By Daniel L. Muñoz
The call came unexpectedly to the offices of La Prensa San Diego from the International Visitor Leadership Program “Would we meet with Media representatives from Iraq ,” asked a Representative the Department of State? Five visitors would be arriving in Washington D.C where they would be met by personnel from the Department of State. Their next stop would be in the offices of La Prensa San Diego! The three week sponsored project was designed to acquaint the visitors with the various aspects of journalism as currently practiced in the United States. La Prensa San Diego would explore with the visitors the various roles that the ethnic media played now and historically in America.
On the 4th day of April, four media participants and two Interpreters arrived at our offices, which currently are located in National City. Mr. Basim H. H. Dibeyes, Editor-in-Chief, Ad-Dustour (newspaper), Mr. Hamdi H. Ajlan, Managing Editor, Al Adala (newspaper), Ms. Anwar M.A., Al Jebor, General Manager, Radio Nahrain, Manager UN World Food Program, Umm Qasr Port Reporter, Today (English-language daily), Director, News Programming, Basrah Branch, Al Iraqiya, Mr. Walid M. Ali, Managing Director, Baghdad TV Satellite Satellite Channel. The fifth member Mr. William Warda, had problems with his fingerprints and was not able to enter the U.S. Fortunately, we had two U.S. Interpreters, Mr. Apkar Hagopian and Mr. Mustafa El-Suqi accompanying the visitors or we would have had some deep problems in getting our story out!
It was clear that they were very interested in how La Prensa San Diego coped with racial problems in publishing the paper. This subject was a very sensitive issue as we had to address the history and founding of La Prensa San Diego and how it handled the very serious issues dealing with racism and discrimination that we were confronted with as soon as we published our first edition. It was apparent that they were seeking answers on how to address that very same issue in their country. They were seeking answers on how to establish a free and independent press without endangering the very lives of their work force. Freedom of the press doesn’t seem to be very high in the issues that are important to the rulers of Iraq and other middle Eastern Countries.
We spoke of the racism, discrimination, the threats against our very existence and the efforts to shut the newspaper. This all occurred in the 70’s when La Prensa San Diego opened its doors and first began to speak out against the outrageous actions taken against our community. But, I spoke with trepidation, as I felt and knew that if they used the tactics that we did to establish a free and unfettered press that many would die. We knew that we had an ace in our arsenal of weapons, against racism and discrimination to use as our first line of defense… Our very own Constitution… upon which this County was founded. We had to force the Citizens of this Country to abide by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We determined to use the Constitution and move them to abide by it. As Chicanos, we knew that America’s Constitution was the most powerful weapon we had! The five visitors from Iraq understood what the importance of having a Constitution in their country means.
Did we suffer in printing our “truths” in La Prensa San Diego? Yes, of course we did. But, we didn’t get killed, as so many of our compatriots South of the border have. Mexico has one of the highest kill rates for those who fight their lonely battles for freedom in their print, radio, and television media. Like many in the Middle East Mexicans don’t have “freedom of the Press”!
Four Iraqis came to learn: How we “strengthen freedom of the Press”; How we are coping with ethnic diversity, how to protect minority rights and the minority media”: They came to learn how we strengthen freedom of the press! And from our limited experience, how to operate print and electronic media .
It was a long afternoon, but we all learned from each other. There is hope that change will come in the Middle-East Countries.