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Sour Notes

Mercury News locks Hispanic press out of Mariachi Festival

By Michael Learmonth

AT SAN JOSE'S Mariachi Festival this weekend, sell-out crowds will enjoy the traditional costumes and the soulful gritos of the mariachis, but they will see no trace of the local Hispanic press which helped launch the festival in the first place.

The Mexican Heritage Corporation, which has put on the festival for six years, has become the latest Hispanic cultural organization to ink an exclusive sponsorship contract with Nuevo Mundo, the Mercury News' 14-month-old Spanish-language weekly. The contract prohibits other "Spanish-language print media" from sponsoring the same event and reserves the "right of first refusal for print sponsorship of this event the next time it is held."

The contract has angered editors of local Hispanic newspapers such as La Oferta Review, El Observador and Alianza Metropolitan News, who feel they are being forced into second-class citizenship in their own community. It also has angered other members of that community.

San Jose businessman Robert Leon is listed as a member of the Nuevo Mundo community advisory board--even though he says he never agreed to participate.

He's furious to hear that his name is now associated with contract language that he says he "would have never tolerated."

"Ms. Andrade [editor of La Oferta] is working as hard as I was when I owned a company," Leon says. "You've got to give everyone an equal chance [at sponsorships].

"To me, this is kind of like land-grabbing."

"It is like the white man buying up the ejidos and invoking Anglo-Saxon law instead of Spanish law," observes Hilbert Morales, editor of El Observador. "What you are seeing here is a culture clash between the Anglo way of doing business and the Hispanic way."

Before the Mercury News launched Nuevo Mundo, the local Hispanic press collaborated in sponsoring cultural events--usually trading advertising space in their papers for recognition and visibility at the events. But through Nuevo Mundo, the Mercury News and its parent company, Knight-Ridder, have brought corporate competitiveness to a market previously inhabited only by family-owned businesses.

Mary Andrade, editor of La Oferta Review, believes that by being shut out of popular events such as Cinco de Mayo, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's "Bridge '97" conference and the Mariachi Festival, her paper's credibility has taken a hit.

"People ask me, 'What happened to the Hispanic newspaper?' " Andrade says.

In protest, La Oferta Review has printed an appeal to the Nuevo Mundo board of advisers for four weeks asking them to pressure Nuevo Mundo to stop excluding them from cultural events.

"I don't blame them for being loud," says Fernando Zazueta of the protest. Zazueta is chairman of the Mexican Heritage Corporation board and an advisory board member of Nuevo Mundo. He says it is in the Hispanic community's best interest for both Nuevo Mundo and the local Hispanic papers to succeed.

"If Nuevo Mundo folds, it sends the message that the Hispanic market isn't worth much," Zazueta says. "If La Oferta Review folds, it says Nuevo Mundo may have driven them out of business."

Hilbert Morales helped organize the very first Mariachi Festival six years ago. His paper, El Observador, was excluded this year even though it is listed as a sponsor "since 1993."

"I don't think the Latino community will ever amount to influence or power without supporting a newspaper that they control through ownership," Morales says.

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From the July 10-16, 1997 issue of Metro.

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