El Tecolote founding editor Juan Gonzales lays out the paper. (Courtesy Lou Dematteis)

El Tecolote celebrates 50 years of journalism

Nonprofit community newspaper provides San Francisco and Latino community with free, bilingual news

The longest running Latino bilingual newspaper in California, El Tecolote, celebrated its 50th anniversary in August after serving San Francisco since the 1970s.

What started as a La Raza journalism course at San Francisco State University’s La Raza Studies Department — a department offering perspective of the Spanish-Indian experience in the Americas — has grown into a key source of information for Latino and other underrepresented communities.

The project of La Raza journalism was started in the spring of 1970 by Juan Gonzales, who graduated from SFSU with a journalism degree, during the end of the successful SFSU student strike for the establishment of a College of Ethnic Studies. Because the La Raza Studies Department was still in its infancy with curriculum development, Gonzales was asked by instructors to create and teach the course.

El Tecolote staffers pose for a portrait in the 1980s: (from left) Juan Gonzales, Carlos Valdes (in the back), Ana Montes (in the front), Georgiana Hernandez (in the back), Hilda Ayala (in the front), Tina Avila (in the back), Patricia Vattuone (on the side), and Rudy Gallardo (kneeling). ( Courtesy El Tecolote archives)

“I agreed to write up a course […] that students who take it were going to learn about the absence of [the] Latino experience in terms of stories being written about them,” Gonzales said. “[As we] were wrapping up the semester, everybody agreed that we would meet during the summer and discuss the possibility of starting a newspaper. And sure enough by the end of the summer we had raised around $350 from a fundraiser. We had people who wanted to write, other people who came from other newspapers [in the area at the time] that were folding. So we built maybe at most 10 people that were willing to give it a shot and start a newspaper.”

Today, El Tecolote still stands in the Mission District as a nonprofit newspaper fueled by volunteers and donations, providing free news to the community. Although COVID-19 has financially affected many businesses and organizations throughout the city, Gonzales said whenever the paper requested funds for projects or updated technology, the community responded.

Editor-in-Chief Alexis Terrazas, who has led El Tecolote since 2014, said that although it began as a Latino newspaper, its coverage highlights widespread movements like Black Lives Matter — a nationwide protest about police brutality — and LGBTQ immigration.

El Tecolote’s Distribution Manager Johnny Garcia delivers the paper around 2014. (Courtesy El Tecolote archives)

“We’re a Latino newspaper, but we don’t shut our doors if you don’t identify as Latino or Latina or Latinx,” Terrazas said. “I really feel it’s important, especially for us too as a Latino community newspaper, to be inclusive of different voices including non-Latino voices. […]

“You know, because of what we do, people call it advocacy journalism and that’s fine, that’s cool,” Terrazas said. “But what we really want to do is just educate our folks… And I think the more well rounded voices we have and viewpoints, I think we’ll be more successful in that.”

Gonzales said that through the years over 500 people have volunteered to help produce the paper. Without the army of diverse folks willing to photograph, translate, report and design, El Tecolote wouldn’t have been able to continue its journey.

Cesar Chavez reads the June 1986 issue of El Tecolote. (Courtesy El Tecolote archives)

Joel Angel Juárez was one of those volunteers who contributed to the paper from 2015-2018. What stood out to him was the number of people who believed in the paper and what it stood for.

Juárez felt that volunteering to tell stories helped build relationships and reinforce his role in the community. For him, El Tecolote felt less like a team and more like a family.

“From Juan being a leader, [and] creating it from the ground up and still being there and helping it run, it shows a lot about his legacy,” Juárez said. “And everybody who helps promote this paper in every little way, from every contributor, to every reader, I think it tells a lot in terms of its importance and its role in the community.”

Longtime Mission resident and photographer Lou Dematteis reviews the October 1980 issue of El Tecolote. (Courtesy Lou Dematteis)

RStoughtenborough@sfexaminer.com

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