Part native, part immigrant, and part exile, the Spanish-language press has had a long history in the United States. Although the first Spanish-language newspaper was established in 1808, the study of Spanish-language newspapers did not start until the 1920s. Initially thought of as another immigrant press by those who studied the European ethnic press in the United States, Spanish-language newspapers were conceived as a transitory medium that allowed new immigrants to adapt to a new nationality and a new country. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that Chicano scholars in the Southwest conceived of Spanish-language newspapers as part of a native press, meaning that it was produced by Americans, but by a group with a subordinate status in the country. In this new understanding, the Spanish-language press was seen as performing an alternative function of recording a history otherwise untold, and of helping communities overcome open and institutional forms of discrimination. More recently, a third feature of the Spanish-language press has been brought to the forefront: its exile character, meaning that the Spanish-language press has contributed to shaping national or revolutionary ideas in another country or region. Most of the resulting literature on the Spanish-language press uses one or a combination of these three general approaches. The literature also shows that the study of Spanish-language newspapers has become more varied, pointing to new research directions, such as comparative studies of media performance between Spanish-language newspapers and other diverse news media outlets, the representation of other groups in the Latino press, and the role of women journalists and their work in Spanish-language newsrooms.
Scholars have followed three general approaches to studying Spanish-language newspapers. The first approach looks at Spanish-language newspapers as part of the immigrant or ethnic press. Park’s seminal study (Park 1922) focuses on the immigrant European press and on issues of assimilation, nationalism, and radicalism. Here, the “foreign-language” press is studied as a promoter (or not) of assimilation to the language, culture, and ideas of the host country. A more recent version of this approach, focused on twenty-seven ethnic groups, can be found in Miller 1987, which expands Park’s European focus to include three Asian American groups (Chinese American, Filipino American, and Japanese American), two Latino groups (Mexican American and Puerto Rican), and the Arab American press. In a second approach, based on ideas of internal colonialism, scholars argue that Spanish-language newspapers have been part of a native (not “foreign” press), and they study these newspapers as instruments of either oppression or liberation. Acuña’s seminal history of Chicanos (Acuña 1972, continuously updated) uses early Spanish-language newspapers in the Southwest to document part of the untold history of resistance and liberation of Spanish-speaking communities. Gutiérrez 1977, a classic essay on the history of the Spanish-language press, provides the most concise theoretical framework to study Spanish-language newspapers from this perspective. For Gutiérrez, the Spanish-language press serves three different roles: social control, activism, and registry of an alternate history. Cortés 1987 expands on Gutiérrez’s three roles to include issues of cultural and linguistic identity and preservation. González and Torres 2011, focused on the alternative role of the nonwhite press, follows a similar approach and advances the idea that journalism practiced by these groups has been essential in the development of inclusive democratic ideals. Kanellos 2000, a historical essay on the Spanish-language press, summarizes the two previous approaches (immigrant and native press), and articulates a third approach, that of Spanish-language newspapers as part of the exile press. Kanellos’s text emphasizes the fact that many Spanish-language publications have been published in the United States by exiles who left their countries for political reasons, and their publications have helped debate and shape ideas of nationhood in places like Cuba and Puerto Rico. Lomnitz-Adler 2014, a book about the group surrounding Mexican anarchist and exile Ricardo Flores Magón, looks at the Spanish-language publications in the United States by Flores Magón as part of the first binational radical social movement, suppressed on both sides of the border.
Acuña, Rodolfo. Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle toward Liberation. San Francisco: Canfield, 1972.
History of Chicanos in the United States. Extensively uses Spanish-language newspaper sources. One chapter uses Francisco P. Ramírez’s writings to present an alternative history of early California. Most recent edition: Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (Boston: Pearson, 2015).
Cortés, Carlos E. “The Mexican-American Press.” In The Ethnic Press in the United States: A Historical Analysis and Handbook. Edited by Sally M. Miller, 247–260. New York: Greenwood, 1987.
Brief history of the Mexican American press. Author reflects about the role of Spanish-language newspapers in society, and the future of Latino media. Expands on the roles of the native Spanish-language press put forward by Gutiérrez 1977.
González, Juan, and Joseph Torres. News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. London: Verso, 2011.
History of nonwhite journalism and news from US independence until the early 2000s. Book focuses on four groups: American Indians, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. Covers print and broadcast news. Includes only the beginnings of the Internet era. Chapters read quickly. Could be used as textbook.
Gutiérrez, Félix. “Spanish-Language Media in America: Background, Resources, History.” Journalism History 4.2 (Summer 1977): 34–41, 65–67.
Seminal essay on the history of Spanish-language media in the United States, based on ideas of domestic colonialism. The essay treats the Spanish-language press as a native press and establishes three key social roles performed by Spanish-language newspapers. Useful framework to study the Spanish-language press.
Kanellos, Nicolás. “A Brief History of Hispanic Periodicals in the United States.” In Hispanic Periodicals in the United States, Origins to 1960: A Brief History and Comprehensive Bibliography. Edited by Nicolás Kanellos and Helvetia Martell, 8–136. Houston: Arte Público, 2000.
Comprehensive chronicle of the history of Spanish-language newspapers in the United States from 1818 to 1960. Includes three different approaches: immigrant, native, exile. Includes drawings and images of some of the publications. Presents a comprehensive framework to study the Spanish-language press. Abundant footnotes and references.
Lomnitz-Adler, Claudio. The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón. Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books, 2014.
Comprehensive study on Ricardo Flores Magón, his closest intellectual circle, and their American allies. The book provides an intellectual history of a binational anarchist movement. Insightful account of how the US government used all means possible to censor the group and incarcerate Magón until his death in 1922. Good number of photos.
Miller, Sally M. “Introduction.” In The Ethnic Press in the United States: A Historical Analysis and Handbook. Edited by Sally M. Miller, xi–xxi. New York: Greenwood, 1987.
Essay builds on Park’s approach and looks at ethnic media, including Spanish-language newspapers, primarily as an immigrant press. However, the essay acknowledges the existence of the native argument put forward by other scholars in the 1970s. Useful contemporary framework to study Spanish-language press as ethnic, immigrant press.
Park, Robert Ezra. The Immigrant Press and Its Control. New York: Harper, 1922.
Comprehensive study and inventory of the immigrant European press in the United States during the period after the largest European migration. Includes comprehensive data in the form of tables and graphics. Book deals with the history, content, and forms of control of the immigrant press. Provides little information specifically on Spanish-language newspapers.
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