By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Austreberto Aguirre's big vision is a shadow of its former self. This week's edition, anyway.
La Gaceta, the newspaper he's published in one form or another since 1947, today is little more than a few Xeroxed pages stapled together. Inside, where Senor Aguirre, editor and founder, once ran hard-hitting exposes of Mexican politics side by side with stories such as "Joan Collins, