A New Front Page

Bill Lara and Pedro Gonzalez have a vision: Unite Miami's small community newspapers as a force to be reckoned with

Gonzalez, much like Lara, speaks as though he's trying to explain several things at once, nimbly jumping from one subject to another with no explanation. He will mix theories and factual statements, making it difficult sometimes to separate what he's done from what he wants to do, and what he predicts from what's really happening. But clarity probably wouldn't serve Gonzalez well: As the publisher of a newspaper supportive of the Cuban government and as a businessman who advocates ending the U.S. trade embargo, Gonzalez is not very popular with either the local exile establishment or prospective advertisers.

Gonzalez and Lara first collaborated some three years ago on a short-lived periodiquito called El Nuevo Americano. Then they produced a newspaper for a business group in Homestead, but signing reliable advertisers proved daunting, and the paper didn't last more than three issues. For months both men had been mulling the idea of a community newspaper cooperative, and in 1998 they formed CMC. At about the same time, to pay his bills, Lara began an Internet consulting business. CMC hasn't done well enough so far to support its founders, but it gets a lot of in-kind donations, such as free office space and equipment.


High school teacher Jerry Nagee has unintentionally become a "resource person" for Miami's Trinidadian community
Bill Cooke
High school teacher Jerry Nagee has unintentionally become a "resource person" for Miami's Trinidadian community
Oscar Leonardo Montalban has interviewed world leaders, was jailed for being a contra, and now trashes all Nicaraguan politicians in his Miami newspaper
Marco Vidal
Oscar Leonardo Montalban has interviewed world leaders, was jailed for being a contra, and now trashes all Nicaraguan politicians in his Miami newspaper

Lara has been waiting for a CMC board meeting to begin. It was scheduled for 10:00 this morning. The time is now 11:30 and not a single board member has appeared. This doesn't seem to surprise or annoy Lara. It's business in Miami, after all. Gonzalez arrives with the news that one member is running late "because his printer isn't working. But he's coming," Gonzalez insists.

"I'm sure [the others] just got to drinking rum and forgot," Lara jokes.

The meeting commences at noon. Four people, two of whom are not on the seven-man board, are present. Two more members show up about 45 minutes later, after a discussion of reconstituting the board with people who will actually participate.

"Getting everyone organized is an ordeal," Lara admits later. "For a lot of reasons."

One reason, a factor that has always complicated community-newspaper publishing, is intraethnic rivalry. Different factions within the same group, some of whom may have been enemies before emigrating, sometimes sponsor competing newspapers. The situation can erupt into open hostility. At the moment this is the case in Miami's Venezuelan community, with at least two thriving papers headed by men who, by most accounts, can't stand the sight of each other and take different editorial stances. A new periodiquito supportive of controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez promises to roil relations even more.

But usually the rivalry is subtle, as it is within Miami's English-speaking West Indian enclave. Jamaicans are the most numerous of this group (which numbers, according to estimates, about 300,000 in South Florida), and other islanders say they often feel invisible, that Jamaicans assume they speak for all Caribbeans.

That's one of the reasons Jerry Nagee started Caribbean Contact, the only regular local news source about Trinidad and Tobago. Nagee, a full-time English teacher at Braddock Senior High, gets calls seeking help with everything from love to insurance rip-offs, prompting her to write an advice column each month. "I definitely saw the need for communitywide communication, particularly after [the 1992 Hurricane] Andrew," Nagee said on a recent Saturday afternoon as she hovered over her dining-room table. Flats of her latest monthly edition were spread for inspection before going to the printer. Salsa and reggae played at low volume from a portable radio on the kitchen counter; her eighteen-year-old son Yuri was asleep in a back bedroom of their airy white house on a cul-de-sac in Southwest Miami-Dade.

Nagee is 56 years old, a tall woman clearly accustomed to being an authority figure. Dressed in slacks and a dark-green polo shirt decorated with the Caribbean Contact logo, she pointed out typos and layout glitches in a rhythmic voice as smooth as a lullaby. As an ice cream truck rolled slowly past the open front windows, Nagee and a friend shook their heads and clicked their tongues over a recent statement by a local Jamaican community leader. They laughed about a bon mot making the rounds during the Gold Cup soccer matches, dubbing the game between Jamaica and Colombia as "weed versus cocaine."

Nagee grew up in San Fernando, the industrial center in the south of Trinidad. Her father, now 78 years old, was the San Fernando correspondent for the island's largest daily, the Port of Spain Guardian. Even today he faxes in beautifully written (though typo-riddled) articles he composes on an old electric typewriter.

In 1989 Nagee settled in Miami with Yuri, the youngest of her three children (the others live in other states). For nine months before beginning work at Braddock, she investigated child-abuse cases for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (now the Department of Children and Families). In September 1990 she organized a Trinidad-Tobago Thanksgiving mass ("We start with a church service and then we fèt -- party"). Held at nearby Christ the King Catholic Church, the mass became an annual, unifying event. "That allowed me to network with other Trinidadian and Caribbean people," Nagee recalled, "and kind of made me a resource person for the community." A newspaper, she began to think, could be a year-round resource.

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