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El Tecolote: Eye on San Francisco’s Latino Pulse

NCM Profile

NCM, Peter Micek Posted: Mar 08, 2004

On August 24, 1970, a star was born. Well, more like a streetlight. El Tecolote, the bilingual newspaper founded over 30 years ago in a Latino neighborhood in San Francisco, recently helped improve local pedestrian safety—by getting a streetlight put in near a local school.

Published by Acción Latina, a non-profit cultural organization based in the neighborhood, 10,000 copies of the 16-page paper are sent every two weeks to San Francisco’s Mission District and nearby cities South San Francisco, Daly City, and East Oakland.

Coverage hits below-the-radar yet essential issues like the pedestrian traffic problems. After several automobile accidents involving children, says managing editor Pedro Tuyub, "We got city officials to pay attention to what’s going on here."

The Mission District in San Francisco, which recently weathered a housing crisis brought on by dot-com workers, is a welcoming place for new immigrants.

But El Tecolote isn't read solely by Latinos, says Tuyub, who is a native of Yucatan, Mexico.

"When you talk about education, you’re talking about everybody’s education," Tuyub says. "We follow it through a Latino angle but also a minority angle."

Founded by Acción Latina president Juan Gonzales, El Tecolote, or “the owl,” aimed to be a useful tool, he says, to deal with social movements on a local level. In 1970, the Chicano rights movement surged alongside the fight for civil liberties and Vietnam War protests.

The neighborhood hasn’t changed dramatically since then, says Gonzales, 56, who moved to San Francisco in 1967 from Stockton, Calif. The Mission remains a "nest bed of activism," he says, but the faces of activist leaders have changed as residents move to the suburbs and are replaced by new immigrants.

Though local issues—housing, access to education, bilingual services, and jobs—are the same, Gonzales says, there is now greater intensity to the struggles because there are more people in the area.

El Tecolote's coverage ranges from local to national, with entertainment and, most recently, sports in the mix. The most recent issue, for example, carries the transcript of a discussion with Mexican President Vicente Fox alongside the obituary of a prominent Mission District resident.

Volunteers write and edit the paper, despite the fact that running a newspaper is not an easy job, Tuyub says. "People see what we’re doing is important and stay with us."

The local community has also helped out when funds were needed, Gonzales says. "When push comes to shove, they’re there to lend a hand."

The paper originally printed weekly but dwindling resources— culled from donations, fundraisers, favors from printers and the pocketbooks of staff members—forced it to publish monthly a year later.

Its unique coverage has set El Tecolote apart from its competitors, says Tuyub. "We are trying to do basically what we believe other people don’t do."

Tuyub, now in his 30s, arrived four years ago to give El Tecolote a "fresh look," he says. As the only paid staff member, he manages the daily operations of the paper, giving it a consistent editorial voice and structure. He also tries to make the paper more attractive for young people.

The papers, each revolving around a theme, are one-color. Which color runs depends on the mood of the issue.

El Tecolote continues to follow its original purpose, he says, to expose the issues of a community that is often neglected or ignored by city politicians and media.

"We try to keep the pulse of what is happening," he says. The paper has no other mission, he said, than to be a "light" in the Mission.

El Tecolote is online at www.eltecolote.org.

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