Maria Gaines craved Spanish.
Like a homesick college freshman, she longed to hear the rapid poetry of her native tongue, to see words such as “familia” printed on paper.
“I wanted to read something - anything - in my own language,” said Gaines, a Panama native who moved to Spokane six years ago. “I was hungry for news about my people, my country.”
Frustrated with the lack of local reading material in her language, Gaines, a 39-year-old housewife with no writing or editing experience, decided last year to start her own newspaper.
Last month, she published the first issue of La Prensa Bilingue, a monthly eight-page newspaper written in both Spanish and English. La Prensa, also called The Bilingual Press, has a circulation of 1,000.
Except for the printing, Gaines does all the work at home using a 1980s Commodore computer. Her husband, Troy Gaines, helps by soliciting advertising while Maria - who spends her day at home with her 2-year-old son Dirk - stays up at night to write articles in Spanish with English translations.
Before La Prensa, non-English-speaking Hispanics had no easy access to news and information from their homelands, Gaines said.
Telemundo, the only Spanish-language television station in Spokane, was taken off the cable TV lineup in 1995. Spanish-language magazines also aren’t widely available in Spokane, a county with more than 8,400 residents of Hispanic origin.
“Many Hispanics are rejected or misinterpreted because they don’t speak English very well,” said Martha Gonzales, a Spanish professor at Gonzaga University.
“This newspaper will help them feel identified with their own culture.”
La Prensa also alleviates the culture shock that many Latin American immigrants experience, said Gaines, who recalled her own feelings of loneliness and alienation when she first arrived in Spokane with her husband, who got a job at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Gaines couldn’t cook traditional Panamanian dishes because ingredients weren’t available at most grocery stores. For the first few months, she didn’t meet anyone who spoke her language.
“In Panama, I was plain simple Maria,” she said. “Here, people look at me and they see me as black. When they hear me speak Spanish, they laugh and say I’m both black and Hispanic.”
But instead of just publishing a Spanish newspaper, Gaines chose to write in both English and Spanish. That way, Hispanics who don’t speak English will be able to learn while English-speaking readers get a chance to pick up Spanish.
“Campana Electoral Inscribe mas de 6,000 Hispanos en el estado de Washington,” read the front-page headline of last month’s La Prensa. Its English translation, “Voter Registration Program Registers Over 6,000 Hispanics,” was found on the back page.
On inside pages, La Prensa looks like other neighborhood newspapers with its list of community events and phone numbers, recipes for chicken salad and Christmas cake, a kids’ page with a bilingual crossword puzzle.
Unlike mainstream papers, however, La Prensa provides encyclopedia-like information on Latin American countries. Last month, for example, the newspaper featured a lengthy article on Argentina complete with national emblems, currency information and a phone number for the Argentinian Consulate.
“I want to create cultural understanding,” said Gaines, who studied to be a bookkeeper as a student in Panama City. “I want to break down barriers and bring people together.”
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