A Q&A with Alberto Torres, one of the owners and editor of Tu Decides (You Decide), a weekly newspaper in the Kennewick area, Washington.
Portada: As a community newspaper publisher what is the rationale to publish a bilingual newspaper?
Alberto Torres: "Even though I was born in Mexico, I arrived at a very early age to the United States an share more characteristics with the second generation Hispanics. I am bilingual but prefer to read in English. I can read Spanish but I am slower and won’t do it if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. I felt there was a large enough gap between the English media and the Spanish media. The stories in English didn’t quite capture our essence and lack the necessary background to make sense. I didn’t see an accurate picture of the Hispanic community but rather what others thought we were like. The Spanish stories tend to focus more on Latin America which holds a special place in my heart but I am more concerned about what is happening in my community here in the United States.
I also found out that beyond filling the gap as a bilingual newspaper in the Pacific Northwest we were able to become a multicultural bridge where we could share stories about each other while removing language as a barrier to understanding each other. Some of our stories are written in English and are translated to Spanish and some are written in Spanish and are translated to English. Take for instance the immigration debate and what is happening in Arizona. If the newspaper was only written in Spanish we would miss the opportunity to share our thoughts with others that can’t read Spanish. In order to create change you need to reach people that are different than yourself. Outside of the Hispanic community people think that we don’t want to learn English and that we don’t want to assimilate. It isn’t good enough to convince ourselves that immigration reform is a good thing for our country but we must also share the positive value that Hispanics bring to this country with people outside of the Hispanic community.
While immigration is an important topic what will probably surprise many readers is that Hispanics are just as concerned about the economy, education, employment, health care and the environment just like everyone else. At the end, we aren’t that different and we want the same things which are the best for our children and our families.
The newspaper is also in Spanish because we want to retain the ability to read in Spanish. Having the ability to speak English and at least one other language can have meaningful rewards. I have often heard the expression that English is the language of success which you won’t find a huge argument within the Hispanic community about the benefits of learning English. What I believe Hispanics are trying to say is that learning and retaining the Spanish language also has value. For anyone who comes from a country that spoke something other than English, learning your own native language can be the missing key to unlocking your own history, traditions, and collective wisdom that has been passed down from one generation to the next. Being able to read an original story without translation and without some else’s opinion and allowing you the reader to make up your own opinion is extremely valuable. This is why we called our newspaper tú Decides or You Decide.
The Hispanic community has gone through many different phases regarding the usage of Spanish and English. There was a time not long ago when it was shameful to speak Spanish and parents were discouraged from teaching their children Spanish. The pendulum swung the other way for a while and it became in vogue to be able to speak a foreign language like Spanish. Currently with the immigration debate the pendulum is now swinging back to the past which I think is very sad for our children."
Portada: How easy/difficult is it to convince advertisers of the opportunity to target English- dominant Hispanics?
Alberto Torres: "It is extremely difficult to convince advertisers of the opportunity to target English-dominant Hispanics. Probably the single biggest misconception about Hispanics is that people think we only read, speak and write in Spanish. I love to listen to Spanish music and movies but I prefer to have the ads in English to understand the new technology terms being offered by cell phone companies, types of policies being offered by insurance companies and the type of financial instruments available at the local banks. Beyond entertainment I prefer to see the special offers in English.
My wife and I have been hired by many companies and organizations to conduct diversity training. The most popular presentation is called “Common Misconceptions about reaching the Hispanic Market.” The top misconceptions are that Hispanic equals Spanish only, that Hispanics are poor, that Hispanics are uneducated, that Hispanics are disadvantaged or at risk, and so many more.
My wife is the president of Expo NW which organizes the Latino Business, Consumer and Career expos (www.ExpoLatinoBusiness.com). We found out that many employers were very hesitant to advertise in Hispanic media because they didn’t want to attract Spanish only speaking employees. The expos are a great way to have a physical representation of the Hispanic community.
The events are designed to showcase the importance of the Hispanic community and how we are a vital part of the economy and business in general. While the Hispanic community is well known for our cultural celebrations/festivals such as the “Cinco de mayo” and “Fiestas Patrias”, we want to be known for more than that. We have a lotmore to offer our community. We want to showcase our economic buying power and our
willingness to open the doors and create opportunities for everyone in the community. The theme of the event is called “Abriendo Puertas” which translates to “Opening Doors”.
There exists a misconception that we are separated by language when the reality is that an overwhelming majority of Hispanics are fluent in English and even more importantly we understand business."
Portada: What is the circulation of your publication?
Alberto Torres: "We print a free weekly newspaper in the Pacific Northwest which covers Washington State and Northeastern Oregon. We are currently printing 20,000 copies weekly and send out an additional 10,000 emailed digital version of our newspaper. We also are experiencing approximately 3,000 downloads from our website (www.TuDecidesMedia.com) of the digital newspaper. The English copies are downloaded more by a factor of 5 to 1 or 80% English and 20% Spanish."
Portada: What do you think is the size (volume) of the Hispanic advertising market targeting English dominant Hispanics in your market (in % terms of percentage of overall Hispanic market).
Alberto Torres: "My own internal estimate for English dominant Hispanics is between 70% to 80%. I think a unique factor that is often overlooked is the amount of influence that English dominant Hispanics have with the Spanish dominant Hispanics. For instance ever since I was eight years old I have been involved in every purchase my parents have made especially large or complicated purchases. In other words you can try to convince my father to buy something only to find that I have a huge amount of influence over his buying decision. I have chosen his doctors, homes, cars, banks, and even employment. I have filled out every employment application for every job he has ever had and I have filled out every form when he owned his own business. Most people think that I translated for my parents when in reality I have negotiated on their behalf. I am now over 40 years old and to this date my role hasn’t changed and I care very deeply for my parents and their purchases probably even more than my own. I would not risk their money or resources."