Generations of Readers Counted on EGP: They Will Be Missed

February 2, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

It is hard to imagine our local news landscape without the thoughtful, ethical, and tireless coverage provided by Eastern Group Publications. It all began with Joseph Kovner’s founding of the Eastside Sun in 1945. In 1979, Dolores and Jonathan Sanchez bought the Sun and its sister newspapers and founded Eastern Group Publications. The papers organized under the EGP banner have provided readers with important, unique, and professional reporting on issues vital to our communities.

“This is a wake up call for our community and for our state,” Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard told the crowd as Trump’s lead continued to grow Tuesday. (EGP Archive Photo by Nancy Martinez)

It has been my privilege to have known Dolores Sanchez and her family for many years. I always looked forward to reading the sterling journalism that EGP produced under their leadership. While I understand the family’s choice to close the company after 39 years of dedicated ownership, the end of EGP is a deeply felt loss for our communities.

Because of its integrity in reporting, generations of readers have turned to EGP papers for news and information. EGP has reported about government action without fear or favor. It has kept readers up to date on matters ranging from economic development, to health care, to immigration, to education, to the fight for environmental justice. It has trumpeted the accomplishments of our neighbors for all to see, and it has spread the word about community events that bring us together. Week after week, it has reported the news in both English and Spanish, demonstrating that the unifying power of the news can transcend differences in language and empower individuals of all backgrounds.

EGP’s record as a reliable news source has been a boon to our neighborhoods and to our public discourse. When our news media keeps us well-informed, we can speak with knowledge, make better decisions for ourselves and our families, and reach new heights of accomplishment. That is EGP’s legacy to our communities, and that is why it is so saddening to bid it goodbye.

After reading the work of EGP for decades, it will be difficult to get accustomed to a world where we no longer have its insightful reporting and commentary. I am sure many of my fellow readers feel the same way. Thank you to the Sanchez family, and all those who have been a part of EGP over the years, for your unwavering dedication to building and sustaining a company that did so much to enlighten our communities and bolster our civic life.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard represents California’s 40th District, which contains the communities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Cudahy, Downey, Huntington Park, Maywood, Paramount, Vernon, and parts of Bellflower, East Los Angeles, Florence-Firestone, and South Los Angeles.

EGP’s Core Values Will Live On

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Everything comes to an end, the saying goes. And I guess that’s true. But in thinking back to the days I was a fresh-out-of-college reporter working for Eastern Group Publications, there are some things about this newspaper chain — and how it was run by the Sanchez family— that I hope don’t ever end.

Raul Vasquez grew up in Boyle Heights in an immigrant family, and earned a degree in history from UC Santa Cruz before working as a writer and assistant editor for Eastern Group Publications in the early 2000s. He now lives in Milwaukee with his family and continues to work in the communications field.

If this really turns out to be the final issue of Eastern Group after 72 years of consecutive publishing, what should live on are the core values that drove its editorial direction since 1979, when Dolores Sanchez bought it.

Civility. Giving a voice to the voiceless. Fairness. Protecting children and the elderly. Truth. These are just some of the core values that drove how Eastern Group was run as a company, and what it stood for editorially. I know because from 2000 to 2004, I formed part of the editorial staff.

To get an insight into the mind of Owner and Publisher Dolores Sanchez, you would just have to read the paper’s editorial page.

On Wednesdays (deadline day), us reporters and designers were running around like chickens without heads trying to wrap up our sections. Meanwhile, Dolores sat in the quiet of her office, with her reading glasses hanging over her nose, as she wrote the week’s editorial, which would run at the top of page 2.

Whether it was standing up for the rights of children to have a good education, shedding light on the plight of the city’s homeless, demanding transparent and clean government from local officials, pleading for a sensible resolution to the immigration issue, or endorsing candidates for an upcoming local election — you could always be sure that Dolores completed the editorial column with the utmost seriousness and professionalism.

