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La Voz That Booms : Longtime Educator Guides Spanish-Language Weekly to Widening Influence

September 26, 1993|LEE ROMNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POMONA — More than 30 years ago, Candelario J. Mendoza spun the Latin sounds of Tito Puente and Perez Prado on his morning Spanish-language radio show, then hustled off to an Ontario radio station to play mainstream greats like "Splish Splash, I Was Taking a Bath."

The rest of his days, he spent teaching.

Today, after a long career as a bilingual educator, the 74-year-old Pomona resident continues to straddle the lines of language, cranking out La Voz, which celebrated its 12th birthday on Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day.

In 1981, Mendoza teamed up with Pomona real estate broker Albert Castro to form the paper, now the region's most stable Spanish-language weekly. It has a circulation of 20,000 in Pomona and west San Bernardino County.

The remarkable fact: While more than 20 Spanish-language papers have sprung out of the Pomona area's Latino community and quickly closed their doors, La Voz survived, metamorphosing from a fully bilingual weekly to all Spanish, with a small "Seccion en Ingles."

"Some lasted a few weeks and some lasted a few months. One lasted a year and a half," recounted Mendoza, who now scrambles to get his paper out every week while serving as president of the board of the Pomona Unified School District

La Voz, "The Voice," has grown from a two-person office to a hefty weekly, with 10 staffers putting out forty-some tabloid pages of news, sports and society gossip, and supported by big-name advertisers such as Pomona First Federal, Anheuser-Busch, Chrysler Corp. and RJ Reynolds.

In the Sept. 16 issue, celebrating both Mexican Independence and the paper's anniversary, Mayor Eddie Cortez, a third-generation Mexican-American, and Mexican-born Councilwoman Cristina N. Carrizosa each took out sizable ads to wish the Mexican community well.

Not only has La Voz survived, supporters say, it has been a shepherd for Pomona's Latino community, pulling non-English speakers into the life and politics of a city more than 50% Latino, according to the 1990 Census. Earlier this year, Pomonans voted in the first Latino-majority City Council in the city's history.

"I find myself speechless in trying to say how good it has been for the community of Pomona, to have the honor of having them here," Cortez said of La Voz. "The participation of La Voz and their closeness to the community is just tremendous. It's almost like a family atmosphere."

As Pomona's ethnic landscape changed--the Latino population grew 139% during the 1980s--La Voz became a key to staving off the alienation and political apathy that can settle on non-English speaking communities, he said.

"I see even more the importance now than when it first started because of the tremendous change in the ethnic makeup of Pomona," Cortez said. "That's the one medium (non-English speakers) have. . . . There has to be a way to get news to them, otherwise they would not be as informed about what's happening."

When the Latino Chamber of Commerce opened its doors, Cortez recalled, the spread in La Voz yielded amazing community support for the fledgling group.

"That was the most coverage we got anywhere. As a result of that, we received spontaneous endorsements and support from the entire community. They were able to get the word out," he said.

Always behind the scenes was Mendoza, a trim man with a hearty laugh who blazed the trail for Mexican-Americans into the region's education system, becoming the first Latino to teach in La Habra and the first Latino principal in the Pomona Unified School District. Today, the Hamilton Boulevard school that he and his six brothers and sisters attended is now called Candelario J. Mendoza Elementary School, just one sign of community homage to the man, and a testament to the changes that have elapsed during his time in Pomona.

Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Mendoza's parents moved to Pomona when he was a baby. He edited the Pomona High School newspaper and was one of only four Latinos in his graduating class. He went on to get master's degrees in English and Spanish. In 1942, he went looking for teaching jobs.

"I could not get a job in Pomona," he recounted with a slight smile. "The superintendent said, 'The town of Pomona is just not ready for a Mexican-American teacher in the classroom.' "

The statement came as no surprise to Mendoza, who remembers a Pomona of segregated theaters and swimming pools from his childhood days.

Proud by nature--Mendoza said his father taught him the value of speaking two languages impeccably--he took the rejection in stride and went to La Habra. The elementary school children he taught there were mostly from migrant farm-worker families.

World War II took him through Europe with General George Patton's Third Army, and in 1945 he returned to teaching, landing a job in Pomona one year later.

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