speaking your language

neha sharda

As the receptionist at the office of El Popular announced my arrival, she and the editor chatted briefly in Spanish. The conversation grabbed my attention immediately. It took me a moment to realize they were talking about me.

It was then I realised that language is a vital tool, not only as a vehicle for communicating thoughts and ideas, but also in forging friendships, cultural ties and economic relationships.

Similarly, publications in a particular language are essentially targeted to specific audiences, fostering feelings of belonging among readers. Language publications serve as much needed sources of information, entertainment and awareness for the minority groups to which they cater. It is through their style, format and language that they build relationships with their readers.

Canada’s identity has often been characterized as a multicultural mosaic. Immigrants to this country bring with them a vast wealth of knowledge – not the least of which is their understanding of international languages. It is very important that this pool of linguistic knowledge is fed with various publications so that immigrants remain in touch with their native languages.

Eduardo Uruena, editor of Toronto based El Popular, a Spanish publication, believes that having a newspaper in a community’s native language is imperative. “I think it is very important to have a language newspaper like ours because it is a link to our culture,” he says.

El Popular has been in the market for about 35 years.

Uruena says the difference between his publication and mainstream English publications extends past language, to the manner in which they interact with individual communities.

“We serve our community and we belong to the community in the sense that we provide the service of [informing people of] what’s going on within the community, a service that the English papers don’t provide,” says Uruena.

Another thing that separates English publications from language publications is their portrayal of certain populations. Even though Canada is multicultural enough to accommodate different ethnic identities, mainstream newspapers do not always reflect a positive picture of ethnic communities.

Rakesh Tiwari, editor and publisher of Hindi Times, a weekly publication, says, “Mainstream publications want journalists to write in a certain way and on certain aspects . . . Positive aspects of a culture are overshadowed by some controversial issues.”

Hindi Times is the first Hindi weekly to be published in Toronto.

Tiwari says his publication is devoted to easing the cultural transition for new immigrants. “People coming from a country have their own set of thoughts,” he says. “They don’t know the system. Sometimes they get in trouble with the law or get in trouble with an institution because there is a cultural conflict and who is going to tell them? Hindi Times tries to provide [that] information to them.”

Sajjad Hyder, editor of Aafaq Monthly, an Urdu publication, expresses similar views. “When people migrate and come to a new land, everything is new and alien to them,” he says. “In such circumstances, a publication written in their own native language guides them and helps them to adapt to a new environment.”

Being an editor of a language publication is no bed of roses. Each day comes with new challenges. According to Uruena, the greatest problem faced by his publication is finances.

“There have been a number of times when advertisers have been late in paying their account,” he says. “That’s the money that we have put aside . . . to pay the employees, the ink, the paper and that costs a lot of money,” Uruena says.

Unlike El Popular, Hindi Times and Aafaq Monthly have not been fortunate enough to get a considerable amount of advertisements from the federal government. Hyder has been running his publication for four years and only last year was he granted provincial government ads.

Another common problem faced by all three language publications is obtaining news sources. Sometimes full versions of the news are not available through newswire services. As these publications cannot afford foreign correspondents, it often becomes difficult for them to gather information. And even when news can be accessed, it still has to be translated for publication.

The Urdu and Hindi publications face additional problems with fonts, but Tiwari credits technology for recognizing fonts of different types.

Uruena, Tiwari and Hyder all expect more community participation in putting their publications together. “My publication is based on nationalism, so people should be more sensitive towards their own language,” Tiwari says.

Uruena agrees. “Although the community is small, the enterprise of the newspaper is something that we call our own, it’s our heritage, it’s our pride,” he says. “I don’t call it my newspaper, I call it the community’s newspaper because it belongs to the community and if it wasn’t for the community we wouldn’t be in existence today.”

Nevertheless, Uruena says he needs more financial support from advertisers. “One thing that I would like to see is more participation from non-Spanish business and enterprises,” he says. “I would like to see more participation from all multicultural mainstream advertisers. They tend to shy away from what they call small community newspapers. But they don’t realize that the power of the community lies in the very essence of it, which is their media – radio, TV, newspapers and magazines.”

And, he says, advertising in a language publication is not a very expensive venture. “A lot of advertisers have not realized this. It is a good market and very inexpensive compared with the rates of the mainstream newspapers. So we have tried in many ways to tell mainstream advertisers that this is a good [medium],” Uruena says.

While El Popular, Aafaq Monthly and Hindi Times are different from each other in many respects, they also have lot in common. They each aim to communicate information to their community in their own dialect. They each devote pages of their publications to informing their readers of events and news in their native countries. Their journey is never ending and for them every day brings new challenges.

They feel proud to be the head of a mouse rather than the tail of a lion.

Photos by Neha Sharda