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EL HERALDO: BUILDING A BRIDGE

by   GAIL GOURLEY

IN THE DECEMBER ISSUE OF ONE NORTH COAST newspaper, an article describes a scholarship program that Microsoft's Bill Gates offers to minority students. But if you want to read about it, you'll need to know Spanish.

As the editors of El Heraldo, this area's only Spanish-language newspaper, Santiago and Theresa Cruz strive to fill a need they perceive -- to inform the growing Hispanic community.

"We emphasize mainly three things in our paper -- education, health and immigration issues," explained Santiago Cruz.

Humboldt County mirrors the state and national trend of a growing Hispanic population. The 1999 Humboldt County Economic and Demographic Almanac, citing U.S. Bureau of the Census data, estimates the county's Hispanic population increased from 4,989 in 1990 to 7,024 in 1997 -- a 40.8 percent jump in seven years. More accurate numbers are on the way once the U.S. Census Bureau completes its 2000 report next year.

Santiago, 54, and his wife, Theresa Cruz, 50, say they are trying to build a communications bridge to this growing community. They launched El Heraldo as a monthly in May 1998.

The story of how this couple, married for 31 years, came to publish a Spanish-language newspaper from their home in McKinleyville actually begins in 1967. That's when the two first met in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi, the place where Santiago was born and raised as the second oldest of 10 children.


[photo of Santiago and Teresa Cruz] Santiago and Teresa Cruz launched El Heraldo, the area's only Spanish-language newspaper, in May 1998.


"I wasn't the smartest, but I was the best looking," laughed Santiago, a soft-spoken, amiable man. It was a happy childhood. His mother was a housewife and his father was a church pastor and had a small appliance repair business.

"It was a typical family. We were family-oriented people. Although we were a large family and we had limited resources, we always had plenty to eat, although we didn't have luxuries."

Discipline played a strong part in Santiago's boyhood. "We were always clean and always on time for everything. My parents were very strict in following a schedule for everything." His father was very involved in social activities and always wanted to take an active part of the community, traits Santiago adopted.

Theresa, a gracious and articulate woman, was born in Eureka. When she was 7 her parents divorced and she lived both here and in Santa Cruz until she was 14. Then, she moved again and attended high school in Tuolumne County, Calif.

After graduating from high school in 1967, Theresa toured in Mexico with an evangelical choir.

"It was a large group so we divided up into teams and the teams were hosted by local families in the cities where we were," she said. Santiago's family hosted Theresa's team, and so they met.

Theresa spent the next eight weeks singing with the group in plazas, churches and halls, and also doing social services outreach with children in the villages outside the city.

"I felt a real desire to want to learn Spanish," said Theresa. The choir sang in Spanish, but up until that time she had no knowledge of the language.

"I didn't understand the words, but we learned how to sing them."

Santiago and Theresa fell in love, but since Theresa was just 17, they waited a year to marry.

For the next 21 years they lived in San Luis Potosi, an arid, high plateau at more than 6,000 feet of elevation, raising a family of four.

"It was just always understood," said Theresa, that they would live in Mexico and not the United States.

"Theresa wanted to be in Mexico," Santiago said. "She wanted to be there."

Within a year Theresa was speaking Spanish well.

"I didn't want to be identified as American so I made a real effort to learn the culture," she said. "I truly feel that the people we dealt with did not consider me a foreigner. I was just one of them.

"I was accepted into the family. And I think that I was so young that I was molded. I didn't have any real hard, fast cultural things that were hard to break. I was a new wife, new mother. Everything I was learning about being a wife and a mother, I learned it down there."

Santiago said, "I also think that most Latin people and Mexican people are willing to accept the foreigner, as long as they appreciate what we have."

During their years in Mexico, Santiago worked in social services through the churches promoting education, literature and reading. The couple also had a small offset press and printing business, producing mostly brochures and flyers.

Ten years ago the family was faced with a decision. The children had dual citizenship, but the oldest daughter was turning 18. Mexico at the time did not allow dual citizenship. Since they hoped the children would attend U.S. colleges, they chose U.S. citizenship. Teresa still had relatives on the North Coast so the plan was for the entire family to live here at least a year to fulfill the U.S. immigration requirements.


