The history of Latinos in America may be eventually an encyclopedia many volumes long and collectively authored — so oceanic is the realty of the diverse community still in the making, today struggling to be written out and better understood.
This unknown reality is screaming to be photographed, or captured on film complete with sound and music, or simply in words — as powerful as the images produced for the screen when well done — to make the reality of more than 50 million of Latinos living today in the US as legible and tangible as possible.
Its purpose: to let all of us to make sense of our history, beginning with us — U.S. Latinos — who crave a better idea of who we are and why we are here.
When Rubén Salazar, the first Latino columnist in major U.S. metropolitan daily (LA Times, 1960s) was told about the idea of authoring a book, a comprehensive narrative of Latinos living in the US (less than 10 million, then), the idea of telling the mostly unknown history of Latinos in America became a project in the making through decades, with many people putting their hands to the worthwhile purpose.
Rubén died without his narrative ever reaching a more permanent book format. It was Earl Shorris — a buddy of Rubén Salazar from their native El Paso, Texas — who finally penned "Latinos, a Biography of a People," and first published it in 1992, as a 512-page-long book.
Juan González came along eight years later, in 2000, with his "Harvest of Empire, a History of Latinos in America" — now used as a textbook in public schools in New York City and across the country — revealing in 346 pages the canvas of Latin American immigrant stories that keep increasing as new editions of the book are published.
Others scattered examples can be added, but it was CNN, the powerful cable news media company that made it into a a nationally publicized series titled "Latinos in America" which attempted for the first time to make sense of the dense and multifaceted reality now spreading today from coast to coast, across all the 50 states.
Here at AL DIA we are preparing our own contribution to the matter.
The "200 Years of Latino History of Philadelphia," which will be unveiled at our 20th anniversary gala in the fall, is our own modest attempt, this time in "coffee table" book format, to articulate the mostly misunderstood story of our local community here in Latino Philadelphia. It is here that we have been living for the past 22 years of our lives, documenting the Latino community as a journalistic endeavor since 1992 for our beloved AL DIA, the newspaper born in North Philly.
It’s mission was simple: making sense out of the reality surrounding us while reporting on stories we witnessed, and telling them as we learned in journalism school they were supposed to be told — professionally and with independence.
We are drawing directly from our archives, filled by thousands of pictures taken by all kind of cameras, from the rudimentary Kodaks to the all professionals Nikons we could eventually afford. And mulling over dozens of bound volumes of the paper published for the past 20 years.
We recorded, we taped, we took notes, we eventually converted those notes into articles, with pictures and headlines presenting the reality as we saw it, and splashing it over thousands of newsprint pages laid out with lots of conviction and also very little time. Always fighting to beat the clock at the printer's deadline, week in and week out, for the past 1,000 weeks that made up the past 20 years of this precious little journey.
We hope to measure up to the task with the book "200 Years of Latino History of Philadelphia" and, more importantly, that you will find it of interest, dear reader, for whom this is being done, always with great affection.