News Column

The Social Movement That Grew Up

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Editor's note: This is the first of a four-part series celebrating 25 years of Hispanic Business magazine.

Hispanic Business magazine was born at the end of the turbulent civil rights era. The first issue, a newsletter dated April-May 1979, reflected the times.

One article bore the headline "Lobby for La Causa?" while another article recounted a dance party hosted by Pancho Villa. Clearly, revolution was in the air, and as the magazine commemorates its 25th anniversary this year, it merits an analysis of how the revolution affected development of the U.S. Hispanic economy.

Film reel

VIDEO: The 70s


The early 1970s brought Hispanics national presence as a social force. By 1971, Cesar Chavez had organized 80,000 workers into a labor union; the following year the United Farmworkers joined the AFL-CIO. Meanwhile, on college campuses throughout the Southwest, students organized to protest "Occupied Mexico/Aztlan," in the words of the National Chicano Moratorium Committee. The movement culminated in August 1970 with an NCMC-organized march by 20,000 protesters through East Los Angeles.

The movement carried an economic as well as social message. "The hope is that the Chicano movement, aspiring to deal with white America on more nearly equal terms, actually seeks the good things in life; and it thus makes the Chicanos indeed faithful dreamers of the American dream," wrote Tony Castro in his 1972 book Chicano Power: The Emergence of Mexican America. "The way American society … reacts in the future to the Chicanos and other minorities and their demands for equality will define for decades what kind of country America really is."

Hispanics in the East were living a different reality. In New York, New Jersey, and Chicago, the Puerto Rican and Dominican migrations of the 1950s were evolving into permanent neighborhoods. In Miami, the Cuban exile community realized it wouldn't be returning to the island any time soon and began building businesses in the context of the U.S. economy. In 1978, the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana organized the first Calle Ocho Festival with a crowd of 100,000.

Hispanic Business brought these Hispanic communities together. The fledgling newsletter fostered unity with the premise that the Hispanic experience encompassed a massive geographic section of the United States and deserved national attention. And with this, the publication was at the forefront of the U.S. Hispanic economy.

"We could not be starting this enterprise at a more opportune time," wrote Editor and Publisher Jesús Chavarría in the debut issue. "It is this publication's task to cover the broad national scene of Hispanic business and professional life."

From the beginning, Hispanic Business emphasized statistical data and measures on the Hispanic market in the form of Census figures, industry statistics, and original research. "As the volume of Hispanic business and professional life has leaped forward in recent years, so has the volume of information vital to the success of such activity," Mr. Chavarría wrote in the first issue.

By the mid-1970s the protest fires had cooled, replaced by a more pragmatic approach to Hispanic advancement - in essence, transforming into a social restructuring for economic empowerment. A microcosm of the trend appears in John R. Chavez's A History of The East Los Angeles Community Union, 1968-1993 (Stanford University Press). Originally, TELACU attempted to incorporate East Los Angeles as a city that would function as a sort of homeland for Mexican-Americans. When it became clear that wouldn't happen, organizers instead focused on developing the area's real estate and human resources. In 1976, CEO David Lizarraga converted a decaying Goodrich tire plant into a successful industrial park.

Today, TELACU Industries ranks 38 on the Hispanic Business 500 with revenues of $120 million, and the park's tenants employ more than 2,000 people.

Most of the economic development projects covered by Hispanic Business in 1979 involved federal government programs. In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to develop plans and goals for minority procurement. This followed the Nixon administration's establishment in 1969 of the forerunner to the Minority Business Development Agency and the 8(a) program for minority federal procurement.

The increased political attention on Hispanic economics developed in tandem with a greater Hispanic presence in government. According to Mr. Castro, the Nixon administration spent $47 million in one year alone on Hispanic-focused projects, and appointed more than 50 Spanish-speaking officials to high positions, including Fernando Oaxaca, a White House aide who later served as associate director of management and budget under President Gerald Ford. At the same time, the number of Hispanics in Congress grew from five in 1970 to eight in 1980.

And a number of those people who first appeared in the 1979 issues of Hispanic Business still wield influence in the Hispanic economy today, including: Tere Zubizarreta, CEO of Zubi Advertising; Esteban Torres, former congressman and board member of Entravision Communications; Mr. Lizarraga of TELACU; George Pla, CEO of Cordoba Corp.; Daniel Ramos, founder of New York-based National Hispanic Corporate Achievers; Arturo Velasquez, founder of Illinois-based Azteca Foods; Lionel Sosa, founder of Texas-based Bromley Communications and author of The Americano Dream; and Mr. Chavarría of Hispanic Business.

In addition to political expansion, another trend played into the development of Hispanic Business: Growth in Hispanic media. In 1972, the Mexican corporation Televisa was officially created, bringing together a vast array of media holdings including stakes in Spanish International Network (SIN), predecessor of the Univision TV network. During the next 10 years, a series of legal battles would lead the Federal Communications Commission to declare SIN in violation of non-foreign ownership rules in broadcast. However, "In the same decade through which the court actions dragged on, [SIN] built itself into a truly national network," writes John Sinclair in his Latin American Television (Oxford University Press).

SIN's rise spurred the creation of media infrastructure such as Hispanic advertising agencies, market research firms, and Hispanic marketing positions in corporate America. Caballero Spanish Media, a "rep" firm, turned Spanish-language radio into a national industry. The flow of advertising dollars to the Hispanic market supported new daily and weekly newspapers and magazines, including Hispanic Business.

By the end of the 1970s, Hispanics had emerged as an organized constituency eager to claim their place in the U.S. economy. Business-oriented groups such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (1974) and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (1979) took their place beside older civil rights organizations such as the National Council of La Raza (1968) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (1929). And the convergence of demographics, untapped entrepreneurial potential, and marketing infrastructure set the stage for the 1980s and what would be a period of tremendous growth for both Hispanic Business and the audience it served.

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