Hispanic Newspaper Fills a Gap

El Carillon highlights Latin American issues that often are ignored by mainstream media

WHEN Lourdes Jimenez discovered a copy of the Spanish-language newspaper El Carillon in her mailbox one day, she wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

But after reading through the paper, Professor Jimenez, who teaches Spanish language and literature at St. Anselms College in Manchester, N.H., called the editor not only to subscribe, but also to invite him to speak at her school. Today, many of her colleagues and students read the paper as well.

Jimenez, who still doesn't know who put that first copy of El Carillon in her mailbox, says the paper helps her "keep in contact with everything that is going around in Latin America.... The newspaper is filling an empty space that I always feel."

This enthusiastic response is just what Pablo Navarro, the biweekly newspaper's one-man production team, was hoping for when he entered the news media fray less than two years ago.

"I decided early on that I wanted to bring Latin America to the United States, that I wanted to make our world a little bit smaller, so that we could be in better contact with our countries of origin," the soft-spoken editor says during an interview at the paper's "newsroom" in the basement of his home in Andover, Mass.

The idea to start the paper came in the late 1980s, Mr. Navarro says, when - tired of a long work commute, distressed at how little time he was spending with his family, and battling cancer - he was looking for a change. As he searched for "something very different" from his job as a college administrator, he realized that "one of the things I have complained most about in the past few years was that I was isolated from Puerto Rico." If Puerto Ricans here feel isolated, he asks, "Can you imagine those wh o are from Chile? From Argentina?"

So Navarro used savings and retirement money to begin El Carillon. The first issue of the tabloid-size paper was published March 6, 1991.

Both Navarro and readers interviewed stress that the major US media tend to ignore Latin America except for coups, disasters, or other extraordinary events. It is, Navarro says, "an area that is barely covered in the United States...."

Even with other Spanish-language papers in the US, he says, the emphasis is on local news and social events, rather than the larger issues facing Hispanic communities in the US and Latin American countries.

At present, El Carillon tells readers what is happening mainly through the eyes of the Spanish-language service of the Associated Press (AP) wire service, which feeds directly into Navarro's computer via phone link. He receives many more AP stories than he can use in the 16-to-20-page paper, though readers say it offers good balance in topics and often features stories that major newspapers ignore.

Navarro maintains that Hispanics across the US are hungry for such information. The tripling of El Carills circulation from the initial 5,000 to 15,000 - with, Navarro notes proudly, only two cancellations - is evidence of this need. Largely through word-of-mouth marketing, El Carillon has subscribers in 27 states.

Navarro cites some of the pressing issues for Hispanic communities in the US: housing, education, the environment, human rights, health, politics.

The paper's emphasis on human rights appeals to readers like Alan Jay Rom of the Boston-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights.

"I just find it a very worthwhile publication," Mr. Rom says. "I read it because I get different points of view about what is happening in places that I'm concerned about in terms of my own work. And I find it very well-written and informative."

While Navarro welcomes the unanticipated interest in El Carillon by non-Hispanics, he says that Hispanic communities remain his target audience, and that he is trying to dispel "the myth that poor people are not interested in good journalism."

He also wants El Carillon to be involved in the ongoing redefinition of cultural identity in the US. As he sees it, the concept of the American "melting pot" failed because it advocated immigrants' assimilation into American culture without valuing cultural differences.

"From the melting pot," he says, "we move to the vegetable soup": a celebration of the different elements within the whole as seen in the recent surge of cultural pride and awareness by blacks, Hispanics, and others. "El Carillon as a newspaper is trying to bring that celebration to our readers," he says.

And Navarro doesn't shrink from addressing issues that often polarize US Hispanics - the regime in Cuba, for instance.

"I refuse to see Cuba as Castro," he says, discussing the attempts of Miami's active Cuban exile community to suppress news from their homeland - unless it is bad news. Asked if his views have elicited a response from Miami Cubans, he smiles and points out that El Carillon probably hasn't been noticed yet in Miami. He has "perhaps 10" subscribers there, he says, most at universities.

Indeed, many of El Carills readers are in the field of education. Victor Rodriguez, who teaches sociology at Christ College in Irvine, Calif., says he and his colleagues use the paper just "to keep ... informed in kind of a quick, accessible way beyond reading academic journals."

El Carillon is also utilized by community groups such as Chicago's Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, where the paper is used in Spanish-language literacy and General Educational Development (GED) diploma classes.

"We use it as a resource," says America Sorrentini, a Puerto Rico native who is president of the board at the cultural center. "The Spanish is light. It is not the book language, which is more academic; it's more conversational, and the kids like it."

Navarro is insistent on this educational role for his paper, and he constantly refers to his desire to keep the paper from becoming dependent on advertising. "We are not in the first instance a commercial enterprise; we are an educational and cultural enterprise that we hope is successful commercially," he says.

El Carillon is produced in a small basement room equipped with desktop publishing technology: Macintosh computer, fax machine, and laser printer. The teletype Navarro started out with has been replaced by a modem, but even today records are kept in milk crates beneath a desk made of an unfinished door laid across two file cabinets. Two bare light bulbs burn overhead. "When I tell people how I set up the paper, they don't believe me," Navarro says.

Financial constraints, he says, still keep him from making the paper all he would like it to be. As subscriptions expand, he would like to strengthen the editorial content, upgrade his technology, hire a few people to help with production, and be able to hook up with other news services and more freelance writers to cover Hispanic communities in the US. At present, he has only one part-time assistant and must drive into Boston to select photographs from AP.

For now, El Carillon remains a labor of love. It does not yet turn a profit, though Navarro says his efforts occasionally pay for a tank of gas. His family survives on the salary of his wife, who is a teacher, and money from work he does for local schools and as a freelance translator. He is firmly committed to the paper, but he bears a friend's philosophical advice in mind: "Don't worry, Pablo," the friend told him, "If you don't make it, at least you'll be the most informed person in Andover."

Navarro says he still puts in long hours, but now he is working in his own home. He doesn't hesitate when asked if it was all worth it.

"It's been a great two years," he says. "If I tell you that this has been the best decision that I have made in my life, I am totally honest."

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