By Connie Hill
According to the most recent U.S. Census, Hispanics and Latinos make up 9 percent of the population in Utah. Nationally, that number is 12 percent. By the year 2005, Hispanics and Latinos are projected to be the largest minority group in the country, surpassing African Americans for the first time.
Where does this segment of the population turn for news, information and entertainment? In Utah, there is no lack of alternatives.
Turn up the radio
Radio Unica has been serving the Hispanic/Latino community in Utah for almost five years. The president of the station, David Kifuri, moved from Texas to Utah with $30 in his pocket and a dream to create a Spanish newspaper. Kifuri had extensive media experience, and when his original plan did not pan out, he turned to what he knew best -- radio.
In 1999, with almost no capital, Kifuri signed an agreement with 1480 AM in Spanish Fork to broadcast his Spanish talk radio format for five hours each morning. Within a few months, he signed on with Radio Unica, a national network, to start a Spanish station in Utah. The national network has not survived, but Radio Unica in Utah has.
Kifuri now has five additional business partners who share his dream of being the No. 1 source in Utah for information in Spanish. Found on the radio dial at 1640 AM, the station has also taken over 1480 AM and broadcasts 24-hours-a-day on both stations.
Radio Unica kept the name of its parent company but is now associated with six different affiliates. "We have to be doing something right if six affiliates want to be associated with us," Kifuri states.
"When things start falling into place, you start thinking there is no limit," he remarks. "It is my goal to bring about a new Radio Unica network and have stations in all of the big markets in the United States."
One of the most popular programs on the station is the "bazaar," where listeners can buy and sell various items on the radio during two one-hour "bazaar" segments each day.
"We are here to serve our community," stresses Kifuri. "We encourage our listeners to learn English and gain U.S. citizenship. We provide resources for them so that they can better their lives and become productive members of the community."
Kifuri found out just how popular the station was a few months ago when the Utah Legislature was in session. House Bill 109, a proposed law that does away with letting illegal immigrants have driver's licenses, was up for a vote on the floor. Kifuri was broadcasting at the time and encouraged his listeners to meet at the state capitol so that law-makers could see face-to-face those most affected by the law. His partner, Jose Rivera, went to broadcast live from the state capitol and within minutes, listeners joined him. Kifuri's requests turned to pleas and before long, a huge crowd had gathered at the capitol to let their representatives know how important it was that the bill be defeated. The crowd was not allowed to yell or picket, but their presence was felt, and the bill did not pass.
"[Our listeners] believe in us," says a tearful Kifuri, "We have a huge responsibility to them and we take it very seriously."
For those who prefer music to talk, La Mexicana reaches over 100,000 listeners along the Wasatch Front. Found on the radio dial at 730 AM, the station has been in business since 1986 and picked up a television station, AZTECA America (channel 66 in Salt Lake, channel 49 in Ogden), in 1996.
"Most of the Spanish speaking population in Utah comes from Mexico," says Maria Corea, sales manager at La Mexicana. "Most of our programming comes from Mexico and some from Los Angeles."
The station hosts community programs on both radio and television where community leaders address issues that affect the Hispanic/Latino community. "Our station has been in Utah the longest of any Spanish radio station," Corea says. "Our popularity has increased dramatically over the past 10 years because the number of Latinos in Utah is rising."
This increase is due to immigration as well as family expansion. Hispanics and Latinos are known for their large family size, with one-third of the Hispanic population under age 18.
According to a 1995 study in American Demographics, Hispanics prefer media that is delivered in the language they first learned. Doublebase Mediamark Research, Inc. reported in 1998 that 94 percent of U.S. born Hispanics learn Spanish before they learn English. One-third of them treat English as their second language.
With such a strong commitment to preserving their heritage through language, the young Hispanics/Latinos are a valuable segment of the Spanish speaking population.
The written word
Sandra Plazas, editor of Mundo Hispano, a weekly Spanish newspaper, says there is a new window of opportunity opening up in the Utah market. "Other markets are already saturated," says Plazas. "Our numbers are growing faster here [in Utah] than what they are on a national level."
According to Plazas, Mundo Hispano targets three main groups in Utah: South Americans, Mexicans, and returned Mormon missionaries. "People always want to know what is going on in their homeland, so we present news that is international as well as national and local."
Other hot topics include immigration news and information about services, such as scholarships and other programs. "Health issues are also big because there is such a large number of people who are uninsured," Plazas says. "We are here to provide answers for people within the Hispanic/Latino community."
Another Spanish newspaper, La Prensa, has been in Utah for 12 years. A printed twice-monthly publication, La Prensa has won several accolades, including second place overall in the small newspaper division of the 2004 Society of Professional Journalists Awards, a national award in 2002 from the Hispanic Media 100 Awards, and a "La Raza" award in 1999. The proprietor of the publication, Ingrid Quiroz, was the first woman from the Latino media to be featured in Utah Business.
"It was difficult at first," Quiroz says, "but once you have gained the trust of your readers, you've made it. We now have a great amount of credibility, and people are coming to us with news instead of us having to chase them."
Both publications are free to the public and boast a circulation rate of 10,000 each. Plazas and Quiroz both say that their main purpose is to serve their community and help those in need of assistance.
A subsidiary of NBC Universal (General Electric), Telemundo offers some of the highest rated Spanish television programming in the nation. The station has had a presence in Utah since 1994 and is arguably the most requested service on cable television.
Available on local broadcast channels (channel 50 in the Salt Lake/Utah County/Davis County/Tooele areas, 51 in Ogden and 57 in Summit County), the station offers a wide variety of programming, including sports, talk shows, news, and "novellas."
"Novellas are similar to soap operas, but they have a beginning and an end," explains Telemundo president, John Terrill. "The programs can run a month or two or even a year, but they don't run on and on like American soap operas."
Many of the shows are aimed at Hispanics who live in the United States. "The novellas address current issues such as alcoholism, drug abuse, and immigration, but the biggest story lines have to do with love," Terrill says.
"There is a lot of violence on American television," he continues. "Spanish programming is much more civil and gentle. It reflects the values and standards of the Hispanic population."
Terrill hopes to dispel the beliefs that many Utahns have about Hispanics/Latinos. "The majority of the Hispanic population is very traditional, with all of the traditional standards that you would expect from a resident of Utah," he says.
"When people speak with an accent, it doesn't mean that they aren't good people, it just means that they know how to speak more than one language. Hispanics and Latinos are wonderful people; they just have a different culture. People need to stop being afraid of them."