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A new bilingual newspaper serves rural Minnesota

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Shoshana and Renan Cruz, St. Cloud, began publishing a bilingual newspaper in December of 2005. The couple hopes the newspaper bridges a gap between the state's Spanish and English speaking populations.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Shoshana and Renan Cruz are sitting at a table in the downtown St. Cloud library.  A man in a cowboy hat is eavesdropping as they talk about their new publishing venture, a Spanish and English newspaper.  After a few minutes he approaches the two.  In Spanish he tells the couple the newspaper sounds like "a good idea" and gives them a thumbs-up.  Shoshana and Renan say that's all the proof they need to know their effort will be successful.  

Front page of  El Vecino
On the front page of a recent issue of El Vecino, stories are printed in both Spanish and English, side by side.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

The two began publishing a monthly newspaper called El Vecino -- or The Neighbor -- in December.  The idea came about a year ago when Renan Cruz began work as an interpreter in St. Cloud.  When the native of Guatemala worked at local hospitals, he was bothered by something he saw.  In waiting rooms, the area's Spanish speaking population, people from Mexico and Central America, stared at the walls.  They had nothing to read. 

"We have seen a huge amount of people out there who don't have any way to find information or give information.  There was no publication for them until now," Cruz said. 

But instead of starting a Spanish newspaper, the two decided to make their publication bilingual.  Shoshana, who spent most of her life in Duluth before moving to St. Cloud, has a background in the newspaper business, so she writes news stories in English.  Renan translates them into Spanish.  The stories are then printed side by side in El Vecino. 

"We thought this would be a perfect bridge in order for the two groups to be able to communicate with each other.  Here's what's going on in the Hispanic community and sharing that information.  It's also a venue for the English speaking community to put their information in there too," Cruz said. 

"We've seen a huge amount of people out there who don't have any way to find information or give information.  There was no publication for them until now,"

In El Vecino's first two issues, the national debate over immigration has gotten a lot of attention.  But so has local news from Long Prairie, Worthington and St. James, smaller Minnesota cities with significant Hispanic populations.  The Cruz's hope to build a solid base of Spanish speakers hungry for news in their own language.    

Marjorie Fish, a professor of Mass Communications at St. Cloud State University, says there's room for more Latino publications like this one in Minnesota.  Fish says staying connected to the world is hard for people who don't see media in their own language.

"Being able to get news and information in your own language is particularly important for people who may not yet be fluent in English or who may not wish to be fluent in English who may want to as much as possible retain their own language and culture," Fish said.

Fish thinks bilingual newspapers are a good tool for people learning a new language.  Whether that's Spanish speakers learning English or vice versa.  Fish says the state's growing Hispanic population, a Census Bureau estimate puts it at nearly 200,000 people, will mean El Vecino should have plenty of advertisers willing to pay to reach that growing demographic. 

One business owner who's advertising in El Vecino is Mark Gripp, the owner of tattoo and piercing shops in St. Cloud and Elk River.  Gripp and hopes to reach out to more Spanish speaking clients with his advertisements. 

"We don't get a lot of Hispanic business.   And I know that no other tattoo shops in the area weren't advertising in such a way so I thought I'd give it a shot," Gripp said.

El Vecino has been able to tout itself as the state's only bilingual newspaper, until recently.  The Minneapolis-based Spanish language weekly La Prensa has started including English summaries of each of the stories it prints in Spanish.