By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Jenafer Gillingham
On a warm spring morning at the height of last year’s gubernatorial primary contests, Gray Davis, Jane Harmon, Al Checchi and Dan Lungren did something they’d never done before: fought for the Latino vote.
The three Democrats and lone Republican squirmed when asked about their positions on immigration, tripped over themselves pledging to improve public schools, and dipped into their not-so-recent past to find legislation they hoped would score points with Latino voters. It was the state’s first bilingual debate.
Standing just a few feet from the stage where reporters from the city’s Spanish-language media quizzed the candidates, a slender woman in a red blazer and blue skirt quietly smiled and shook hands with well-wishers. As associate publisher of La OpiniÃ³n, Monica Lozano was basking in her stature as the sponsor of a precedent-setting event. But the moment was clouded by an unsettling showdown with the paper’s majority shareholder.
"I got a call 40 minutes before the debate from the people at the Los Angeles Times, and they said to me, ‘Monica, you’ve got 40 minutes to decide.’" Sitting in a 12th-floor office at a glass table next to her brother Jose, Lozano appears much younger than her 42 years. She speaks, however, with the candor and confidence of a seasoned public figure.
As Lozano recounts it, the caller from the Timesinformed her that the paper was planning to hold its own, separate debate, "‘and we’d like to say that a transcript will run in Spanish in our sister publication, La OpiniÃ³n.’" Despite her steady composure, Lozano’s indignation is apparent. "When we went to ask them if we could participate in the planning, they said, ‘No, you can’t participate in the planning.’ We said, ‘Well, can we ask some questions?’ And they said no. We said, ‘Well, can we co-sponsor the event?’ And they said, ‘No, this is an L.A. Timesevent. You can take what we want to do and run it in your newspaper if you want.’ So at that point we just said no thanks."
The state’s Latino community is enjoying newfound political and economic power, and the Spanish-language media are surging as well: KMEX Channel 34’s newscasts consistently pull in top ratings, and KLVE 107.5 AM’s pop Spanish format garners leading numbers. But like its English-language print counterparts, La OpiniÃ³n is struggling to keep pace. The granddaddy of America’s Spanish-language press suffers from a stodgy image, inroads by other media, and stagnant readership — circulation has remained stuck at 105,000 for more than six years. In addition, the paper must overcome a troubled relationship with its giant English-language partner.
And there’s no time to lose. The city’s immigrant population is rapidly assimilating and rapidly acquiring English, meaning that La OpiniÃ³nis gradually losing its lock on a captive audience of as many as 2 million monolingual readers. As Latino L.A. comes of age, La OpiniÃ³nmust as well.La OpiniÃ³nrolled out its first edition on September 16, 1926, the brainchild of Ignacio E. Lozano Sr. Nearly 73 years later, the history of the paper remains in large part the story of the Lozano family.
Ignacio Lozano was one of the Mexican elite who fled their homeland at the first signs of revolution. He’d already tasted success in San Antonio, Texas, where in 1913 he founded La Prensa, a weekly paper. Two years later it became a daily, drawing a solid readership by publishing exiled conservative Mexican intellectuals. By the time he arrived in Los Angeles, Lozano understood that the city’s growing Mexican community was eager to learn of events back home. By the end of 1926, La OpiniÃ³nwas a full-size daily with a circulation of 9,000.
For the next two decades, Lozano continued publishing Spanish-language papers in two cities. But by 1948 he decided to turn the day-to-day management of La OpiniÃ³nover to his son, Ignacio Lozano Jr., known to friends and employees as Nacho. Like his father, Nacho maintained the newspaper’s gray, conservative tone. And despite the wave of progressive politics that broke in the 1960s and 1970s, including the Chicano movement, the paper’s editorials seemed to ignore demands for social change. A Republican, Nacho moved the family to Lido Isle, a yachting enclave adjacent to Newport Beach, where he played golf, collected art, and sat on some of the state’s most prestigious corporate boards, including Disney and the Bank of America. Avuncular, with a round face and wire-rim glasses, Nacho eventually left the newspaper in 1976 to serve as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador.
By 1975, a third generation of Lozanos took the helm at La OpiniÃ³n, led by Leticia Lozano, who worked as co-publisher and editor for nearly a decade until she married and moved to Italy. When younger brother Jose was appointed co-publisher in 1976, the pair faced a problem: The paper’s circulation was stuck at under 20,000. Convinced they needed to shake up a complacent newsroom, the Lozanos turned to Armando Guerra, a Mexican journalist who left Mexico City after the 1968 student uprising. Guerra worked briefly at La OpiniÃ³n, then left the paper to join a new Spanish-language television station, KMEX.