“One of the responsibilities a newspaper must take seriously is the endorsement of candidates for public office,” she wrote in one editorial column in November 2001. “It’s at times an uncomfortable position to be in, since oftentimes those we do not endorse are candidates we have worked with in the past and are good people…”

Decisions needed to be made, however, and they needed to be made for the good of the community, not one or two individuals. This idea permeated throughout the pages of the newspaper, decade after decade.

The masthead in the days I worked for Eastern Group carried the words of Abraham Lincoln: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” As it happened, the events on the morning of September 11, 2001, shook the country to its core, and more than any other event, challenged the essence of Lincoln’s words.

As I take a fresh look at Dolores’ editorial from September 13, 2001, I am reminded of the tempered wisdom that drove the newspaper forward.

“It would be simple but wrong for us to degenerate into a country seeking revenge against innocent people because of their color, religion or ethnicity; only then can these terrorists claim victory over us,” the editorial stated. “For ourselves, we at Eastern Group Publications have decided to continue with publishing our special 16 de Septiembre edition as a testimony to the love of independence and respect for the rights of others this day commemorates, and as a tribute to those who lost their lives or loved ones in Tuesday’s despicable acts.”

Dolores and her husband, Associate Publisher Jonathan Sanchez, believed that a free press was one of the pillars of a fair and democratic society. As a reporter, you could tackle just about any newsworthy subject so long as you did it fairly and accurately.

On a personal level, Eastern Group was the first newspaper to give me a regular writing job. I was extremely lucky because it allowed me to cover the community and region I grew up in. During those years, I discovered wonderful things about my community I would never have known otherwise, and it allowed me to explore and tackle some of the ills I saw as well.

Today, I no longer write for a newspaper, and I live far away from California. While I’m saddened to know that other young and aspiring journalists won’t have the opportunity I had, I also know that as long as I live, and wherever it is that I do write, I will carry forward the core values I learned at Eastern Group Publications, so that these may live on.

Raul Vasquez grew up in Boyle Heights in an immigrant family, and earned a degree in history from UC Santa Cruz before working as a writer and assistant editor for Eastern Group Publications in the early 2000s. He now lives in Milwaukee with his family and continues to work in the communications field.

Today We Say Adios and Thank You

February 1, 2018 by · 4 Comments 

When Eastern Group Publications announced last August our intentions to sell the newspaper group, we truly believed there was someone waiting in the wings with the enthusiasm, sense of purpose and wherewithal to continue our tradition of providing the best in local community news for a new generation of readers.

How could there not be, with all the issues confronting our readers’ quality of life, from affordable housing to homelessness, to wages, immigration, public school challenges, traffic, dwindling government services, political corruption, crime and rising taxes and fees on our wallets?

How could there not be, with the president and his followers making a concerted effort to undermine the press by telling Americans that what they read in newspapers and hear on broadcast news is all “fake?”

But after several months of unsuccessfully fielding offers and inquiries, a new torchbearer has not materialized. So, after much contemplation, we mark the end of an era today, with this our final issue.

Publisher Dolores Sanchez bought the newspaper group in 1978, since then, three generations of the Sanchez family have contributed to the newspaper’s storied legacy. Pictured left to right (front row): Arturo Preciado, Bianca Sanchez Preciado, Sarah Sanchez Ramos, Dolores Sanchez, Gloria Sanchez Alvarez; (back row ) Jon Ramos, Marlon Alvarez, Jason Ramos, Rocki Alvarez, Andy Alvarez, Nicolas Alvarez.
(EGP Photo by Fred Zermeno)

Now begins the difficult task of putting it all into perspective. But how do you neatly summarize nearly 40 years of reporting, more than 2,000 weekly issues and over 50,000 pages of newsprint?

The truth is you can’t.

The best we can do is reflect on what has motivated us to keep going all these years, and pick out a few themes that stand out.

It all started with Dolores Sanchez and a small group of local business people — including Cal and Dolores Soto, then owners of the La Quebradita grocery store in East L.A., Roque Olivos of Peru Spices and others who have since passed on. They bought the Eastside Sun and five other newspapers in 1979 to give a voice to the predominately Latino communities where they worked and lived.

