Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guest Post: Hugo Garcia, Periodismo a la brava

Blogmeister's note:
La Bloga reader Hugo Garcia retired recently from a career in Spanish-language journalism. Most recently, Garcia has been editor of Resident's Voice, an innovative newspaper serving Los Angeles' public housing residents. He spent a decade selling ad space for regional Spanish-language chains. He began his journalism career as a reporter for the Los Angeles Express, a Spanish-language daily launched in the mid-1970s, and went into sales when the Express folded.

When he isn't tending to his flock of wild cochineal, Garcia consults as a technical writer-translator for ISO- level industrial firms. Reading RudyG's accounts of Rudy's door-to-door sales life, led Hugo to share some experiences in the founding days of the L.A. Express.

from Periodismo a la brava
By Hugo Garcia

Guido and I had to file a minimum of 12 stories a day and fill up an eight page A section as much as possible. However, Miguel thought only the killing of the Pope or the president merited stories more than a page and half long. double spaced, typed in a Remington manual typewriter using carbon paper. Mari Carmen Gutierrez had the impossible task of filling an eight-page section with show biz and society items seven days a week. Jaime Guerra was the sports editor and had to fill a four-page section. Paul Potter was the translator and he translated stories from the City News Service (CNS). It is a newswire that all newspapers and TV and radio stations continue to suscribe to.

Story deadline was six P.M. so they could be sent to Tijuana via telex, but picture deadline was 1 P.M., the time Juanito would drive the material to the printing presses in Tijuana. Early the next morning he would bring that day’s edition to Los Angeles. The Express was the U.S. brother of El Mexicano de Tijuana, El Mexicano de Mexicali and El Mexicano de Ensenada, then the most influential newspaper chain in the state of Baja California. Norte.

Francisco Gutierrez and Rafael Rosales were the staff photographers. After we covered a story the reporters rushed to type it and the photogs to develop the film and print some proofs, for the reporter to chose the best one and make a print for Juanito by 1 p.m.

Miguel, our boss and leader, had started his newspaper career as a gopher in the newspaper shop and had progressed to reporter, becoming the ace political reporter of the El Mexicano chain. This was his first editor position. His boss, the publisher, was el Licenciado Enrique Galvan Ochoa. El Mexicano staffers told us that after he dedicated to then President Luis Echevarria Alvarez his book “La batalla de la Sal,” about the struggles Baja California farmers suffered because of the salinization of their farmlands, Echevarria elevated him from gadfly to publisher of the El Mexicano chain. He was also very instrumental in the launching of El Express in Los Angeles.

In spite of the working conditions, we felt part of a publication that was going to make a difference in people’s lives. And for me, it was the opportunity to work for a newspaper that championed the undocumented. I was fed up with the ignorant way the English language media covered immigration matters and the deafening silence from the existing Spanish language media. The previous year I spent many hours at the legal library on First Street reading everything I could find on immigration laws.

Strange but just like now there is HR 4437 by Republican Congressman. James Sensenbrenner that criminalizes the undocumented, in 1975 Democratic Congressman Peter Rodino introduced HR 8713, to criminalize the undocumented. Nothing has really changed in this country’s approach to the “gente sin papeles” in the past 30 years.

The next few months I spent interviewing politicians and wannabe politicians and the most important question was always “What is your position on the Rodino Bill?” Their answer to that question was either rabidly anti immigrant or totally clueless and in some instances crashed with the image many of them had crafted as friends of the Mexican American.

But before I could write immigration stories, I had to learn a few basics of Journalism 101. My first big story dealt with the launching of the Viking Space probe. Neither Francisco “Fico” the photographer nor I knew where the Jet Propulsion laboratories were located. We found them but arrived late for the press conference. I was very self-conscious of the stereotype of the always-tardy Mexican, especially with my time study background. I shouldn’t have worried for it was then that I learned about press hierarchy. First come TV, then radio, and then print media. When we got there, the press information officer was in the midst of the TV interviews. I availed myself of a thick press briefing book and thumbed through it while trying to listen to some of the questions. I didn’t want my story to just be a mere translation of the gringo stories.

When it was my turn Fico took a picture as I interviewed the press officer. He was very gracious, took me to another space probe, and had its different components move or rotate as Fico shot almost 100 pictures over and under the space vehicle. The interview lasted more than 30 minutes. On our way back I told Fico we had material for a series of articles that with his photos could fill up whole pages. He blinked hard and his enthusiasm disappeared as he told me “Maestro we left in such a hurry that I only had two shots in the camera and no more film.” What about all the shots I saw him take of the space probe? “I was using the flash but had no more film,” he answered.

