Reflections one year after the revival of La Voz Latina
Written by: Alexa Figueroa 🇸🇻
New Student Welcome event at Knight Hall on Sept.19, 2022 (Justin Guzman)
When I think of my identity the first thing that comes to mind is Latina. At the journalism school that identity is on my mind 24/7. My curly hair and short stature stands out in a room full of students who look nothing like me. Everyone knows I am different and I feel it too.
My whole life I went to schools that were 95% minority. I never felt different, not even strange. Coming to UMD was a huge culture shock for me. Me sentí como una exhibición en un museo. Entre las paredes blancas de la institución, resaltó ante los demás y no de una manera buena.
First-gen students know all too well the struggle of navigating college on your own. The sensation of confusion and fear rushes over your body as you try to figure out what a credit is. I quickly noticed how other students didn’t need to put as much effort to fit in, feel comfortable or even complete their assignments.
As many Latino students and past Editor-in-Chiefs have done, we have broken our backs to catch up time and time again because systematically, Latinos are always a step behind.
“Alexa, como le pregunto que puedo ir a limpiar el jueves a las 8:30 a.m.” I was watching my white counterparts relax on the cold benches in Knight Hall while I was on the phone with my mother, helping her translate texts to send to her bosses while simultaneously emailing five different potential interviewees. I marveled at the opportunities that would never be handed to me.
How it happened
El orgullo más grande que tengo es hablar el idioma de mis padres pero qué sirve eso si el temor más grande que tengo es que me hagan daño simplemente por hablar español.
The fear of being discriminated against for speaking Spanish at this university drove me to find a space where students such as myself could write in Spanish without judgment, fear y con orgullo. It is essential to have a space where we could feel like being a journalist could be a possibility.
Oftentimes Latino students don’t know that journalism is an option for them because they were silenced throughout their whole lives. In journalism, your job is to be the voice for others, but who is giving us a voice? My idea for a Latino newspaper was never to be the paper that focuses on breaking news but focuses on giving Latinos a platform to have autonomy over their own stories; a goal La Voz Latina has had since 1987.
The problem was, this space no longer existed. I remembered seeing La Voz Latina as a former newspaper while scrolling down an orientation website and kept investigating. The process was daunting. From having to learn the inner workings of TerpLink to applying for a name change, I was worried my right eye would never stop twitching.
I had trouble finding La Voz Latina on TerpLink. I found out that there was an attempt to restart the newspaper before me and the last variation of the paper was called La Voz Unida. Regardless of what it was last called, all I could find were traces of social media sites from 2009 and inactive websites. I could see the reflection on my computer screen as I clicked “shut down.” The black screen reflected my expression of disappointment and curiosity.
I wondered why a newspaper that seemed to be so active during different decades was no longer around and decided that it was time for it to be revived.
My initial plan was to create a bilingual newspaper named "Our Stories," mimicking La Voz's format because I didn’t know how to start from scratch. After realizing that Our Stories wouldn’t attract a large audience, I decided that I would relaunch La Voz Latina because it was already well-known to campus faculty.
I created a new website and social media sites from scratch. The followers on my personal Instagram must have been tired of seeing my daily reposts of the beige yellow logo that branded the newspaper.
I was fortunate enough that members from the Incentive Awards Program spread the word and became the first few members.
We grew through word of mouth and trust from Latino faculty and students that our newspaper was already established. Every application that came in through Instagram made my day better because it meant that we were one step closer to launching.
While I was experiencing euphoria due to our growing staff, I was quickly brought back to reality when I felt as though several faculty members at the journalism school underestimated the need for this space. The necessity for genuine and authentic stories, along with the desire to see our faces in print. I felt so discouraged but when you are a minority in the journalism space, you put your fighting face on and move forward.
We’re never taken seriously because La Voz Latina is destined to eventually fail again. The struggle of being told that we are temporary is not new. This phrase has been echoed to La Voz Editor-in-Chiefs for decades.
I remember walking into the advising office one day in Knight Hall and asking the only advisor I knew how to restart a newspaper. He looked me in the eyes, sighed, and said “I really don’t know. Your idea seems nice but it’s not going to last long. Try to be realistic, I’ve seen newspapers fail and this looks like one of them.”
