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WTOP Column: A family legacy celebrated

Thursday - 7/28/2011, 6:09pm  ET

072811_lozano_512.jpg
This photo of Ignacio E. Lozano, Jr. hangs in my dad's house and was featured at the National Council of La Raza awards ceremony. It's how I picture my grandfather when I think of him. (Photo courtesy of the Lozano family)

By Alicia Lozano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- Weird hours, frantic pace, sleepless nights. Why journalism? It's a question I'm often asked about my chosen career.

Before I answer, I think about reporters like the Los Angeles Times' Ruben Salazar. He was a pioneer, a truthseeker, and the first Mexican-American to cover Latinos in the mainstream media. He was killed in 1970 by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy while covering an anti-Vietnam War march.

On Tuesday night, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) awarded my grandfather, Ignacio E. Lozano, Jr., the Ruben Salazar award for dedicating his professional life to the positive portrayal of Latinos in the media.

He was publisher of La Opinion newspaper in Los Angeles for 33 years. The paper was founded by my great-grandfather, who fled Mexico in 1908 to escape the political turmoil of the revolution.

He first established a small daily, called La Prensa, in 1913 out of San Antonio. By the 1920s, the large flow of immigrants to the north created a demand for news from the south. The call was answered and La Opinion was founded on September 16, 1926, Mexican Independence Day.

My grandfather built La Opinion into the largest Spanish-language daily in the country and one of the few media outlets that covers Latinos from the inside.

In two months, La Opinion will celebrate its 85th anniversary. The newspaper has dedicated those eight decades to giving a voice to a community that didn't have one.

"If you tell the story accurately, and in an effective way, people can understand. The case will be made," says family friend and University of Southern California journalism professor Felix Gutierrez. "That is what Ruben Salazar stood for and that's what the Lozano family has stood for all these years."

When my grandfather took over as publisher in 1953, he was considered an anomaly. As someone said during his introduction at the NCLR conference, he was "the one Latino who had the power to interface with the powers that be in Los Angeles."

This was during a time when Mexican-Americans were seen as second-class citizens.

My grandfather remembers driving through the Southwest with my grandmother, Marta, and stopping into a restaurant for dinner. They were turned away -- Mexicans could not dine with Americans.

Despite the tense social climate, my grandfather was unflinching.

My aunt and current La Opinion publisher, Monica, recalls an incident in the 1970s when the INS was conducting raids in East Los Angeles and the newspaper sent a photographer to cover the story. Immigration officials confiscated his camera, destroyed the film, and when they saw who he worked for, demanded to see his papers. The photographer returned to the newsroom shaken and not knowing what to do.

My grandfather came up with a simple answer: Sue the INS for restricting the press.

"That never happened, for somebody in Spanish-language media to stand up and say, 'We're not going to be pushed around as we try to do what is our constitutional right,'" she says.

"That was my dad, that deep sense that this country is built on principles and that it has to be true to those principles."

My grandfather credits his father, Ignacio, as his source of inspiration. He took over the newspaper at the age of 26 after graduating from the University of Notre Dame and looked to the founder for guidance.

"My father was my example of a man who was fair, hardworking and passionate about his calling," he says.

That passion must be genetic.

Not only was it passed down to him, but to the rest of the Lozanos. My aunt Leticia served as co-publisher from 1976 to 1984 with my father, Jose, who was publisher from 1986 to 2004. My uncle Francisco was the national sales manager for several years.

But it was my grandfather who built the newspaper people recognize today. It's not just a "Mexican newspaper published in Los Angeles, but an American newspaper that happens to be published in Spanish," he likes to say.

During his acceptance speech, my grandfather talked about being a contemporary of Ruben Salazar. They were part of a tiny group of influential Latinos that "could be counted on one hand."

"We needed his view then and we need those voices now," he said Tuesday night.

I think about that, too, when people ask why I don't mind working on holidays or before the sun rises. It is why I am a journalist.

Alicia Lozano is a staff writer for WTOP. Her points of view are her own and do not reflect the views of WTOP or Hubbard.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)