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Power Moves: Vanessa Vargas innovates family newspaper, Latino News

Imagine coming to a new country, not knowing anyone and not speaking the language. That was the reality for Jairo Vargas and his family when they immigrated to the United States many years ago, and it’s the experience of many other immigrants when they come to the U.S. As the number of Spanish-speaking arrivals increased, Vargas knew there needed to be a way to bring his community together.

“This led to and marked the creation of the newspaper – the need for a medium that could communicate with the growing Latino community in their own language,” said Vargas, who founded Latino News to fill that need.

The Vargas family, from left, Vanessa Vargas, Alex Vargas, father Jairo Vargas, Giovanny Vargas and mother Maria Vargas. (Photo provided by the Vargas family)

Latino News has been a staple in Alabama for almost a quarter-century – a voice that reflects not only what is happening in the state but in the nation. Today, the newspaper is distributed every Friday in places frequented by the Latino community, such as stores, supermarkets, restaurants, taquerias, some churches and at a multitude of events where the Latinx community is present.

“When I took on the role of founding editor of Latino News 24 years ago, it was not only with the idea of bringing our readers one more newspaper, but to take on the commitment that Latino News would reflect the nation and its vision,” Vargas said.

The newspaper reaches 14 counties across the state and covers many of the larger cities in Alabama, including Huntsville, the Birmingham metro area, Montgomery, Mobile and areas in between.

Latino News delivers local and international news, sports, health and educational information, advice, articles about culture, technology, entertainment, religion, event updates and other resources. It shares the course of change in the community, and offers ways for businesses to grow in the Latinx community.

“Something that sets us apart from other media outlets is that we are not only focused on the news, but we also offer a view of how things are happening around us locally and nationally,” Vargas said. “Overall, the real ingredient to our success is our community. Listening and being there for them in all aspects of life has made the difference.”

As the voice of the Latinx community has grown, so has Latino News as a newspaper over the past 24 years. Vargas is now retired, and his daughter Vanessa Vargas is leading the charge for the newspaper.

“I have a young vision. … I am fortunate to have the strength and advice of my parents and the entire team that makes up Latino News,” said Vanessa, managing partner of Latino News.

She has created digital spaces, enhanced social media platforms and created more options for the community to receive the print version of Latino News.

Vanessa Vargas believes in connection. She has worked to bring the Spanish- and Anglo-speaking communities closer together. During the pandemic, she has focused on creating even more opportunities for partnership and understanding.

“My goal is to bring (people) together as much as possible because we all need each other. We need the same resources and have similar needs,” she said. “For me, it’s important that people try to understand that we’re not all that different. My legacy to my community is leaving them something that is theirs in the form of support and guidance, and a network that is interconnected for the whole community. What better way than by leaving a statewide community newspaper filled with resource connections like Latino News for an underserved community.”

As a result of her leadership, many organizations have contacted Latino News to foster more diversity and provide Spanish material to support the Latinx community.

Latino News carries information from organizations that work on behalf of immigrants. From personal interviews with prominent entrepreneurs to the stories of ordinary people, the newspaper shares a message of encouragement. It works with organizations such as the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), AIDS Alabama, the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ), La Casita and Adelante to assist the immigrant community, providing information and support to those who need it.

“The community is a strong supporter and ally,” Jairo Vargas said. “The fact that Latino News is present where the community needs it has formed an indissoluble bond with Hispanics.”

The past 24 years for Latino News has been a story of transformation. The newspaper is working toward serving its readers for the next 24 years and beyond by incorporating new technologies and innovative practices. With so many possibilities, Vanessa Vargas is prepared and experienced to lead Latino News to another level.

Next up for the media company is the creation of a digital project called The Journal of Latino News, Jairo Vargas said. “The goal of the project is to increase public awareness of issues affecting Latinos in Alabama and the country, as well as to increase citizen participation in our politics and civic affairs.”

With Latino News expanding its reach in myriad ways, the future is big and bright for the newspaper, the Vargas family and the Latinx community.

Power Moves, an ongoing series by Alabama NewsCenter, celebrates the contributions of multicultural leaders in Alabama.