At a meeting on Saturday in Highland Park I met the reporters who chronicled L.A. as a Las Vegas of Mexican boxing, the ones who busted their asses getting a four-page extra out in 1985 after the big one hit in Mexico City, the ones sent to New York just after 9/11 and found families of the undocumented World Trade Center workers posting their loved ones' pictures next to those of six-figure brokers.
This is the Asociacion de Periodistas Latinos de California. A four-year-old group made up mostly of laid-off or fired La Opinion reporters and editors. The meeting was called to kindle a new fire. I'd come originally looking for a contrast to the new ad campaign for La Opinión's online service -- the old and the new, the molten lead era and the online age.
Spanish-language reporters need a place to gather, said the association's current president, Cruz Alberto Mendez, as he opened the meeting at a small law office. The group needs a new president, someone who can breathe new life into the organization. Mendez has worked in newspapers for more than 50 years. He began as a 14-year-old at El Sol de Guadalajara carrying used lead slugs to be melted again into new words for the next day's news. He first came to La Opinión in 1975 and found what he called a "periodico de rancho," or a small town newspaper, in which sports results appeared two days later. He gave the front page a six-column redesign and had the audacity to tell the publisher what he really thought of the newspaper.
Mendez left La Opinión and returned in 1983. Two years later an earthquake leveled hospitals, hotels, and apartment buildings. Mendez said he proposed publishing a four-page extra edition. The newspaper got it to newsstands in time for rush hour and sold 90,000 copies. La Opinión's daily circulation had been about 40,000.
He'd like to see the association offer a legal defense fund and life insurance for Spanish language reporters. He'd also like to sow the seeds for Spanish language newspapers in cities with Latino mayors -- he says there are about 30 in California. These newspapers would hold officials accountable.
At the meeting Mendez pushed and convinced Maria Luisa Arredondo to run for president of the association. She begged off, saying she's busy with Latino California, a Spanish language online news service.
Arredondo worked in news magazines in Mexico City before coming to L.A. in 1989. She was front-page editor at La Opinión until about three years ago. She's now writing a column for La Opinión. In 2001 La Opinión sent her to New York for one week after September 11th. She reported on the undocumented searching for their disappeared loved ones who had worked at the restaurant Windows on the World.
The quality of Spanish language news in Southern California varies widely and it's been made worse, she said, by budget cuts that have decimated the ranks of reporters and editors needed to produce "periodismo de altura," or high quality news, she says.
As the meeting ended one member, Guido Rivero, La Opinión's first education reporter in the late 1970s handed Eugenio Becerril his dues for the association. Add up these two men's reporting experience and you'll hit close to the century mark. Rivero got hooked on newspapers as a high schooler in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Before he left he posted a picture of the meeting and some text on Facebook.
Becerril, a living legend of Spanish language sports reporting, looked on. He came to L.A. in 1959, he told me, looking for the cycling scene that he'd grown to love in Morelia, Michoacán in Mexico. One day hanging out near 7th and Broadway he sees a man with a professional bicycle. The man turns out to be from Ecuador and a member of the Hollywood Wheelmen. Becerril knew this was his town. For decades after that he spent many nights at The Forum, the long gone Wrigley Field in South L.A. and the Olympic Auditorium writing about boxing.
These reporters have a lot of fight still left in them, and they're banding together to prove it to Spanish speakers who deserve higher quality local news.
Poet and Journalist 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.