and founded El Clamor Publico, an even more radical voice against the growing discrimination against native-born Mexicans.
In 1932, in a building farther south in downtown L.A., Jose "Sparky" Saldaña started the cops reporting beat at the Daily News (no relation to the current paper). He rose to assistant city news editor of the important newspaper, one of the first Latinos (he was born in Mexico) to obtain such a post in a mainstream L.A. newspaper.
The story of 1960s L.A. Times reporter Ruben Salazar is well known.
"You are truly an inspiration to all of us," Cesar Arredondo told Vives as he welcomed people to the chapter's inaugural networking event and told them the group would start a scholarship in Vives's name.
Familiar faces and names were there: Pilar Marrero of La Opinion, Art Marroquin of the Daily Breeze, sports broadcaster and new KPCC host A Martinez, Edwin Tamara of Associated Press, Victoria Infante of Huffington Post, Agustin Duran of latinocalifornia.com, Kris Fortin of eastsidestreetsblog.org and lots of others.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists has been around nearly 30 years and it's never had an L.A chapter? [sarcasm alert] Are there enough Latino journalists in L.A. to start one?
The SAG-AFTRA union co-sponsored the mixer. Union representative Ray Bradford said he and other L.A. members of the NAHJ wondered at a national meeting this summer why L.A. didn't have a chapter.
He said there was a gentleman's agreement between the NAHJ and the older, California-based Latino journalist group. "Out of respect for the leadership, the long time leadership of the California Chicano News Media Association, which preceded the formation of NAHJ. And so while NAHJ prospered around the country building chapters across the country we as NAHJ needed to support CCNMA's continued growth in Southern California," he said.
During the 2000s CCNMA's activity in L.A. tapered off.
"I think it would be wrong for us to depend on one organization, bring on two, bring on three, as long as we all have a unified mission of equality and respect, and quality journalism bring it on," Bradford said.
About a third of the people there were college-age Latinos.
"He's great," Yesica Lopez said of reporter Vives. She's a Cal State Northridge senior who wants to work for one of the major Spanish language news networks. She was hanging out with her friend Ruben Saenz, also a Cal State Northridge senior, who wants to be a sports broadcaster.
They're part of a growing group of young Latinos who want to be journalists. Both said they see the 1980s as a time when Latinos had to downplay their ethnicity to navigate the mainstream world.
"Now if you don't have your culture," Lopez said, "it's frowned upon." It may be tough, they said, but they hope to hold on to this belief no matter where their journalism careers take them.
Francisco Ramirez was about Lopez and Saenz's age when he founded El Clamor Publico (The Public Outcry) back in 1855, not far from where they stood. Pancho would be very happy to hear these words.
Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.