No one ever took me seriously. I tabled at different events but I was constantly told by advisors and professors at the journalism school that restarting a newspaper is too hard. “This is temporary, it won't survive.” Pero quiénes son ellos para decirme que la pasión que tengo en mi corazón por mi comunidad no es suficiente.
Failure. That’s the main idea I left with after my encounters at the journalism school. I realized that Latinos were expected to fail. I knew this all too well. Kids like me who are from PG County are set up to fail because it is what is expected of us.
First board after the re-start of La Voz Latina for New Student Welcome at Knight Hall on Sept.19, 2022 (Alexa Figueroa)
I hated feeling like what I was trying to do was meaningless, as if our stories meant nothing. This was only the start of all the doubt I would face. Not too long after that I met with the advisor, I tabled at the Merrill Org Fair at Knight Hall. I dressed up in professional clothing, did my hair, makeup and even asked my friends to come support. When I arrived, I was told that I was tabling at the back of the library while majority-white organizations got to be in the center of Knight Hall where all the prospective students were located.
I was excited to see a faculty member come into the library because I foolishly hoped that she would provide me with guidance that would help me re-start this paper. My mistake. I continuously greeted her and despite my efforts, she walked around to other tables coming to me last.
She thought it was nice I wanted to write in Spanish but told me that no one would want to do that because it would be too hard.
“Not a lot of people will want to write in Spanish so I don’t know if this will take off.” Even if it did take off I was reassured that it would not last long. She wished me luck and went on her way.
Failure. Something that was expected of me yet again and expected of our staff, a year later.
At another tabling event, the same faculty member approached a few other La Voz members and criticized our special edition newspaper, calling it unprofessional. She offered no constructive feedback to truly become better if that was the case.
What she was really saying is that Latinos are unprofessional. She offered other publications tabling next to them headshot opportunities and a welcoming smile leaving us wondering why we were not professional enough to have our headshots taken. Our white counterparts received preferential treatment when La Voz members were tabling just like them. Again, we stand out and are iced out time and time again.
We are always met with the same response. “You just need to deal with it.” “You can’t let it get to you.” “These things will always happen.”
The reality is, it gets tiring to have to put your fighting face on all the time. Will we ever get to exhale after the war?
Over 115 articles later and a staff of over 30 people, lo hicimos. It worked and we hustled for what we have. Money, respect and a re-established reputation. We launched in January of 2022 and received an outpour of love from our community.
Even though we were able to re-start the paper I became aware of the doubt that continued to plague us. What we do isn’t enough for critics and will never be enough. We are unprofessional. Inadequate. Temporary.
I despise the word “temporary.” Sure, La Voz Latina comes and goes, but does anyone ever consider why? Lack of support, financial inequities and a lack of access to stable mentorship have affected the longevity of this newspaper. Ultimately, they’re structural barriers that continue to bring us a step backward.
No one understands what we do. Systematically, a Latina that brings back a website and posts stories on it isn’t interesting enough. I’m just a girl with a dream and what we do is blogging. We’re not real writers right? It's not like we actually have voices and thoughts and we wouldn’t dare write an exposé about how we were really treated. (Oops too late.)
I know La Voz Latina will continue to face backlash and I know we'll never be enough for everyone. However, I hope that the challenges that I and the rest of the staff face are not in vain. I hope that I set up a paper that will last. I never thought we would fail and I hope that prospective Editor-in-Chiefs have the same belief in us that I do.
One year after our relaunch we have created the first graduation special edition highlighting the stories of Latino graduates at the university, initiated an ESOL Partnership Program to connect with the PG County community and broken language barriers through our Spanish and Spanglish writing.
Not everyone will understand us but that is ok. Our community doesn’t care if we perfectly follow AP style or not, they just care to see their people on a platform made for them.
Our unprofessionalism and short-term newspaper will continue to proudly highlight our community whether anyone likes it or not.
Graduation Special Edition newspapers aligned on a table at McKeldin Library on August 31, 2023. (Alexa Figueroa)