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New York Daily News

Hailing Latino Paper Of Record


June 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003 New York Daily News, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

It has been said that journalism is the first rough draft of history. When it comes to Latinos in New York, it may be the only one.

Not any journalism, mind you, but the one practiced without interruption over the past 90 years by El Diario-La Prensa, the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States.

The crucial role played for almost a century by El Diario-La Prensa in recording the history of the Hispanic immigration to New York is the subject of a fascinating documentary, "El Diario-La Prensa On The Record," that can be seen Sunday at noon on CBS Channel 2.

"As a newspaper, El Diario-La Prensa does not only have the duty to inform our readers," says its publisher, Rossana Rosado, "but we have the social responsibility to educate them and other New Yorkers about our history.

"For Daily News readers," she adds with characteristic passion, "perhaps the most important thing would be to look at El Diario-La Prensa as important not only for Latinos, but as part of the history of the whole city."

This historical awareness seems to have guided the newspaper from the beginning.

"It is not a perfect newspaper, and its coverage has many biases and shortcomings, but it is the only existing chronicle of some of the most important battles of the Latino community over the years," said Flix Matos, director of the Center of Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, which holds a complete collection of the newspaper.

"It is the only journalistic vehicle where what happens in the city's Hispanic neighborhoods has been reported for many years," Matos said. "And it is also the only newspaper where what takes place 'back home' - in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Colombia, and that is so important for Latinos - is also chronicled on a daily basis."

Matos is very proud of the 20,000 photographs that Justo Mart, a Cuban-born photographer who worked for El Diario-La Prensa in the '60s, '70s and early '80s, donated to the center.

"They are a real New York treasure," Matos said. Willing to take risks El Diario-La Prensa itself has been a protagonist in many of the issues affecting Latinos in New York. And at times it has paid a high price.

That was the case for Manuel de Dios Unanue, the paper's editor in chief, who was assassinated in Queens 11 years ago.

"Manuel had the idea that drug trafficking was decimating our neighborhoods and that something had to be done about it," said Gerson Borrero, the current editor of El Diario-La Prensa.

Despite the dangers, the Cuban-born de Dios investigated and exposed in the pages of El Diario-La Prensa the dark world of drug trafficking. In March 1992, a hooded gunman walked up to him in a restaurant on 83rd St. off Roosevelt Ave. and pumped two bullets into his head. De Dios was 48.

As it exists today, El Diario-La Prensa is the result of the merger in 1963 of two newspapers.

La Prensa was founded Oct. 12, 1913, by Rafael Viera, a Spaniard, and El Diario was created in the 1950s by Porfirio Dominicci, a Dominican doctor.

In 1961, entrepreneur Roy Chalk bought El Diario, and in 1963 acquired La Prensa, then merged them and launched its modern history.

As Matos said, it is not that El Diario-La Prensa is a perfect newspaper - far from it. But it is, without a doubt, a fundamental institution in the history of the Latino community in New York.

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