Spanish-language media bond immigrants to U.S.

Opinion by Raśl D. Tovares
Scripps Howard News Service
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 04.08.2007

The growth of Spanish-language media in the United States has some people concerned that these means of communication will lead to the isolation of the Spanish-speaking community and the Balkanization of the country.

According to Arbitron, at last count there were just over 700 radio stations and 200 television stations broadcasting in Spanish.
Western Publication Research reports there are nearly 600 Hispanic print publications in the United States, two-thirds of them exclusively in Spanish. This includes 33 Spanish-language dailies. The Star publishes La Estrella, a Spanish language weekly.
Such numbers prompted California State University-Northridge to start offering a minor in Spanish-language journalism. The University of Texas-El Paso offers a major in Spanish-language media and Florida International University offers a master's degree in Spanish-language journalism.
Trends such as these make some people nervous. They worry that the increase in Spanish-language media may keep our Spanish-speaking immigrants from adapting and lead to the fragmentation of society.
The fact is that Spanish-language media have been helping Spanish-speaking residents and citizens get along in their new environment for almost 200 years, ever since the first Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, El Misisipi, was published in New Orleans in 1808.
While there is no doubt that Spanish-language media encourage the retention of Spanish, they also promote English and adaptation to a changed lifestyle while offering solace to listeners, viewers or readers who may feel caught between two worlds, the one they left behind and the one in which they are trying to get along.
These media outlets provide news and information about this country as well as about Latin America, and they celebrate the cultures and traditions to which our Latino population can relate. This is, after all, the country where one needs to make a living and seek opportunities for success.
Watch Spanish-language television for an hour and chances are that at least one ad for an English-language instructional program will appear on the screen. People in these commercials are seen trying to get a job, talking to their child's teacher or ordering at a restaurant. Realizing that they need to learn English, the characters in the commercials decide to order a learning program. Many Spanish-language newspapers promote English classes as well as citizenship classes.
Spanish-language media outlets also promote participation in the political system. Call-in programs, talk shows and news stories inform their listeners about their rights, as well as how to petition government officials, both local and national, for services. This is media in the service of democracy.
Last year's rallies by Spanish-speaking workers for fair treatment by government and the public were in large part the result of organizing via the mass media. People traveled from across the country to Washington, D.C., and other metropolitan centers to speak out for fair wages, an end to harassment, and acknowledgment from the rest of the country of the valuable services Spanish-speaking workers are providing.
While many English-language media outlets were caught by surprise, most Spanish-language media outlets were ready to cover the rallies. In fact, they helped organize and promote them.
Rather than encourage isolation, the Spanish-language press is constantly feeding valuable information to its readers and listeners that helps members of that community remain proud of their culture and traditions as well as embrace the culture and traditions the United States has to offer.
Raśl Tovares teaches journalism and mass communication at Trinity University in Washington, D.C. Reach him at