Hoy is a Spanish-language daily newspaper whose staff, former general manager Julian Posada tells me, conducts its meetings in English. That might strike you as ironic, but all it means is that Hoy is created for a market—Chicago's unacculturated Latinos—its creators don't happen to be part of.
Posada grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, the son of a neurosurgeon and a nurse from Colombia. He's married to Gina Santana, whose blue-collar parents came to Chicago from Puerto Rico. Santana says she can't imagine a newspaper or magazine that would have satisfied all four parents. But she and Posada were born and educated here, have master's degrees, and share a strong if diffused sense of Hispanic culture. To test their theory that Latinos like themselves, a generation or two removed from the old country, would value and support a publication of their own, they've just started one.
Café bills itself as a "Latino lifestyle magazine," and the first issue came off the presses last week. It's a free bimonthly that the founders hope will go monthly next spring.
There's an argot particular to new publications courting advertisers, and Café publicity indulges in it. The magazine announces it "will deliver culturally relevant content, generated for Latinos living in the Chicago area. It reflects the richness and duality of Chicago's contemporary Hispanic community." Its readers will be inspired "to live the richest life possible, both at home and in the workplace; to relish the infinite cultural offerings of our great city and suburbs; and to continually learn about topics that matter to them and their extended families."
The interesting word in all that is duality. During a conversation in their northwest-side home, Posada and Santana described three sets of Latinos, and two will not be Café's market. The largest is the Hoy audience, the smallest the Latino "elite," and each, they acknowledge, is a group with concerns about fitting in. Café is targeting the "middle band"—acculturated but not assimilated Latinos, comfortable in their American skin but determined to remember where they're from. "We're fiercely proud of our cultural heritage," Posada explains.
The language of Café is English—though not entirely. When only a Spanish idiom will do, it's used. For instance, the last page of the magazine is reserved for stories readers want to share about cultural lessons learned as children. The page is headed "A mi me enseñaron..."—a familiar phrase that according to Santana means figuratively, but not literally, "When I was growing up."
Posada calls Spanish his "first language," and he says it was "brutally important" to his parents that their children know it. "A son of theirs had better speak Spanish. To them, Spanish was still the native language." Whenever his parents took the family back to Colombia, "you'd better speak the native language."
Will Posada's two children hold Spanish in the same regard? "You hope for that," he says. "I can tell you, the five-year-old," the older of his kids, "gets it. He knows if he speaks to me in English he's not going to get his way. He'll get his way when he speaks to me in Spanish."
But Posada admits that English is the language he knows better. His Spanish is fine for conversation, but in his East Lansing schools he studied only English grammar and read only books in English. He waves at his bookshelf and admits "95 percent, maybe 98 percent" of the books there are in English. Even the ones originally written in Spanish. Even One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Colombia's greatest writer, Gabriel García Márquez.
"My mom told me, 'You should read it in Spanish.' I said, 'Yeah, mom. I know.'" But Posada has tried to read it as Márquez wrote it, and it was a slog.
There's the duality—thinking Spanish in English—and Posada believes it defines such specific multitudes that he can offer them to advertisers. According to Café literature, there are some 1.8 million Latinos in metro Chicago, of whom 260,000 use Spanish and English equally; 404,000 are bilingual but prefer English and 241,000 are "English dependent." From this pool, Café seeks a target reader who's 34 or younger with a college education and a household income of at least $75,000 a year.
The press run for the first issue was 45,000 copies; 20,000 were mailed to Latino households as an inducement to subscribe and the rest were distributed in public places—banks and hospitals in particular. About 30 percent of the total distribution was suburban, with a focus on Latino concentrations in western suburbs such as Aurora and Elgin.
In May Posada resigned from the Tribune Company, which publishes Hoy. His title at Café is publisher. Santana, whose background is in marketing and whose resume includes a stint at Leo Burnett, is managing editor. The editor is Alejandro Riera, a former senior editor of Hoy.
"I didn't think there would be a huge recession," says Posada. "But on the flip side, I've been pleasantly pleased by finding a silver lining in this. There is massive displacement in media. We're very young and new, but I think we might be able to figure out a way to take advantage of that. You can challenge the status quo in times like this because people are looking for unique ways of getting to an audience, and at the end of the day we're a niche publication."
Its success may hinge on the strength of Posada and Santana's assumptions. One of them is that language disappears more quickly than culture, and that what Santana calls the "slow erosion" of culture is something even Latinos who have lost their Spanish want to resist. Another is that cultural differences that fundamentally divide immigrants—say, Colombians from Puerto Ricans—diminish to bridgeable "nuances" in subsequent generations. A third is that there are cultural fundamentals all Latinos share, such as a commitment to the extended family.
That commitment, says Posada, will be Café's point of entry when it eventually writes about illegal immigration. It's a subject he believes hasn't "been written about and explained the way we want to do it," yet he isn't actually sure how the magazine wants to do it. He observes that Spanish-language television can report on "a raid here, a raid there" to an audience that wonders, will I be next? But Café's readers don't wonder that. Posada says, "It's kind of a quiet issue for people who aren't worried themselves about being in the crosshairs."
But he can easily imagine Café readers whose children's school friends have undocumented parents. Whose grandparents—or even parents—have problems with documents they never got around to resolving. (Posada's own mother, who came to the U.S. legally and has lived here for decades, became a citizen just a few years ago.) Those problems "could have a huge impact" on health care, Posada says. "If you're legal you feel you can go get preventive care." But if it's your parents' health that worries you, "you think 'Oh my God, can I take them in? Because they're going to ask for papers.' Which is very different from 'Oh my God, I don't have papers.'"v
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Julian Posada, Gina Santana