November 22, 2002

A Dialogue With Africa

“So far the evidence that we have in the
World points to Africa as the cradle
Of Humankind”

George Abungu, Director-General of
The National Museums of Kenya
BBC World Service

By Daniel L. Muñoz

The pieces all fell in place Saturday, November 16, 2002 under arrangements made by Jennifer Varsak, the San Diego Program Director of the San Diego International Visitors Council. At Eleven in the morning a meeting was held between the Publisher of La Prensa San Diego, Daniel Lopez Muñoz and five representatives of three South African Nations: Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde. The meeting was held in the offices of La Prensa San Diego.

The “encuentro” was under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Office of International Visitors and the San Diego International Visitors Council. The purpose of such visits is to promote professional, cultural and educational exchanges between citizen diplomats and emerging international leaders. The hoped for goals: to promote global understanding through person to person exchanges on a non-governmental level.

The common denominators between the African visitors and this Mexican American publisher was that we shared a common bond: we are the products of the conquest by European Nations of the 15,16, & 17th centuries. And we are in the business of communication through print, radio or television. They wanted to discuss common communication problems when dealing with populations of many languages in one nation.

At eleven a.m. they walked into our offices led by Mr. Bento Aurelia Baloi.

His present position is as Political advisor to the President Joaquim Chissano, of the Nation of Mozambique. The President played a major role in the liberation movement Frelimo in 1960. Mr. Baloi served as the Press Advisor to the President from 2000 to 2001. During the period 1996 to 2000, he served as the Information Officer to the Bank of Mozambique. He worked as a journalist and political editor, for the newspaper, Domingo, from 1991 to1996. He was born in Maputo, Mozambique January 3, 1968.

Mr. Carlos Hipolito Mendes Moniz is the Editor in Chief of The National Radio of Cape Verde. . He was the Editor of the Journal da Tarde from 1990 to 1999. He was born August 12, 1964 in Santiago, Republic of Cape Verde. The Republic is actually a series of 10 Islands, in two archipelagos lying 400 miles off the coast of West Africa. The Chief of State since March 21 is President Pedro Pires.

Mr. Joso Miguel da Silva Candembo, present position, Assistant Editor in Chief, Angolense. He served as a Journalist, with the ANGOP, from 1990 to1999 and as a journalist, for Jornal Militar. He was born April 18, 1966 in Luanda, Angola.

Mr. Jaime Alfredo Cuambe, present position: Editor, Noticas and Correspondent, Angola Radio. Previously he was Editor in Chief, Radio Mozambique (1990-1994) and was the Senior Journalist for Televisao de Mozambique (1990-1993). He was born September 23, 1963, Chibuto, Mozanbique.

Mr. Francisco Jose Mendes, present position; Editor in Chief, Radio Nacional de Angola. Previous position; Secretary, Studies and Projects for Angolan Journalist Union. He was born August 10, 1974, Luanda, Angola.

Mr. Joao Manuel Osvaldo Pinto is the present Information Advisor to Radio Ecclesia. Previous positions; in training at Provincial Radio, intern at Radio France International, correspondent Radio Ecclesia. He was born March .12, 1972, Lubango, Angola.

Our visitors spoke Portuguese (primary language of communication), French, Spanish, and Creole. It quickly became clear that without the assistance of the two interpreters provided by the State Department, this Publisher would have been reduced to babbling half in Spanish, mixed in with a smattering of Portuguese and pigeon English.

We share common bonds

(I wanted to share with our readers a few of the dialogue points that were made during our two hour visit.)

As participants in the world of communications, the visitors were curious how it was that we could communicate with the rest of America.

“With so many different linguistic and culturally diverse immigrants coming to America…How do you communicate with them, they asked?”

“Do you write only in Spanish or is it all in English?”

“We have one common language Portuguese that is used in all the parts of Africa that were colonized by the Portuguese. We use that in radio and television.”

