Title

Radiate



Oscar Garza's on the long list of Mexican Americans from Texas who've made great achievements in their professions with one foot in their culture and another in mainstream Los Angeles. Think of Ruben Salazar, Don Tosti, and Vilma Martinez.

Garza began working at the Los Angeles Times 20 years ago. He struggled to increase coverage of Latinos in the newspaper's Calendar section. Five years ago he became editor in chief of Tu Ciudad, a glossy, Vanity Fair-for Latinos magazine. Garza described the publication as "aspirational journalism." Within the magazine, he said, Latinos from any socio-economic status could find images and life stories to which they could aspire. The effort folded almost two years ago amid an industry-wide slump in magazine advertising.

Garza's now the senior assignment editor for a forthcoming multi-media news project called Los Angeles Public Media Service [disclosure: Southern California Public Radio, my employer, was involved in the initial phases of the project].

When it's up and running later this year the service will be producing a daily one hour radio program as well as online news that focuses on young Latinos, African Americans and Asians in the Southland. I met Garza and two of his colleagues at their office space in NPR West's Culver City compound to share some contacts and what I think they should be covering. God bless them for inviting me as I drift out of the "young" demographic. Garza's one of those people who's been around for a while and his perspective is key to helping understand Los Angeles. Here's an edited version of my sit down with him.

What's this new project about?

Our mission is to create new audiences for public radio. Public radio has a couple of problems. One is that their audience is older and getting older, their average audience. And they're not very diverse. It's an overwhelmingly Anglo audience.

We're looking for ages 25 - 40. By nature of the fact that we're in Los Angeles, it'll be a largely Latino-oriented service but also recognizing that because of the diversity of the city and because we're talking about generations that are accustomed to living in this multicultural, diverse environment, their lives, they're not just living in this Latino bubble. We all have Asian friends, African American friends.

What are the similarities between this project and what you did in newspapers?

At the L.A. Times I led the effort in Calendar, to be more attentive to the Latino community in Los Angeles, and I think it worked. The challenge was always how to make it seem organic, in terms of what the paper did on a daily basis. When I left it was to run this magazine which was a very specific thing, it was in English but targeted toward Latinos in Southern California, who lived their lives in English but who have very strong cultural ties to their heritage and who consume a lot of mainstream media but who didn't see a lot of themselves and didn't see their stories, didn't hear their stories being told in mainstream media. That's what Tu Ciudad tried to do. And in effect, that's a version of what we're trying to do with this project as well although in different media.

20 years ago there was a lot of conversation about the lack of representation of minorities in media. To what extent has that conversation disappeared or continued?

It's like clockwork, every year when the new T.V. seasons are announced by the networks, that story gets recycled every year: there's no Latino shows, there's only one black show. I think because the avenues and the platforms for people to have exposure to what they want to experience, I think there's less attention paid, or less importance, dare I say, about those facts. If you're in your early to mid 20s right now the network television experience is not that relevant, you've got a lot of other places to look for entertainment or to look for information.

What's frustrating and rewarding about doing this kind of work in L.A.?

We'll find out when we launch later this year. Los Angeles is historically and remains at its essence a Mexican city. And now - over the course of the last 20-30 years - a much more pan-Latino city. But that is what the city is at its essence. There's a real comfort in that and that's not to discount all the problems out there and I think we know what they all are. You can call on that history and call on the present in any number of different ways to have a constant reminder that this is a place that's unlike any other place in this country.

L.A. attracted you, called you 20 years ago. Do you think it keeps calling Latinos from different parts of the country?

I don't have anything to back this up but I am afraid of a brain drain that could happen because of the economy in Los Angeles and California and the rest of the country. I'm afraid that young Latinos, African Americans, or Asians for that matter, or anyone would get your education and realize, 'Man there are no opportunities here. Maybe those opportunities are exist in other parts of the country.'

What's the best place in L.A. to buy Shiner Bock?

Boy, the only place I know of is Galco's in Highland Park.

What about good Texas barbecue?

There used to be BBQ King on the corner of Figueroa and Sunset. They got pushed out by one of those apartment buildings. It's not Texas barbecue, but there's a place in Pasadena on Fair Oaks next to El Cholo, it's decent barbecue. I haven't found my dad's barbecue yet. The kind he used to make at home in Texas.