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Newspaper uplifts positive stories

Maria and Troy Gaines publish La Prensa Bilingue to strengthen Hispanic community.

By Mary Stamp

To connect and communicate among Spanish-speaking people in the Spokane area and region, Maria and Troy Gaines have been publishing La Prensa Bilingue monthly for 28 years.

They want to counter negative impressions from misunderstandings about and misrepresentation of Hispanic people and culture in media.

"We uplift the good things people need to know about what Hispanic people are doing and about the positive aspects of the community," said Maria.

"We present Latinos in a positive way, reporting about Latinos doing good things in the community, about professionals serving in the community and about Hispanic people of faith, so the community can see Latinos beyond common media portrayals," Troy added.

Through publishing a bilingual English/Spanish newspaper, they are also able to address the cultural gap within families.

"Many older Latinos speak only Spanish, but children go to school and speak English. Communication is often a problem in families," Maria said.

The newspaper's motto is: "A bridge to cultural understanding," she said.

Born and raised in Panama, Maria met Troy in 1984 at a Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Buddhist gathering when she went to Washington D.C., his home city, to study.

Maria, who had previously graduated from a business school in Panama City, found it too expensive in D.C. and left after a quarter of studying economics.

Troy and Maria continued their friendship with letters and phone calls. Troy visited Panama three times.

Three years later they were engaged. They married in 1987 in Panama just before Troy—who had studied art design at the University of DC and worked with the National Academy of Sciences in D.C.—entered the Air Force.

They were stationed four years at the Rhein Main U.S. Air Force base near Frankfurt, Germany, during the time the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War environment ended.

There, Maria saw only German or English newspapers. At that time, she envisioned starting an English/Spanish newspaper.

From Germany, they were assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base in 1991. They bought a house in Spokane, intending to settle. His enlistment ended in 1992.

Troy worked at a nursing home as an assistant in physical and occupational therapy for eight years. In recent years, he worked as a rehabilitation counselor to help support the family.

While Maria focused on caring for their sons after settling in Spokane, she also became involved with the Inland Empire Hispanic Association—now the Hispanic Business and Professional Association.

Through the association, she met people from the local media, police department, businesses and community agencies.

"I learned that many Latinos felt isolated and needed a voice, so I started an eight-page tabloid format newspaper with local news, recipes, cultural events and more," said Maria. "I had no background in journalism.

"I was self-taught," commented Maria.

The first issue was published in December 1996.

She began to do interviews to gather news, read books on publishing a newspaper and met with Virginia de Leon, a reporter with the Spokesman-Review.

In January 1997, Virginia wrote an article about La Prensa Bilingue in the Spokesman.

That gave their newspaper a boost. Many people called, wanting to subscribe and advertise.

"It was overwhelming. People from around the nation wanted to help underwrite it," Maria said.

First, they worked with Garland Printing, which also offered advice.

Later they worked with Griffin Publishing in Spokane and now with TPC Publishing in Lewiston.

Troy and Maria also published The Northwest Tribune for Russian speakers and Diversity for the Diverse Community magazine for two years.

Maria focuses on the newspaper, gathering news. Troy focuses on sponsors and advertisers. Ads are their primary support. Each month they publish 12 to 16 pages, depending on advertising.

Usually, it takes Troy three days to deliver the paper at schools, libraries, businesses and community buildings in Spokane, Tri Cities and North Idaho. Sometimes they print more if there are community events. One son helps deliver.

"While some consider print newspapers to be dinosaurs, there is demand. Many people like to hold something tangible," said Troy. "Where I go, many are happy and proud to have a Latino newspaper. They look forward to it and feel part of it."

While Maria gathers most stories, she also receives press releases from agencies like Mujeres In Action and other contributors.

"I am proud to be publishing a paper that connects the community and community leaders, that lets the wider community know of events, nonprofits, food drives and more," said Troy.

Over the years of shining a positive light on the Hispanic people living here, Troy has seen changes as more Hispanic people live in Spokane and they feel less isolated as people of color.

He noted the contrast for him of living in Spokane after growing up in D.C., where 85 percent of the people were black.

"People in Spokane embrace us and are generous. We no longer feel like transplants. We have put down roots and have a good life," he said.

After a stroke in December 2015 and a small stroke in 2019, Maria lost a quarter of the vision in her left eye, so she likes working at home because she can work any time.

An important element keeping them going through the struggles of publishing a newspaper is their SGI Buddhist faith. While they are involved with the SGI Buddhist community in Spokane, much of their practice is chanting and meditating at home.

SGI is a Japanese Buddhist movement based on teachings of the 13th century Japanese priest Nichiren Daishonin. It has spread to 192 countries.

Maria joined the SGI in 1976, encouraged by the SGI emphasis on peace, culture and education.

"SGI challenges us to have a heart for and a positive influence on our community," she said.

Troy said Buddhism teaches compassion and valuing others.

"We pray for our individual happiness and the happiness and wellbeing of others," he said. "If we are happy and content, it will spread happiness in the world."

Maria and Troy often recite the Lotus Sutra and chant the mantra, "Nam Myoho Renge Kyo." "Nam" means devotion. "Myoho" refers to the mystic law. "Renge" is cause and effect. "Kyo" is to be in harmony with the universe.

"Our Buddhist practice helps us counter negative forces that would pull us down. We chant to manifest our state of absolute happiness or enlightenment. We pray to keep life in rhythm," Maria said. "When we are in a state of happiness, we influence the environment in a positive way.

"When we are happy, we do not harm others. When we feel hope, we give hope to others so people will change their lives," she said.

Maria finds that sitting and chanting gives her hope. It inspires and sustains her commitment to give people information through the newspaper, so they have hope.

"Information can help and empower people,' she said.

"Our faith helps fulfill our life mission of helping people. Sometimes publishing the newspaper is a struggle, and we wonder why we are doing it. Then someone tells us how it makes a difference for them, and we know our work has meaning," Troy said.

"We cover stories of inspiration, sharing how people struggle and overcome those struggles," Maria said.

For information, call 270-7693 or email

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February 2024