As someone who grew up in East LA in the 1960s and 70s, and worked as a newspaper boy first at the East LA Tribune and then the LA Herald Examiner, I grew up with an affinity towards the written word.
I was just entering high school when Los Angeles Times reporter and Spanish language TV anchor Ruben Salazar was killed in 1970, during the Chicano Moratorium. His death motivated me to go on to college and to get into writing. So, I actually began my writing career in 1972 with LA Gente newspaper at UCLA. But to make a long story short, after graduating college, my professional column-writing career got its start at Eastern Group Publications.
I remember EGP most for two of its signature publications: the Eastside Sun and the Mexican-American Sun. Because I had begun as a newspaper boy on the eastside, I could relate to this chain of community newspapers.
I started as a reporter at EGP, but with the support of the newspapers’ owners, Dolores and Jonathan Sanchez, I began to write weekly columns on topics ranging from plans to feed the homeless, graffiti, a softball playing grandmother and efforts to dismantle bilingual education. I wrote about the battle led by East LA and Boyle Heights residents determined to stop a prison being built in their neighborhood, a grassroots effort that succeeded.
At that time, I was also assigned to write profiles of everyday people making a difference, new eastside professional organizations and their members, Latinos in public office and in government agencies.
After leaving EGP, I would go on to writing columns for La Opinion for many years, even after I moved to Washington DC, then co-writing a nationally syndicated column with Patria Gonzales for a dozen years for Chronicle Features and later Universal Press Syndicate.
I mention all this because I owe my successful column-writing career to EGP. By the way, nowadays, I still write, though primarily for Truthout’s Public Intellectual Page.
Truthfully, more than to EGP, I owe thanks to the family. Dolores and Jon brought me on board at a low point in my life. I was almost killed in 1979, an experience that led to two trials, the first in 1979 and the second in 1986 — causing seven and a half years of turmoil.
In the first trial, I had to defend myself against charges of trying to kill four Sheriff’s deputies with a camera. I had actually witnessed the brutal beating of a young man and photographed it, and as a result, I ended up in the hospital. After winning that case, I filed a lawsuit and in 1986 won a judgment against the same four deputies. Incidentally, it was civil rights attorney Antonio Rodriguez who represented me in both cases. I was working at EGP during the second trial and remember well the full support I received from Dolores and Jon.
A small irony is that my lawsuit was actually against the Sheriff’s Department and one of the first assignments I received after it concluded was to interview the Sheriff at the time. He had a lot of bodyguards in his office during the interview; neither he nor I brought up my trials. Yeah, there was a big elephant in the room during that interview.
As we all know, EGP wasn’t just 9, then 11 and now 6 community newspapers. They were a Raza-owned bilingual chain of newspapers covering the eastside of LA; essentially the newspapers of record when it came to things on the eastside. That was their role because in those days the major Southern California media outlets didn’t deem the eastside worthy of a bureau. In other words, we weren’t worthy of coverage and, in effect, did not exist.
I can honestly say I have only good memories of my time at EGP. The same holds true for my memories of the Sanchez family.
Now, as a university professor and researcher, I believe the existence of EGP is worthy of study. I wish I could do more than study or comment about EGP. I wish I could buy EGP and keep the papers going because it has always served our communities well, and personally, I will always have ink in my veins.
At the moment, I can’t really do that and I’m hoping someone with the right resources will step in to keep it going.
I want to end by sharing an EGP-related story. It was kind of funny, but it wasn’t.
In between my two trials, I got very close to a group from Guatemala, here in Los Angeles. Most of them were political refugees and some of them had actually been tortured and eventually received political asylum. Those were dangerous times, there were even rumors of death squad activity in Southern California.
I don’t remember what the issue was at the time, but the group asked me if I would go to Guatemala and meet with community leaders, etc, since they could not return to their home country. They figured it would be easy since I was a journalist, and didn’t understand when I told them that I couldn’t go.
You see, my business card said EGP, the same initials of one of the primary rebel groups called… actually I forget what they were called. I explained that if I were to be stopped and asked to produce ID to prove I was a journalist, my business card with the EGP initials probably would have sealed my doom. So, in a way, it was funny and that’s why I never went to Guatemala. It’s interesting what will pop into your mind, like this, one of my [tangential] EGP stories.
I do want to thank the Sanchez family. I recognize EGP itself as a family, part of a much larger family and I’m very proud to have been brought into it and to continue to be part of it.
Roberto Dr Cintli Rodríguez is a professor at the University of Arizona and author of Justice: A Question of Race, a book that chronicles his two police brutality trials; Our Sacred Maíz is Our Mother (Nin Toanantzin Non Centeotl); and co-produced: Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan: a documentary on origins and migrations.