They had seen firsthand the inequality in government services, education and public safety in those neighborhoods, and the vibrant culture, hard work and desire to create a better life that flourished despite the obstacles. None of the mainstream media outlets were telling those stories, so they decided to buy the bankrupt Kovner newspapers and report the news from those eastside communities, eventually expanding coverage into southeast L.A.

With her husband Jonathan Sanchez at her side, directing the production and business, Dolores set about filling that mission. Together, the couple built the business into a respected, trusted community institution.

EGP COO Jonathan Sanchez passed away unexpectedly in in December, 2016 (EGP Archives)

Flipping through back issues from those days, we can’t help be struck by the breadth of our coverage and the sinking feeling that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Our pages are filled with stories on immigration, education, economic inequality, affordable housing, homelessness, the lack of Latinos represented in movies and on television, the disparity in services in low-income communities compared to more affluent areas, all still big problems today.

When EGP started, Jerry Brown was in his first term as governor. The numbers of Latinos elected to local, state and congressional office were few in comparison to what they are today.

We have reported on efforts to increase Latino political power, through protest, voting, citizenship drives, and four U.S. Census counts, each of which presented obstacles to Latinos being counted. We have endorsed candidates along the way who we felt would do a good job of representing the interests of their constituents.

We have written about the changes in local city councils, from elections to an unfortunate pattern of recalls. In many of these cities, the elected officials have no ambition for higher office; they like being the big fish in the small bowl. But that sense of power has at times led to bad, sometimes criminal behavior. It has also led to greater financial stability and growth that has created jobs and improved infrastructure. Our coverage has included efforts to reform government and for greater transparency.

EGP Board Member Michael Sanchez

These pages have published thousands of environmental justice-related stories, from the early days of the Mothers of East L.A. battling to stop a prison from being built in East L.A., to battles to keep a mega-watt, polluting power plant from being built in Vernon and to stop Exide from polluting their homes with toxic chemicals.

We covered the birth of the “green” movement in Commerce, where residents have fought for years to be heard about “cancer clusters” near rail yards, high levels of asthma and other diseases resulting from the large number of diesel-burning trucks traveling through the city. We chronicled the early days of East Yards for Environmental Justice, and their years of work around plans involving efforts to expand the 710 (Long Beach) Freeway.

Hundreds of stories have been published related to the 710 freeway, from East L.A residents saying they are tired of being burdened with the region’s transportation woes, to some cities along the corridor pushing for expansion to reduce polluting traffic near their homes.

Our issues are filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories chronicling efforts to improve public education and reduce the drop out rate among Latino students in both the Los Angeles Unified School and Montebello Unified School District.

In the early days, there was the fight over busing as a way to desegregate local schools. Today, our schools are just as segregated, and the fight has changed to which is better, segregated charter schools or segregated traditional schools.

There are stories of gang violence, but more importantly, the efforts to combat the violence and the social conditions at the root, such as Father Greg Boyle and Homeboy Industries’ programs to give gang members an alternative to the lifestyle, including job skills and education.

Three generations of the Sanchez family have contributed to EGP, including Deana Sanchez Hagen (left) and Samantha Ramos.

But these pages have also celebrated the many good things going on, from the accomplishments of individuals to the great work of community organizations.

We have shared success stories of the children of immigrants getting full-ride scholarships to some of the country’s most prestigious universities. We told the stories of seniors like Chris Mojica at the Salazar Park Senior Center in East L.A. who have spent years raising money to improve the facility, and to provide hundreds of families year after year with free meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

EGP CFO Joe Sanchez (deceased). (EGP archive photo)

We’ve talked about the services offered at community clinics like Arroyo Vista, and the free programs at local parks and libraries.

Our pages have been full of stories on art and culture, from the growth of the Chicano mural movement to the efforts to paint them over, and recent efforts to preserve some of the more iconic paintings. We’ve published the art of Congressional art contest winners, and features stories on local musical, dance and theater productions.

We’d be remiss in not mention the work of Rose Marie Soto, whose column “East L.A and Beyond” for more than a decade profiled up and coming actors, musicians, dancers, and people climbing the corporate ladder or leading community organizations.

Fred Zermeno, Mario Villegas, Mike Alvarez, and other sports writers and photographers have given us coverage from the local sports scene, from the professional sports teams to our local high school and college athletes. They have also contributed amazing photos from protests to fires, from news conferences to arts and entertainment.

Enjoying family, Board Member Michael Sanchez (rear right) takes break from business.

The success of our Letters to Santa Program, which over the years gave out tens of thousands of toys to local children, is in large part due to the efforts of volunteers Martha and Memo Careon, who year after year marshaled a team of college students to run the program.

And of course, there are the reporters, most of them young and just starting out, but with a passion to capture the stories playing out in the neighborhoods and cities they covered, and no one else was reporting. Some have gone on to win awards for their work.

We are proud to note that three generations of the Sanchez family have contributed to these pages over the last 38 years.

News of our closure has in recent days sparked a rash of interest in buying the newspapers. We don’t know where it will all lead, we can only hope that one will lead to continuing this special community trust.

For now, we want to close by thanking you our readers, who week after week have allowed us into your homes. We thank you for the many tips, the kind words and yes, even the criticism. Without you, none of this great journey would have been possible.

Dolores Mission Breaks Ground on Expansion

August 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Dolores Mission on Gless Street in Boyle Heights is more than just a church and elementary school, it’s a long time institution that serves as a center of community activism on issues ranging from crime and environmental justice, as well as education and spirituality.

Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit group that helps gangs members transition out of the life through job training and other resources, was started at Dolores Mission. Last week, the campus was the launching point for a peace march during the annual observance of National Night Out.

At its core, Dolores Mission is dedicated to improving outcomes for the area’s low-income children. On Monday, the Catholic school broke ground on a new 6,500 sq. ft., two-story school facility, the parish’s pastor, Father Ted Gabrielli, said will open new opportunities to serve more students and lift more families out of poverty.

Students, teachers and friends of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights help break ground on a new facility to house more students. Los Angeles council man Jose Huizar and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago were among those taking part in the ceremony. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Students, teachers and friends of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights help break ground on a new facility to house more students. Los Angeles council man Jose Huizar and Assemblyman Miguel Santiago were among those taking part in the ceremony. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

“…This building project becomes a beacon of hope” for the communities we walk with in good times and bad, Gabrielli said during a groundbreaking ceremony attended by members of the parish, students and their families, and local elected officials.

The parish and TK (transitional kindergarten) through 8th grade school is operated by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The school primarily serves families living in the Maravilla, Ramona Gardens and Pico Gardens housing projects that surround the campus. Of those families, nearly 70 percent earn less than $24,000 a year and 94 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced breakfast and lunch program.

The expansion allows the school to open new classrooms for early education. Plans include two new classrooms for transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. There are also talks about a playground, meeting space for parents and youth groups and office space for program administrators. The added space will allow the school to increase enrollment from 250 to 300 students.

“It underlines our belief in the children of this community,” Gabrielli said about the decision to enlarge the school facility. “We are committed to providing a quality education that not only transforms young people’s, but their families also.”

Phase 2 of the project will include renovation of the existing school building to create a library, a music classroom, and adding more technology into each classroom.

“We are serving more children in our community,” Gabrielli said. “It brings good news and hope to more families.”

Gone But Not Forgotten: Giving Thanks, One Photo At A Time

August 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Angels Support Group has been busy putting up photos in a senior center conference room that doubles as a museum filled with artifacts chronicling the center’s history. The small room is now also home to a new memorial the group hopes will help preserve the legacy of giving by volunteers who have passed away.

Most of the old-timers who started the park’s programs are gone now, says Chris Mojica, a long time volunteer at Ruben Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles.

If it were up to him, everyone who uses the center would know the names of the people whose hard work, sacrifice and love helped make Salazar Park a vibrant community center.

Located in the heart of East L.A on Whittier Boulevard, Salazar Park is a place where people can come together and share good times, learn new skills, and even work on ways to influence elected officials by registering voters and sending letters on issues they deem important, the 86-year-old Mojica told EGP.

