Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Carpentersville desire toward bilingual paper a petty gesture to ignore reality

Carpentersville is that far northwestern suburb near the Illinois/Wisconsin border that in recent years has gone out of its way to impose ordinances meant to make the growing Latino population feel unwelcome.

So in that context, nobody should be surprised that municipal officials don’t like the presence of a newspaper in their community that acknowledges the existence of so many Latinos – 50.1 percent of the total population, according to last year’s Census results.

AT STAKE IS the publication produced by the Northwest Herald newspaper based in Crystal Lake. That newspaper covers all of McHenry County, and has tried to acknowledge the growing Latino population by also producing a publication called El Conquistador.

That newspaper (for which I regularly offer a link to their website in the “La Ciudad Segunda” portion of the left-hand column of this weblog) is a bilingual publication. Stories are published in both Spanish AND English.

The point of such papers is that the operators of the Northwest Herald are hoping that people moving into McHenry County who would otherwise ignore them because their command of the English language is lacking will read the bilingual supplement.

As their English improves, they will transition (at least the Northwest Herald editors hope) into readers of the Northwest Herald proper. The newspaper’s editor used a column recently to explain this very concept.

EL CONQUISTADOR IS a business decision. The Northwest Herald wants to continue to exist and remain relevant to the people who now live in their area, and this is the way they reach out to them.

In fact, all newspapers that have taken it upon themselves to publish Spanish-language or bilingual editions are doing so not out of any desire for moral high-ground. It is about economics.

Take another suburban Chicago newspaper, the Times of Northwest Indiana – which is a publication I do some work for as a way of bringing in some income. They also used to have a once-a-week bilingual edition (Viva los Tiempos) that I wrote for. But it was shut down last year because company officials decided that they did not think the advertising revenue was sufficient to make the newspaper worth the time and expense it took to publish it.

My point being that if El Conquistador wasn’t meeting a sufficient demand, its owners would be the first to kill it off. The fact that they continue to publish means it must be succeeding. The publisher wants to make money, and realizes this is one way to grab onto new readers.

BUT NOT EVERYONE is willing to let the market and the desires of our society prevail. Some places have officials who are more than willing to be hostile to those people whom they do not want to fit in.

Carpentersville seems to be becoming such a place; although I noticed that village officials told Jim Romenesko’s nationally-renowned “Media News” website about journalism issues that they think El Conquistador is “a bad newspaper” – without explaining what constitutes “bad.”

Specifically, village officials told the newspaper that they want the stacks of copies of El Conquistador that were being sent to village hall for free distribution to stop. Specifically, they said in an e-mail that its presence at village hall goes against the ordinance from four years ago that made English the official language of Carpentersville village government – a move made purely to appease the ideologues who can’t stand the sight of “all these Mexicans” now living near their homes.

I’m not about to make pompous demands that El Conquistador (a newspaper I have never read, EXCEPT for its presence on the Internet) be restored to village hall. Officials have every right to control what is given away in their building, even if their reasons for doing so are repulsive. I’m also sure that anybody who was picking up a copy at village hall will quickly figure out some other way of getting the paper – if they want it badly enough.

BUT WE SHOULD keep in mind that this is entirely about local officials feeling the need to take a stand AGAINST reality – which is turning out in ways they don’t like.

Carpentersville’s population of 37,691 people last year was barely over half Latino, compared to one decade before when the population of 30,586 was 40.57 percent Latino (and 35.16 percent Mexican-American).

Perhaps seeing those stacks of El Conquistador hit a little too close to home that their public policies meant to discourage Latinos from wanting to live in Carpentersville haven’t stopped the Latino population from growing.

Maybe they really think that if a stack is no longer present in their building that it means the people themselves who might have picked up a copy to read don’t exist anymore either.

IF ONLY LIFE were truly that simple.

Then all we’d have to do is pretend that Carpentersville village officials didn’t exist. That alone would be a significant boost to the Chicago metropolitan area.


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