Bilingual newspaper in Mission District celebrates over 50 years in service to SF's Latino community

A bilingual newspaper in San Francisco is celebrating more than five decades of service to the Bay Area’s Latino community.

El Tecolote Newspaper, which translates to "the owl" in English, is the longest-running bilingual publication in California, based in the Mission District. The newspaper is under the umbrella of a legacy arts and media organization called Acción Latina located on 24th Street.     

Acción Latina Executive Director Fatíma Ramírez said the organization took over the publication of the paper in 1987 after the non-profit was founded. The organization prints stories in both English and Spanish.

"Every two weeks, 10,000 copies continue to get printed and distributed in San Francisco and the Bay Area," Ramirez said. "My favorite is when I see folks holding the newspaper because they’re in it. The proud feeling that their story is being told."

Alexis Terrazas is El Tecolote’s editor-in-chief. He used to write for El Tecolote as a journalism student because he was bilingual. He later went on to become a sportswriter but returned to lead the paper in 2014. Terrazas, who grew up in Daly City, said he feels a connection to the Mission District because his parents have roots here.

"My father was born in the Mission, his mother was born in the Mission and when my mother migrated from Mexico, this is the neighborhood where she lived," he said.

He said while El Tecolote is based on telling stories of people in the Mission, he also sees the publication as a regional paper.

"We cover what I like to call "el pueblo," or the people," he said.

Terrazas is proud to carry on the tradition of community journalism.

"The Latino community gets oversimplified, and I think my job here has really allowed me to explore the nuances," he said. "We’re not one people with one migration experience. We’re not just one voting block that politicians can exploit every four years."

El Tecolote has one full-time writer and one full-time photographer and relies on volunteers to tell peoples' stories. The paper was founded by volunteers more than five decades ago, under the direction of Juan Gonzales.

Gonzales was born and raised in Stockton and moved to San Francisco in the mid-1960s to attend San Francisco State University.


Precita Eyes highlights SF Mission's long-standing legacy as a mural destination

San Francisco's Mission District is home to hundreds of outdoor murals making it a global destination for this art form. 

"Counselors would tell me, there’s no future in journalism... you can’t make a lot of money," he recalled.

Gonzales didn’t listen. At 22 years old, a fresh journalism graduate, Gonzales was asked by SFSU to stay and become a professor in the La Raza Studies program.

"I was teaching people who to write… how to write about community, but there was no place to get the stories published," he said.

Gonzales asked students to help him start a newspaper that would serve the needs of the Latino community in the Mission District.

"We had a fundraiser, an amateur talent show, raised $350 and that was enough to publish four issues of a four-page, 5,000-copy edition of a newspaper," Gonzales said.

On Aug. 24, 1970, the first edition of El Tecolote was printed.

"I had told my staff, ‘Look I’m willing to dedicate five years of my life to do this, are you with me?’ People didn’t really answer. I said, ‘At least a year? I’ll take that.’"

Gonzales said the volunteer student writers worked out of peoples’ kitchens, garages, and community centers. Now, the paper recently marked 53 years in publication.

"It’s a golden milestone, so it also shows how much it means to folks, and it speaks to why we’re still needed in the community," Ramírez said.

El Tecolote’s archives are now inspiration for an art gallery inside Acción Latina’s headquarters, which features comics about stories the paper covered in the 1990’s. El Tecolote also has a website and two recently launched podcasts to reach more readers.

"It's getting harder and harder for people to live in the Mission, so we want to make sure we’re reaching them where they’re at," she added.

Gonzales still recruits volunteers, raises money, sits on the board of directors, and on occasion, he’ll write a story.

"If you’re passionate about something, you’re going to make a commitment to do right by it," Gonzales said.

He credits the paper's longevity to community support, donations, and the staff.

"It’s that army of volunteers, 400 plus, that contributed as writers, photographers, illustrators, designers, distributors… that’s what really made it possible for the paper to exist so long," he said.

The hope is El Tecolote will keep flying high for another 50+ years, amplifying LatinX voices.

"This month for me is just that reminder that the work is on us at Latino journalists to continue to educate the public that we are this nuanced group of people whose differences should be celebrated," Terrazas added.