War of the Words

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In return for his $50,000 expense on the racks, Kaye suggested charging newspaper owners between $6 (for the bottom pocket on the rack) and $9 (for the top pocket) a month to have their papers displayed. Kaye insists that his prices were more than reasonable, and that he had no intention of excluding any of his competitors. But local Hispanic publishers -- particularly Valera and Garcia -- balked at the idea of paying Kaye for what they'd long had for free, so he withdrew his idea, saying that he lost $50,000 on the fiasco.

"They were all sitting together, singing 'Kumbaya' and saying 'Kill Whitey,'" he recalls, with more than a hint of bitterness. Mindful of what a lightning rod he'd become in Spanish publishing, Kaye was determined to stay in the background with La Voz and let Torres represent the paper publicly.

The Southwest Supermarkets controversy also made allies of Valera and Garcia, who'd been fiercely competitive since Valera began Monitor Hispano in 1993.

"The last two years, we've changed, and decided not to fight each other," Valera says. "We've realized we're in the same boat, so we better get along. I've proven to Manny that I'm going to stay here. We've sat down and had menudo, and decided to work together on certain issues."

Valera says he used to be friendly with Torres, but that they've only spoken once since the advent of La Voz.

"One time we had a problem with distribution, and he called and said some of our newspapers were in their racks," Valera says. "And I said that I don't want an Anglo publication throwing away our Hispanic newspapers. Ricardo said, 'This is not an Anglo publication!'

"He says, 'No, no, no, I'm the owner and the president.' And I said, 'You can say what you want, but you're a salesman from the radio station. I know where you're coming from.'"

Torres and Kaye wanted to shake up the market quickly with La Voz, and within three months of its January debut, the newspaper was at the center of a huge controversy. It began on March 16, when Mesa Police called the Immigration and Naturalization Service to a home where 140 illegal aliens were being detained. The action drew fire from activists who thought the police had overstepped their bounds.

In a March 22 interview with La Voz, former City Council member Rosendo Gutierrez called for a Mesa boycott of the forthcoming census, in protest of the police department's action. In the same issue, a La Voz editorial echoed the sentiment, demanding "whatever action, just and reasonable, including a boycott of the census," until the Mesa Police Department creates a coherent, consistent and fair policy with regard to undocumented immigrants.

On March 23, Secretary of State Betsy Bayless responded by holding a press conference to emphasize the importance of participation in the census. On the same day, the Mesa Police Department released a statement that called La Voz irresponsible for "exhorting" people to boycott the census. The newspaper fired back with a defensive March 29 editorial that dubiously argued that the paper had never advocated a boycott, but merely reported what Gutierrez had to say.

The March 29 editorial also questioned why other news organizations that reported Gutierrez's statement were not similarly blasted. Taking a provocative tack it would use again seven months later with the Ernie Fernandez piece, La Voz asked, "Were they [the Mesa Police] uncomfortable with La Voz because it is a Hispanic newspaper?" An editorial cartoon on the same page depicted a Mesa cop holding up a copy of La Voz and saying, "It's always been easier to put the blame on others."

The following week, the Mesa Police Department announced that it was revising its policy regarding illegals. In the future, the department announced, the INS would only be called in cases in which undocumented immigrants had committed a criminal act. In the offices of La Voz, the announcement was greeted like a surrender note from a vanquished opponent.

"La Voz seems to be omnipotent a little bit more, and covers more in-depth stuff," Gutierrez says. "They have picked up with me immediately on new issues that came up, even if it wasn't popular with a lot of people."

Not surprisingly, both Torres and Ortiz consider the verbal wrestling match with Mesa Police to be La Voz's finest hour. This is what they envisioned for their newspaper -- to be in the center of the ring, stirring up political debate.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia