On a brief vacation in Manhattan this last long weekend, I hustled uptown with an old friend to the Museum of the City of New York for two ballyhooed exhibits: an overly romanticized look at the idealistic New Yorkers who joined or supported the Abraham Lincoln Brigade's fight in the Spanish Civil War, and a more clear-eyed examination of the towering achievements and ugly wreckage wrought by the city's master builder of the 20th century, Robert Moses.
But there was a third exhibit I hadn't heard anything about, and it got me thinking about newspapers as if I were on still on the clock.
"The Jewish Daily Forward: Embracing an Immigrant Community" recounts the history of the Yiddish-language paper that Abraham Cahan founded April 22, 1897 to promote labor unions and socialism.
As I looked at the photos and translated stories, the Yiddish alphabet Linotype sticks and typewriters, I was struck by the parallels with the Spanish-language press. The early history of "Forverts" is the history of Spanish-language papers now.
For both, a surge in immigration created the need for a newspaper. Just as the Latino population has exploded in recent decades, Jewish immigration soared in the turn of the 19th century. As the exhibit recounts, between 1881 and 1918 some two million Yiddish-speaking Jews streamed out of Eastern Europe, and settled in the United States -- New York City, more specifically. By 1914, fully one quarter of New Yorkers were Jews of Eastern European descent.
The Forward served that audience in ways remarkably similar to the Spanish-language press today.
The Forward sought to help its readers make their way in a new land with a new language -- and far different customs than those of the Austro-Hungarian empire they had left behind.
Just like the Spanish-language papers now, the Forward put a heavy emphasis on immigration issues. When La Opinion periodically includes voter registration forms in its copies, it is echoing a constant theme of the Forward a century ago that encouraged immigrant Jews to become citizens and vote.
Flip through any Spanish-language paper, and you'll see many ads for English-language instruction. Almost every day, my Chicago edition of Hoy lists a free course in English being offered by this or that immigrant aid organization. In its ads, news, and editorials, the Forward likewise encouraged its readers to learn English.
These days, every Spanish-language paper includes features on health, especially about avoiding the obesity and Type 2 diabetes that plagues so many Hispanics. Many sponsor health fairs. The Forward, too, cautioned readers about health, although in its early years that usually meant instructing new arrivals on brushing their teeth, and meeting other urban American standards of hygiene. …