(Photo courtesy / El Diario La Prensa)

El Diario La Prensa celebrates its centennial

Exactly one hundred years ago, on October 12, 1913, the first edition of a brand-new Spanish-language weekly hit the newsstands. Its name was La Prensa (The Press), and it was the direct precursor of today’s El Diario La Prensa, the oldest-running Spanish-language newspaper in the United States.

Its founder was an obscure Spanish entrepreneur, Rafael Viera, who had arrived in New York just a few years earlier. Little is known about him or his backers, but we can take a hint of his editorial goals through the paper’s declaration of principles. It says there that La Prensa’s mission was “to counter the evil doctrines spread in New York by Spanish-language anarchist periodicals.”  In the early 1900s, the City was a cauldron of social unrest and radical politics. Tobacco factories, the mainstay of the Hispanic economic life of the day, were also one of the centers of socialist and anarchist activity.

The launch date was not chosen haphazardly. October 12, Columbus Day, is known throughout Latin America and Spain as Día de la Raza (“Race Day”, where “race” is used not in a biological but in a cultural sense). In the post-Spanish American War years it was widely regarded among Hispanics as the celebration of a common cultural identity.

Indeed, the paper catered to a multinational population of about 40,000 Spanish speakers. The breakdown of that Latino New York differs substantially from today’s:  the dominant group were Spaniards (35 percent of the total Hispanic population), followed by Cubans and West Indians (21 percent), Puerto Ricans (17, 9 percent), and Central and South Americans (18, 9 percent, the only group that had fared similarly over the years).

In 1918, Viera was bought out by his compatriot José Camprubí (brother-in-law of future Nobel laureate in Literature Juan Ramón Jiménez, who transformed the weekly into a daily. Upon the death of Camprubí in 1942, his wife and daughters took control of the company, turning it into the first U.S. newspaper ran by women.  In 1963, La Prensa merged with El Diario de Nueva York and took its current denomination; the joint-venture kept the latter’s paper’ slogan: “El Campeón de Los Hispanos,” the Champion of Hispanics, as its own.

In 2006, alongside La Opinión of Los Angeles and other regional newspapers, El Diario—as it is known for shortwas acquired by ImpreMedia, which in this way became the largest Spanish-language print news group in the U.S.  In 2012, ImpreMedia was bought by the Argentine daily La Nación.

Since the beginning, El Diario has been the historical record of New York’s Latino community. “From Hispanic sports leagues to dozens of community organizations, to the rise of crossover superstars such as cupletista Concha Piquer, bolero composer Rafael Hernández, or tango singer Carlos Gardel, the trove of information it provides is simply overwhelming,” says researcher Carlos Rodríguez, who produced the chronology for the paper’s commemorative website.

On October 12th, the Empire State Building will be lit in blue and red, El Diario’s signature colors.  There are photo exhibitions at Columbia University, New York University, and Hostos Community College.

RELATED: Columbia University to Preserve El Diario Photo Collection

The great party, a festival featuring Latino theater companies and music, will take place on October 25th at Grand Central Terminal—which also celebrates its centennial—under the banner “New York Icons at 100″. “It will highlight the relevance of El Diario not just as a Latino organization that has served its community over the past century, but also as a New York institution that has helped build the city alongside other non-Latino  institutions,” says the daily’s publisher, Rossana Rosado.

El Diario La Prensa celebrates its centennial  claudioremeseira e1375886483432 news NBC Latino News

Claudio Iván Remeseira is a New York-based award-winning journalist, writer, and critic. Translator of the Spanish-language on-line section of The Nation and editor of Hispanic New York, an online portal and blog on current events and culture. Editor of Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook (Columbia University Press, 2010), an anthology of essays on the city’s Latino, Latin American & Iberian cultural heritage, and winner of the Latino International Book Award in the category of Best Reference Book in English (2011).

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