Leif Olsen and Professor Scott Duvall, Special Collections and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library
At a Mexican restaurant in Salt Lake City, I came across an issue of La Prensa, a Spanish-language newspaper published in Utah. It covered a variety of issues, including immigrant fraud, the top ten Latin music hits, and soccer. I wondered how many of these “foreign”-language newspapers exist in Utah and who publishes them. I felt that a study was needed to gain a more complete picture of Utah’s past and present ethnic newspapers and hoped to gain a better understanding of Utah’s peoples. My preliminary research culminated in an end-of-semester paper for my print history class taught by Professor Scott Duvall.
Utah’s first non-English newspaper, Utah Posten, appeared in 1873 and was written in Danish by a Norwegian American. Since then, a total of 83 different non-English and ethnic newspapers have been published in the state. The non-English languages include Chinese, Danish, Dutch, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Slavonian, Spanish, Swedish, Tongan, and Vietnamese. Ethnic groups that have or had English-language newspapers are African American, Asian Indian, and Native American.
Most of the 83 newspapers are no longer published. Currently, only Asian Indian (1), Chinese (1), Korean (1), Native American (1), Portuguese (1), Spanish (10), and Vietnamese (1) are available.
Last year, I set out across the state searching for these newspapers. Redwood Road in West Valley City proved to be the most profitable area. There I visited different ethnic establishments, some of which included a Cambodian foods store, a Filipino restaurant, a Laotian market, a Greek fast-food joint, a Korean-Polynesian-Latino grocery store, and (probably the most surprising) a Pakistani-Indian- Croatian goods store. Using the information provided in the newspapers I found, I then contacted the editors and set up interviews.
I transcribed taped interviews (and took notes on unrecorded ones) that I conducted with Bryce Beesley, production director of Somos Utah/We Are Utah; Oscar Cornejo, founder and publisher, and Norma Estefano, editor of El Ogdentino; Bruce Fereday, general director of La Familia; Barbara Stinson Lee, editor of Intermountain Catholic and its supplement, Utah Católico; Marina Leung, editor of Eastern Trends (Dôngfângbào); Dr. Joseph L. Madrigal, publisher of La Voz de Hispanoamerica; Luciano Marzulli-Vargas, editor of Venceremos; Tri Nguyen, editor of Ngu’ i Vi t Utah (Utah Vietnamese News); and Ingrid Quiroz, editor of La Prensa.
Many of the newspaper editors expressed similar concerns. They felt a great need to help the community by informing them about local laws and customs, immigration procedures, world news, and upcoming social or religious events. With the exception of a few, most newspaper editors and their staff receive no compensation and rely heavily on advertising to be self-sustaining. All but one of the newspapers are distributed free at local restaurants and markets. Some also gain money through subscriptions. Many of the editors have other full-time jobs (such as travel agent, professor, auto mechanic, translator, etc.) and work on the newspapers with volunteers in their spare time. For others, newspaper production is one of many duties at a company. However, a few of the newspapers have paid full-time staff who devote their time solely to newspaper production.
In 2000, Utahns voted English as Utah’s official language. This became a controversial topic that embroiled Utah’s ethnic press. Many newspapers had strong opinions about Utah’s “English Only” initiative. Editorialists understood the implications of the legislation and mainly attacked the mentality behind it. Ingrid Quiroz and Elizabeth Amores of La Prensa stated, “This biased movement represents a challenge to the immigrants of Utah.” They called it “divisive” and “elitist” and noted that the origins of the initiative were based on “fear of the growing Hispanic” population.1 In an interview, Quiroz explained that immigrants already feel the need to learn English in the U.S.2 Mata Finau in Venceremos asked, “Does this law provide us with the tools to build communities of acceptance? Does this create negligence in our commitment to provide for those disenfranchised socially and economically?” Finau predicted that the legislation would lead to further injustice.3 Norma Estefano of El Ogdentino lamented, “We will have to wait for the final word in November, taking into account the needs of the most humble, who, even though they would like to, cannot speak English.”4 Dr. Joseph Madrigal in La Voz de Hispanoamerica wrote, “Many Anglos worry that if English is not adopted as the official language, other cultures will override their own and they will lose their identity. . . . They don’t mention that a majority of immigrants (approximately 85%) learn English.”5 Members of Utah’s ethnic press stand ready to publish their own points of view on issues such as this one that affect them.
Tri Nguyen, editor of Ngu’ i Vi t Utah and one of almost 6,000 Vietnamese in Utah,6 said in an interview that even though Vietnamese can read and speak English, “they feel better” reading the news in their native language.7
This project is larger than I realized and there still remains a lot to do. Since 1938, 8 nothing comprehensive has been written on Utah’s non-English, bilingual, and ethnic newspapers from the nineteenth century to the present day. I hope to expand my research to make known this essential part of Utah’s culture and that it will serve as a research tool for others to come to a better understanding of Utah’s immigrant, sociolinguistic, political, and religious history.
I would like to thank the Office of Research and Creative Activities at BYU for their grant.9
- “‘English Only’ una iniciativa divisionista y elitista,” July 15-31, 2000, A3. (Kirsten Olsen assisted with Spanish translations.)
- July 19, 2000, interview, Murray, Utah.
- “Officializing English Officializes Disenfranchisement of Utah’s Community,” Summer 2000, 8.
- “‘English Only,’” August 2000, 2.
- “La propuesta de Inglés como idioma official en Utah,” second edition in July, 3.
- According to the U.S. Census 2000. See http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2000/dp1/2kh49.pdf.
- August 24, 2000, interview, Murray, Utah.
- J. Cecil Alter, Early Utah Journalism: A Half Century of Forensic Warfare, Waged by the West’s Most Militant Press (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1938).
- A grant from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies provided additional support for this research.