[photo of front page of El Heraldo] Front page of El Heraldo


The children took school seriously and were very successful, so the Cruzes decided to stay while their daughters attended college. All three are married now. Two daughters and their families, which include two grandchildren, live locally. The third lives in Idaho and the Cruzes' son is a high school freshman, following the family trend of excelling in academics.

Santiago said it was personally difficult for him to make the move from Mexico.

"I didn't really come for economic reasons, so that wasn't really hard for me. It was more the difference in the environment -- the culture."

One difference he cites is educational attitudes and what he says is the very strong study discipline in Mexico.

"Our children" were able to assimilate in(to) this country's culture and also the language, but also I think they appreciate what's available here more than the kids from the area," he said. "I remember our daughters in the first weeks of school would come home and tell us all the differences, the advantages and all the resources like, `Neat, they have computers,' or "They have heaters.' They used to tell us, `We don't understand why kids here don't want to study, you know, when they have everything.'"

Theresa continued to stay at home raising the family while Santiago worked in a print shop and then a couple of furniture stores until he sustained a back injury that required him to seek a different type of work. He began by attending Eureka Adult School to study English and computers and has nothing but praise for that experience.

"It's excellent," he said of the school. "There is great opportunity there, not just for Americans but for Hispanics and other minority groups."

While he was taking classes, Santiago began thinking of starting a Spanish newspaper in this area.

"I started reading how the Hispanic community is growing and the experience that I had in Mexico with the social services helped me to start learning and studying the situation of the community, the Hispanics," Santiago said.

"I thought, `Maybe we can do this,' not knowing much business and not knowing much about doing a paper," he said.

"Humboldt County has a great amount of resources for everybody, and also for the Hispanics. The Health Department has plenty of information in Spanish ... but it's very difficult for them to reach the Hispanics. I'm talking about Hispanic immigrants, those that don't speak English, or very little."

In some cases, he said it's because they lack the encouragement to find the information they need. In others, it's the fear of being involved in legal matters with immigration or the authorities.

"Our families are very strong and very united. If someone moves, let's say from San Francisco, very soon you have uncles, aunts, friends. They come and then they form groups.

"In Humboldt County you have people that live in one area and they are from the same town in Mexico or in Latin America. Then there's another small group here with people from the same town... They just come and concentrate. Well, it could be that in this area they are 50 families and out of the 50 families there's one or two that don't have documents. So they say, `Well, if we get involved with this program we have to give our names and then we might affect two or three families."

Cruz said the key to breaking through that fear is information and education, two of El Heraldo's key functions. Referring to Proposition 187, he said, "For a few years there was a law that illegal immigrants didn't have the right to receive medical services. Whenever they went to a clinic, they would have to show their immigration status. So then that created a big problem with the social services and the clinics. They changed that law this year, so now the clinics and all the social services agencies are working, trying to gain them back saying, `It's OK, the law changed again.' They can apply for assistance."

It is important for people to know, Cruz said, that the stereotype that immigrants are often illiterate is not true.

"Most of the people that come know how to read and write in Spanish. You cannot classify a person as illiterate or ignorant or a lower class because they come with very little education. They come with large experience and many skills.

"When they come to the dairy farms, they come from farms in Mexico or from Latin America. Or the fisheries because they come from the coast of Mexico. They know how to work in the boats and the fishing industry. They have experience.

"Same thing with forestry. They're used to the forest and the flower farms. They have to learn some new techniques, but they're not ignorant (even though) they might not know the language or have a degree," Santiago said.

"With our paper, we are not trying to promote Spanish at all," he continued. "The paper is for the Hispanic people who are learning English who want to learn English, or we want to encourage them to learn English.

In the newspaper, "We try to eliminate the words, `help you' or `help.' We don't tell Mexicans, `We want to help you' or `The Americans want to help you' because we're not looking for help. We are looking for work, for opportunities, for resources."

Health issues are a priority to the Cruzes. "If a worker is healthy, naturally he is going to be more productive in a job." Cruz recalled when he was working in a furniture store, he injured his foot but kept working because he didn't know about sick days or benefits. Pregnant women or mothers with sick children can have difficulty finding resources or transportation because they simply don't know of resources available to help."