“Do you write for the Black people? Many have migrated here to escape from oppression”

I answered by asking them: Do you in your media attempt to communicate with all the different tribal linguistic dialects that exist in Africa? The answer was no! They mostly use the Portuguese language in Mozambique, Cape Verde, and Angola. We do the same in America. We use English.

All who come to America bring their own national languages. To make America a unified nation, it requires a language that is nationally recognized and understood. It is important, no…it is necessary to speak and learn the one national language: English. We require it for commerce, industry, the military, to govern, to have a legal system, in fact it is required that we have an unambiguous language that is clear and meaningful to all no matter their country of origin or race, or culture that you may have inherited by your place of birth. English is the language of the public sphere of our lives. But that language only partially defines what I am.

“But, we see your newspaper also has articles in the Spanish language, they noted.”

Yes, that is true. We recognize from our own life experiences that language is a cultural artifact conditioned by the cultural mix that one is nurtured in. In our private sphere, we define who we are, in terms that cannot be conveyed in the English, German, Russian or Swahili. Spanish language defines who I am in ways that the European English can’t do. I have no cultural reference to the England homeland. My frame of references is condition by my family whose culture is conditioned by Mexico. The Spanish language is a very important element that defines who I am. You use Portuguese as your official public language but you should use the different dialectic tribal languages where it defines what those members of that culture are, unambiguously.

“We read and hear a lot about how racist America is. Have you experienced it?

Oh yes! We have our fair share of racism, discrimination, and anti- Mexican attitudes in our country. I would be surprised if we didn’t have them. Remember our country is open to peoples of all nations. It is logical that they bring their ancient hatreds, and feelings from their historical culture. America is a “work in progress”!

But as each generation matures and integrates into the cultural mix that America is, we smooth out the rough edges of society and seek those things that we find in common that we can share. People have a way of discarding those things that are dysfunctional or destructive of a society and to preserve those things that helps us bond together as a country.

Will we ever be a nation where we all look alike, speak alike, and lose our indivuality? I hope not. Its Constitution, Bill of Rights, its Democratic form of Government and its legal form of law define America. Those are the things that hold us together.

“Do you communicate with migrants from Africa?

Not enough. Some come to my offices seeking help in filing legal notice or when they need to get permission to establish themselves or to change their name. They feel more at ease in dealing with a Spanish speaking person. We try to make them feel welcomed. But we don’t write stories about them or Africa.

We have a large black population in San Diego most of which can trace their background to the times when the colonies entered into slavery. I am told that they harbor antagonistic feelings toward the recent migrants much like older generations of Mexicans are resentful of the new migrants from Latin America. It probably finds its roots in there insecurities about their life in America. If you could send me stories about your country I would certainly find space to bring the new immigrants information about their countries of origin.

“How did you start your newspaper?”

I probably started it for many of the same reasons that you began putting out your pamphlets...a need to communicate with our community in the Barrios of San Diego County. You think you have troubles in Africa communicating? When I started the newspaper, we had none. We owned no radio stations, no television stations. We mostly communicated through newsletters. At that time (1976) we were under attack by the police agencies of our community. Racism was rampant and our people were suffering.

“Where did you get the money to begin a paper?”

Well, I got it from the only pot of gold I had. I talked my wife into letting me borrow money on our home! I borrowed $20,000 dollars. I made her one promise: If I don’t break even within 6 months, I will fold the paper and go back to my day job (teacher at Mesa College)!

“Did you have experience?”

No! I didn’t know a thing about publishing a newspaper. All I had was the will and desire to bring a voice to our community. I feared hat our town would explode just like it had in Los Angeles when the race riots broke out. We needed a voice in San Diego that would speak out for our people. Six months later, I still was on the streets. Since then, we have never looked back La Prensa San Diego has never missed a week of publication in the last 27 years. Go back to your cities and look around. From what you have said, there are many opportunities for each of you. But, go into it for the right reasons.”

(There were lessons to be learned, not only by our African Visitors but also for this Publisher. Often times the things that bind us are more relevant than the things that keep us apart)

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