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A brief history of Minnesota’s first statewide Spanish-language newspaper

photo of mario duarte speaking at lectern
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
Mario Duarte working in Minnesota, ca. 1980s. Oral History Office files, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

“La Prensa” is the first state-wide Spanish-language and bilingual newspaper in Minnesota dedicated to informing and representing issues pertinent to the Latinx and Chicanx community.

Every ten years, the United States government conducts a census to learn about the demographics of the nation’s population. In Minnesota in 1990, the Latinx and Chicanx population was changing rapidly on pace with other parts of the country. Due to increased violence and economic disparities in Mexico, Central America, and South America, thousands of people were migrating to the United States in search of more stable living conditions. In Minnesota, industries like agriculture, meat packing, education, and healthcare recruited both low-wage laborers and the professional class. In order to document the new population in Minnesota, the government sought out volunteers from these communities to help conduct the 1990 census.

One volunteer to help was Mario Duarte. He had moved from El Salvador in 1982 with his family in order to flee the civil war. As a census volunteer, Duarte traveled around the state of Minnesota meeting different Latinx and Chicanx families. He noticed that there was no easy way for them to communicate across the state with each other. Cell phones did not yet exist, and the internet was available only to a few individuals. Duarte decided that the best way to keep the community informed about current events, politics, education, and immigration was to create a bilingual newspaper.

At the time, there were other newspapers for communities of color in Minnesota, such as the “Asian American Press” and the “Spokesmen Recorder.” Duarte decided it was important for Latinxs and Chicanxs to have a voice also. In 1991, he started La Prensa, the first Spanish-language newspaper in the state. Since many second and third generations of Latinx and Chicanx people, most of them living in the Twin Cities did not speak Spanish, let alone read it, Duarte decided to make the newspaper bilingual in order to reach more people.

Under Duarte’s tenure as editor, “La Prensa” was a weekly publication. When the newspaper was first established, he was its only employee. He gathered the stories, completed the layout, and delivered the newspapers to local businesses, schools, and community centers in the Twin Cities. Duarte also wanted to ensure that the rural Latinx community had access to the newspaper. He mailed out large bundles to individual towns each week; from there, they were distributed to other communities.

After working as La Prensa’s lead editor for over a decade, Duarte turned the newspaper over to his daughter, Lorena. She originally started working at the newspaper as a writer and served as lead editor between 2001 and 2006, when she returned to Minnesota after graduating from Harvard University.

Lorena Duarte was also born in El Salvador and moved with her father to the West Side of St. Paul in the late 1980s. While she was growing up, there were not many Central Americans living in Minnesota. As a result, Lorena became integrated into the dominant Chicanx and Mexican community. Her ability to understand the complexity and differences among the Latinx community resulted in La Prensa covering a wide variety of stories, ensuring all ethnic groups were represented.

In 2006, the Duartes sold the newspaper to El Cine Latino Communications Networks, which later sold it to Latino Communications Network. In 2018, although La Prensa remains a weekly publication, it is distributed inside another Spanish-language newspaper, “Vida y Sabor.” The newspaper serves as an important place for local businesses to advertise, for community members to write editorial pieces, and for readers to learn about current events. Since “La Prensa” is also available online, its circulation now extends beyond Minnesota.

Editor’s note: Words in Spanish are gendered; Latinas are the female equivalents of Latinos. The same is true of Chicanas and Chicanos. For the sake of inclusion, this article uses the terms Latinx(s) and Chicanx(s) and to refer to men and women at the same time.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

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