The entrepreneurial drive of Latinos in the United States has been documented in many studies. Most new businesses created by Latinos are small family-operated businesses, at least initially. In the case of those that are successful, the time may come when the founder of the business is no longer willing or able to manage day-to-day operations, or at least begins to think about that eventuality.
Often the assumption is that their one or more of their adult children will take the reins, and it often works out that way, but not always. Members of the next generation may have different interests or careers in other fields, live hundreds of miles away or have other reasons for not stepping into the shoes of a parent.
CTLatinoNews.com spoke with three Hispanic owned businesses that have successfully transitioned to a second generation of leadership. Today, the last in a three-part series with the Tribuna Newspaper.
It was 17 years ago, in 1999 when Brazilian immigrants Celia Bacelar and her daughter Elizabeth founded the Tribuna, a trilingual (English-Portuguese-Spanish) biweekly newspaper in Danbury.
Celia Bacelar, her husband, Genilson Palmares, and their two daughters and their son had arrived in this country in 1993, not speaking a word of English, recalled Emanuela Palmares, Celia’s younger daughter who is now the editor-in-chief and a partner in the Tribuna.
An activist wherever she’d lived, Celia Bacelar saw that after a year or two in school her daughters were learning English pretty quickly. Soon Elizabeth and Emanuela were leading an informal class in their home, teaching English to 10 women. Over time, the classes became more about helping immigrants to navigate in America, which included trips to a grocery store with lessons on how to be smarter consumers.
Eventually, Celia Bacelar had the idea to create a bilingual (English and Portuguese) newspaper, through which they could make practical information accessible to Brazilian immigrants and other Portuguese and English speakers.
“My mom and my sister — and I after school – cleaned houses during the day and did the newspaper at night,” Palmares said. Another after-school duty she had was distributing the paper.
“I grew up with the understanding that I would contribute to the paper,” she said.
“My dad, although he was not involved in the paper per se, it took a lot for the paper to become self-sufficient,” so he was affected by it, Palmares said.
“My sister earned her degree in journalism at WestConn (Western Connecticut State University) and then her master’s at Columbia University, in broadcasting,” she said.
When Elizabeth Bacelar moved to New York to attend Columbia, she asked her younger sister, then the copy editor, to step in as a co-editor, expecting she’d be back. But after earning her master’s, “she had some great opportunities,” and Palmares was already settled in.
“I had been trained by my sister all those years,” through an informal kind of apprenticeship, Palmares said.
Celia Bacelar was the editor-in-chief and publisher but later had some health challenges that affected her involvement in editorial and production aspects of putting out the paper, though she remains very much on top of things, Palmares said.
“We started off in English and Portuguese, and we expanded it to include Spanish in 2007. (That change) really came from the need of the Ecuadorian community for the original reporting we were doing,” she said. Some Ecuadorians had been trying to understand the stories in the Tribuna by comparing the Portuguese and English versions.
“We realized our mission wasn’t being a Brazilian-American publication but being an immigrant publication, helping them understand the city and state they had chosen to live in,” Palmares said.
In expanding beyond the Danbury area, they tried to find other communities in the state where there had been Portuguese speakers, followed by Spanish speakers. Within Western Connecticut, they identified Bridgeport and Waterbury as population centers that met their criteria, she said. Elsewhere the mix would be different. For example, “if we were in New Britain, it’d be Polish and Spanish,” she said. “We want to reach immigrants in every phase of their status.”
Upon taking a leading role in directing the publication, Palmares decided that the paper’s coverage needed to be broader, with less niche content. Toward that end, Tribuna formed relationships with media outlets such as New America Media, a national collaboration and advocate of 3,000 ethnic news organizations.
The Tribuna’s translators are both college professors who live in South America. The Portuguese translator had been living in Connecticut, but is now back in Brazil. The Spanish translator lives in Peru.
“We wanted to match the quality of the writing in Portuguese and Spanish to that in English,” Palmares said, adding that the quality of the translators’ work benefits from their living in an environment where they are surrounded by other Portuguese- or Spanish-language media.
Palmares has also personally continued her mother’s history of community involvement intended to bring about meaningful change. Among her many roles have been: domestic violence victim’s advocate at the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury; participant in the Community Impact Grant Selection Process; member of the Danbury Housing Partnership; volunteer translator at AmeriCares Free Clinic; ESL teacher at the Center for Brazilian Assistance; one of the organizers of the Brazilian Flag-Raising Ceremony in Danbury; and executive secretary of the Citizens Council to the Consulate General of Brazil in Hartford. She is also the first Brazilian to serve on the state’s Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission and is LPRAC’s representative on the Governor’s Emergency Communications Task Force.