Somehow, I refrained and kept to myself the barbs I could have told Fico. I would later learn that had been one of my best journalistic decisions for a photographer can make or break a reporter, especially a photographer like Fico.

I turned my story to Miguel, confident that it was a good one, full of unique insights, exclusive to the LA Express. I had not reached my desk when Miguel called me into his office. Was it that good? I asked myself.

“No, no maestro. This is not a novel. You don’t start by describing the weather and buildings. This is a straight news story.” He then told me what the lead should be. Although Miguel never went to journalism school, he had an uncanny ability for reciting great leads from poorly written stories, like mine. The story ran with a picture of me interviewing the press officer. This set a trend and Guido and subsequent reporters also appeared in the photos. A trend I would later learn was a no no in journalism.

But it was a Hollywood story that brought me my greatest five seconds of fame.

Los Blogueros and La Bloguera appreciate Hugo Garcia's sharing this history with La Bloga. The 1970s and 80s were an exciting time of change among the gente of that day. Garcia's role in this offers first-hand material students of journalism and historians will want to follow. Garcia promises to keep La Bloga updated.

Mid December already! My gosh. Next week, it's the middle of Posadas week. What are your plans? Share them in an email with La Bloga!

In the nine days leading up to December 24th, groups of revelers travel from home to home. Revelers traveling door to door are "Los de Afuera." They ordinarily sing songs of succor. Their counterparts are "Los de Adentro." The folks inside their warm homes are the innkeepers. For the first eight nights, the innkeeper turns away Los de Afuera, singing, "No room at the inn..." On the ninth night, the innkeeper flings open the door, invites everyone inside for merriment and celebration. People will do a whole Posada in a single evening, a load of fun, too, with some hands making tamales, others singing at the door, insiders getting organized for their side, late arrivers pressed into service on a drum or a guiro.

The Avenue 50 Studio and the Arroyo Arts
Collective invite the community to join us in a
Candlelight Posada for Immigrant Rights

Sunday, December 17, 2006

In the spirit of the season, and in celebration of the United Nations International Day of the Migrant, walk with us through one of Los Angeles's oldest, most diverse neighborhoods, singing together to the accompaniment of live musicians, and stopping at three art galleries along the route, where specific immigrant concerns will be highlighted with brief readings. Our walk will begin and end with music and refreshments at the Acorn Gallery, 135 N. Avenue 50, in Highland Park. Gather at 4pm in the yard behind the Gallery to learn the Posada song. The walk will begin at approximately 4:30pm, and will proceed, even in the event of rain.

The Posada is a traditional Mexican pre-Christmas procession inspired by the story of Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in Bethlehem. It has been adapted for this event to draw attention to the fact that the doors to basic human rights such as housing, education and medical care, as well as our historic right to habeas corpus, are being closed to migrants. We are a nation of immigrants. Join us on our symbolic search for shelter
that offers hope, justice and human dignity for all.

When: Sunday, December 17, 2006 starting at 4:30 pm
Where: 131-135 No. Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90042
Contact: 323/258-1435

'Tis the season, que no? No B.B. gun shots to the eye. See you next week.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could you please post the following information on your blog?
We're trying to reach the Latino/Chicano writing community since one of our faculty is Jimmy Santiago Baca. Thanks.

JL Torres-Padilla
Co-Director, North Country
Institute for Writers of Color
SUNY Plattsburgh
North Country Institute and Retreat for Writers of Color

The North Country Institute and Retreat for Writers of Color invites applications for its Fourth Annual Summer Writers’ Institute and Retreat, to be held July 8-14, 2007, at the Valcour Education and Conference Center on the shores of Lake Champlain.

Residents will work with faculty mentors:

Chris Abani (fiction)
Kimiko Hahn (poetry)
Jimmy Santiago Baca (memoir)

Applicants’ materials must include: the application form, a cover letter expressing reasons for wanting to participate, two letters of recommendation from individuals familiar with their writing, and a sample of writing. A non-refundable application fee of $25, payable to SUNY Plattsburgh, should accompany the application. Applications will be reviewed as received until all spaces have been filled.

Tuition for the North Country Institute and Retreat at Valcour is $1,000 and includes workshops, lodging and meals. Need-based scholarships available.

Send application materials to:

Dr. Jose L. Torres-Padilla
Dept. of English
SUNY Plattsburgh
101 Broad Street
Plattsburgh, NY 12901

Or email to TorresJL@plattsburgh.edu

For application form and more information check our website: