Spanish newsletter stakes space for northern Latinos

Mexico made headlines across Canada again last week. Protestors and police clashed in the streets over a seven-day international water summit in…

Mexico made headlines across Canada again last week.

Protestors and police clashed in the streets over a seven-day international water summit in Mexico City.

News organizations, from CBC to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, reported that demonstrators, armed with Molotov cocktails, smashed and trashed patrol cars before police stopped them en route to the convention.

This is typical of Canadian coverage of Latin America, which almost always contains an element of disaster, corruption, violence or human rights abuses, according to Latinos living in Whitehorse.

There is much more to the 24 countries and territories that comprise the Latino world than the perpetual death-and-destruction coverage would lead Canadians to believe.

Latinos living in the territory have powered up their laptops and polished their camera lenses to combat these stereotypes.

Their newsletter, Northern Latino, balances disaster with dance, so to speak.

“We wanted to have a paper that would allow people from here to discover Latin America under a different angle from what we usually find in the press,” said editor Daniele Rechstein.

Information on drugs and crime is but a mouse click away, she said.

Now, on the first Wednesday of every month, Yukoners can enjoy a good-news alternative.

“What we want in this paper is something positive,” said Rechstein. “And that’s what we try to do, to show all of the positive things Latin America has to offer.”

Newsletter volunteers focus on everything from local soccer games to the Mexican history and lay it all out in ink.

“This is not just a little paper about language,” said Rechstein. “It’s also a tool for accepting cultures, and inviting cultural interchange — not at a political level but at a human level.”

The eight-page Spanish-language monthly has been introducing Latinos to one another and to other Yukoners since its launch in December 2004.

It is distributed in shops, cafés and in schools throughout Whitehorse.

Northern Latino was born through a camera flash, literally.

Never without her camera, Rechstein snapped a pile of photos at various Latino events in Whitehorse.

They captured the diversity of a small and vibrant community that was not well-known in the territory.

“We have to do something with those pictures — why don’t we do a newspaper?” Rechstein asked herself.

Families from across Latin America have relocated to the territory, Rechstein realized.

Each country is distinct; Mexico and Argentina share as many differences as similarities. 

Each family story is determined as much by a country far to the South as by a current reality in the North.

With so many stories to be told, and an enthusiastic group of volunteers to create the paper, Northern Latino was born.

Over the past year, folks have taken notice.

Yukon College has purchased ads in the newsletter and a number of schools distribute it to their students.

People working on literacy projects in the territory have also approached Rechstein about incorporating the newsletter in their programming.

By tracing the movements, and tracking the growth of the lives of refugee and immigrant families in the North, Northern Latino is destined to become an important historical document, said Yukon Archives librarian Peggy D’Orsay.

The archives has the full set of Northern Latino publications and files monthly copies to preserve the history of Latino community in the Yukon.

“The community here is not very large so something like (Northern Latino) could disappear very easily,” said D’Orsay.

“If that disappears there goes the history of a good chunk of the community.”

While the archives preserves the present for the future, Northern Latino continues to carve out a public space for the territory’s Latin Americans in the present.

“If it were not for the paper, the Latino community would still be here,” said Rechstein.

“But it would not be known that there was a community.”

Northern Latino makes a small amount of cash from advertising. Because it is not incorporated, it has no access to government grants.

Chipping away at the next issue a little everyday, Rechstein focuses on content rather than funding.

When the ends don’t meet, she digs deep into her own pockets and fronts the missing funds.

“Some people buy cigarettes or alcohol,” she said. “Why not go to print the Northern Latino?”

With a variety of sections and contributors, the newsletter explores the lives of Latin Americans living in the territory and beyond.

 The roots of local families reach far down through the Americas from Mexico to Cuba to Argentina.

Through these family webs Northern Latino has published stories and articles from correspondents throughout the southern leg of the Americas.

“We do get poems and writings from people related to our community,” added Rechstein. “For example, fathers, uncles and sisters that are back there in Argentina, Columbia and Mexico.”

By land, sea and cyberspace, Northern Latino travels back to correspondents and their communities in the South, who are now learning about life in the North.

“The people from abroad can now know about what this community in the North is doing,” said Rechstein.

“We have artists, we have parents, we have business people; all kinds of things are happening here.”

Local youth are also active in the newsletter, which helps connect Latino youth with students learning Spanish in school.

“It was very important to keep a page for youth,” she said. “They are what gives the spark to salt in this community.”

While the newsletter gives local Latinos a sense of connection to home it has another purpose as well.

At the behest of the Latino readership, a tri-lingual section was included in the newsletter, where interviews are translated into both French and English to reach the wider populace.

“The (trilingual) page was requested by the Latinos themselves,” said Rechstein.

“We want Canadians to know us, so we have to do something also in French and English so that they can read it,” a number of people told Rechstein.

Despite her long involvement with Latino communities and issues, Rechstein actually grew up in Paris, France.

In the 1970s she became involved with the Parisian Chilean community, primarily made up of refugees fleeing the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

The small newsletter she now edits has even made its way into the hands of a UNESCO worker in Uruguay who has a message for Yukoners.

“She would like people here in Yukon to realize that this paper is not just a little paper, it’s a tool for cultural exchange,” said Rechstein.

Many Yukoners already have connections to South and Central America, said Rechstein.

“For example, people go to Latin America to help in orphanages and to help in women’s groups,” she said, noting one Yukoner recently went on a biological field study in Ecuador.

Yukoners tend to travel with a goal.

“They are not just tourists; they do it with a purpose. 

“This is very interesting to the readers, to know that Latin America is not just sun and tango. There are a lot of things we can interchange.”

On a symbolic level, Northern Latino acts as a flag driven hard into a new land.

“Sometimes new people in a community are lost in that community, with no identity and no recognition of who they are,” said Rechstein. “Sometimes things go wrong.

“(Northern Latino) is a tool for acceptance of the people in our community, it’s an acknowledgment that they’re here and that they’re part of this community.”

It is a physical manifestation of a young community that feels welcome.

In the words of one local man, “What we feel in the Yukon is that we are someone.”