Another topic or importance to the Hispanic community is immigration.

"You can't have a driver's license if you're not a legal resident of California," Santiago said. "There are millions of `not legal' immigrants in California and they're driving without a license and without insurance. So that is a social problem... We have to work these problems out together."

That's where El Heraldo comes in.

"We feel that education is one of the tools that we can use to build a bridge," he said.

The Cruzes create the newspaper on a computer in a small office in a corner of their McKinleyville home. Published the first week of the month, 2,500 copies of El Heraldo are printed by The Kourier in Willow Creek and distributed free from locations around Humboldt and Del Norte counties including churches, clinics, hospitals, libraries and grocery stores. Several hundred copies are also taken to high schools for use in Spanish language classes.

El Heraldo, with a subtitle, "Information that is true, trustworthy and opportune," features public service articles by regular contributors from organizations such as Tthe Open Door Clinic, the Humboldt County Health Department, Eureka Adult School and American Association of Retired Persons. News articles are also obtained from EFE, an international Spanish-language news service based in Spain.

The newspaper began as a non-profit, "a service for the community," Santiago said, operating under the umbrella of the North Coast Christian Fellowship. Financially, the newspaper was struggling.

"Since we were looking for the social services groups to provide information for the community, people had the idea that it was supported by some funded group."

Not true. So in August, the Cruzes decided to change the status from a non-profit to a partnership in hopes of growing the business.

"We haven't changed our purpose and we haven't changed the image of the paper," Santiago said. "We try to cover issues that are education, health and immigration. Also we stay away from politics. We never talk about WalMart.

"We have news about religion because the Latin people are very religious people, and they don't get offended like the Americans with having information about the Catholic Church."

They do plan to cover more political issues as they add more pages and as the presidential election draws nearer. GOP front-runner George W. Bush is fluent in Spanish and Vice President Al Gore is working on his high-school Spanish skills in hopes of communicating with Hispanics, Santiago said.

The change in the paper's status from non-profit will inevitably have long-term effects.

"Naturally, we want to improve the quality of the paper," said Cruz. And attracting more advertising revenue is a top priority.

"We would like to let the business people know that there is a market there -- probably not so great at the moment but it's coming and growing."

Santiago has many duties at El Heraldo, including sales.

"I am more like a (public) relations person. I go and present the paper to social services agencies. I do visit some businesses, but mainly I've been going to where the resources are ... social services like clinics or the hospitals or child care, the health department," he said.

With little business experience, the couple did some research and began a relationship with Arcata Economic Development Corp. They have been working with Jim Kimbrell, AEDC executive director, to develop a business plan.

Kimbrell said there is information about programs and services not getting to the minority business people.

"Part of what we're trying to do is to identify the needs of the Hispanic community," Kimbrell said. "We don't even recognize in some cases that they're here because they don't know how to get to the right forum.

"That's part of (the function) El Heraldo will serve," Kimbrell said.

In addition to the technical support from AEDC and other agencies, Santiago has also developed a relationship with Rosamel S. Benavides, chair of the department of modern languages at Humboldt State University. Benavides helps by consulting and discussing format, news and projections for the future.

"This semester we have been using the paper in several classes. The students read and analyze the news and report back. It's a way of using what we would call authentic materials in language teaching," the professor said.

"The students are excited because they are reading and understanding and talking about something that is real."

Benavides said he is impressed by the scope and intention of the newspaper, which is "to truly serve. I think the service aspect of the newspaper catering to a community that is marginalized in this county is one of the strongest points."

Next semester advanced language students will work as reporting interns for the paper. The newspaper has been invited to help coordinate news coverage for the KHSU Spanish language radio show, "Rincon Caliente!"

The Cruzes still talk about someday returning to their home in Mexico. After all, their one-year stay has already stretched to 10.

Santiago says he particularly misses the social atmosphere of friendship and fellowship between families and friends. Mexican people seem to be able to gather and celebrate more spontaneously than their neighbors to the north.

But for now, the Cruzes have another deadline looming for the January edition and a few more bridges to build to the North Coast Hispanic community.


Comments? E-mail the Journal: ncjour@northcoast.com


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