“It seems like just yesterday our park was called Laguna Park,” recalled Angel Support Group members in an email to EGP. They said most of the people who use the park aren’t aware it was at the center of one of the most important events in the fight for civil rights by Latinos in East Los Angeles, the Chicano Moratorium. Nor do they know its name was changed to honor Ruben Salazar, the journalist killed by Sherriff deputies during the Chicano Moratorium in 1970.

But the park’s legacy is not just about that moment in history, emphasizes Mojica, it’s really about the people who took it upon themselves to make sure services and activities are available to young and old in the Eastside, whether he or she was born in the U.S. or is an immigrant, speaks English, Spanish, or both.

Salazar Park volunteer Ray Guerrero uses his cane as a pointer, as one by one Angeles Support Group members names the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez-August 1, 2017)

Salazar Park volunteer Ray Guerrero uses his cane as a pointer, as one by one Angeles Support Group members names the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. (EGP photo by Gloria Alvarez-August 1, 2017)

If you live in a working class community and don’t have very much money, there aren’t always as many resources available, and those there are aren’t always the best. That’s why Salazar Park is so important to this community, said Ray Guerrero, 71, who has been lobbying the county parks department to include a variety of new amenities when it remodels the recreation center later this year.

It’s due to the generosity of a long list of volunteers that  “we have dancing, Pop Warner football and all kinds of sports,” ESL classes and other activities, the group said.

The Angels Support Groups is under the umbrella of the Friends of Salazar Park, a decades old volunteer organization dedicated to making the County of Los Angeles-run recreational facility a place where families feel comfortable gathering, and seniors feel wanted and respected. The Angels group was formed about a year and a half ago to provide emotional support and comfort to seniors as they face the challenges of growing old.

When someone doesn’t show up for a while, “we call to make sure he or she is okay. When a member of the group gets ill, we visit the person, sometimes at their home, but more often than not at a hospital or nursing home,” said 61-year-old Sylvia Ortiz. Sometimes there are too many people to fit into the van provided by the park to transport the volunteers, Ortiz said, adding, “It feels good to give back, to help others.”

Call it nostalgia or just wanting not to be forgotten, but these days there’s a sense of urgency in their efforts to memorialize their time and work at Salazar Park.

“We’ve lost some of the best friends Salazar Park ever had over the last few years and we just want people to know their names,” Mojica said, sharing with EGP a list of some of those who were around for decades giving of their time, energy and whatever resources they could muster before they passed.

Many on the list are honored with a photo on of the walls of the senior center.

On Tuesday, Guerrero used his cane as a pointer, as one by one they named the volunteers whose photos have made it on to the memorial wall. Ortiz joked that volunteer music instructor Marcelo Vasquez has left room for more photos, but she doesn’t want her picture up there anytime soon.

There’s Gabriela Salazar, or Gaby as most people knew her, a spitfire of a woman who volunteered at the center five days a week for over 30 years, teaching Zumba, organizing field trips, serving Thanksgiving dinner and giving out toys to the area’s many low-income families. Big in heart and full of energy, Gaby was always there.

Richard Romero, Audry Torres, Sergio Murga, Rosa Portillo and Elena Camargo all gave of their time and will be missed, so will former park director Dora Montijo.

Jonathan Sanchez, EGP’s COO and associate publisher who passed away in late December, has also earned a place on the wall at Salazar Park. “He gave us so many beautiful stories and donated money to our senior center,” the group said.

“All these wonderful people who gave so much, not only to our senior center but Salazar Park, have left us, but they are not forgotten,” the group said.

Memorial Wall photos of some of the men and women who spent decades volunteering to help Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Angel Support Group August 1, 2017)

Memorial Wall photos of some of the men and women who spent decades volunteering to help Salazar Park in unincorporated East Los Angeles. (Photo courtesy Angel Support Group August 1, 2017)

We owe them a lot, said Ortiz, who says she plans to follow their good example.

“What they gave came from the goodness in their souls,” added Vasquez.

A plaque on the wall, written in Spanish, recognizes their service and departure from this world:

“Thank you for all you have done for us. Rest in peace.”

Copyright © 2018 Eastern Group Publications/EGPNews, Inc. ·