By Lance Henderson
In Spanish, the word “compadre” literally means co-parent or godparent, but Manuel Reta, president of the Northwest Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (NWWHCC), said it often refers to anyone in the community who is a helper.
“This term has been loosely used to refer to people who are connected and can get you to the people who can help you,” Reta said.
In June, a new compadre joined the Latino community in Whatcom County. El Periódico, the county’s first monthly newspaper printed in Spanish and English, launched its first issue.
The brainchild of Kim Winjum, publisher of the Ferndale Record-Journal, El Periódico is designed to do what many Spanish-language news outlets in the United States do not – present content about local Latino issues and local resources peppered with news from Latin America while providing a viable advertising platform to reach Whatcom County’s Latino population.
Winjum said the newspaper will have news about immigration and employment issues, as well as colorful features that celebrate Latino culture. Winjum also hopes it will have a bustling op-ed section that provides an open forum for comment on pertinent issues.
“We are seeing a need here in Whatcom County and trying to reach out and meet that need,” Winjum said. “I really see it as a way to bridge the gap between cultures.”
According to the 2008 U.S. Census, there are more than 12,500 people in Whatcom County who identify themselves as being Latino or Hispanic. This number has been steadily increasing. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, a research project of the Pew Research Center, the Whatcom County Latino population jumped 134 percent between 1990 and 2000 and grew another 42 percent between 2000 and 2007.
In preparation for the newspaper’s launch, Winjum studied Spanish-language media from around the state and made connections at the Northwest Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Ferndale and the Washington Latino Business Association. In the process, she said she rapidly began to see the endeavor’s potential.
“This is a large, growing market and they need a venue,” Winjum said.
A liaison to the Latino community
Reta, of the NWWHCC, has been a compadre in the county’s Latino community for decades.
“I am a person who likes to help the community. People know me for that, as a helper of Hispanics,” Reta said. “Whatever problems they have, I try to direct them on the right path.”
Reta, the oldest of seven children, first migrated to Everson in 1956. He attended Nooksack Valley High School and later fought in the Vietnam War. He met his wife, Bertha, in Bellingham in 1998. The two now live in Ferndale and have owned Colima Design, a clothing alteration and retail shop, for the past 10 years.
Over the years, Reta has become known as a spokesman for the local Latino population, voicing concerns to the Ferndale City Council and organizing Latino events and celebrations for the benefit of the community.
Three years ago, Reta started the NWWHCC in an effort to bring Latino businesses together in a rich support network around Northwest Washington.
Jessenia Rodriguez, Reta’s daughter and secretary for the NWWHCC, said the Latino community in Ferndale is very tight-knit.
“We have had our business here for more than 10 years and my dad has been here for more than 60 years, so people know us. People come to us for help,” Rodriguez said.
Winjum said she first had the idea for a bilingual Whatcom County newspaper in the early ‘90s, but at the time, the language barrier seemed insurmountable. Although Winjum has a Latino background and both her children are fluent in Spanish, she does not speak the language.
Recently when Winjum prepared to launch El Periódico, she knew she needed a partner in the Latino community. So she met with Reta and other members of the NWWHCC.
“[Reta] is a liaison to that community and I knew that was key to the success of the paper. I wanted it to be a genuine outreach to the community so we could hear from them about what they wanted to hear,” Winjum said.
Reta said he had tried many times to bring a Spanish-language publication to Whatcom County without success, but was excited at the opportunities to use his networking skills and government contacts to help the new paper.
“Kim (Winjum) and the people at the Record-Journal are really the cornerstones at this time. We at the chamber support them completely and entirely because they are getting information to the people that we have links to in the community,” Reta said.
Rodriguez said in her experience local Latinos get some of their news from English-language sources, but nothing about their local community.
“As far as the current (English-language) news sources, it is just harder for them to read. I think what they get is mostly national news, which isn’t local, and that is the gap that we want to fill,” Rodriguez said.
‘The Latin pot of gold’
While the launch of this new bilingual newspaper is exciting for Whatcom County’s Latino community, it takes place within the broader context of the current media industry in the United States, which has taken some hits over the past year.
Carolyn Nielsen, a journalism professor at Western Washington University who has researched and published articles about Spanish-language media in the United States, said English-language newspapers across the country are slimming down and shrinking coverage due to a lack of classified and regular advertising.
Spanish-language media, however, is seeing little or flat growth but no decline, due to the fact that they rely on local advertisers and a loyal readership, she said.
“They have been insulated from the drop, which is even more interesting to me, because it demonstrates some type of reader loyalty and definitely a need that is going to persist even in rough economic times and that speaks volumes of the value,” Nielsen said.
Since smaller, local Spanish-language papers appeal to local companies and not national chains, Nielsen said they have been sheltered from the violent winds of change seen in the national market during the past year.
“When you look at really large newspapers that take in a lot of national advertisements, they put a lot of their eggs in that basket and then when a national company pulls its ad, they are really hurt,” Nielsen said. “But small Spanish-language weeklies are not getting ads from Macy’s. They are getting ads from local businesses like the panadería (bakery) or the butcher shop.”
As Nielsen continued her research, she said she found that most researchers were interested in the advertising and marketing perspective, which one researcher calls “the Latin pot of gold,” referring to the profit potential of appealing to largely untapped local Latino markets.
Instead of an advertising focus, one of the main reasons Nielsen began her research was because she was inspired by Spanish-language media’s “potential to grow democracy and to extend full participation in democracy.”
“The ethnic media was born from the immigrant press and when ethnic media was born, its role was to assimilate them into American culture and Americanize them. Now they have a different role in establishing and preserving ethnic communities,” Nielsen said.
‘Having a paper is like having a voice’
Now that the paper has been launched, Reta, Rodriguez and the rest of the NWWHCC said they are proud of the finished product and the work done by Winjum and the Record-Journal staff.
“Now there is just a great sense of pride. It’s our paper,” Rodriguez said. “Having a paper is like having a voice.”
Winjum said having local, Latino content in English and Spanish makes El Periódico an excellent tool for learning English and vice versa. She said she has some connections with the Ferndale school district and she hopes the paper will be used in classrooms this fall.
Reta said he would also like to see the newspaper distributed to local colleges and school districts.
El Periódico currently distributes 6,200 copies around Whatcom County and Winjum has been working with the NWWHCC to knock on doors and take bundles of papers to Latino farm workers to raise awareness about the paper.
“We’re doing something positive, but we need to show the community that we are reaching out,” Reta said.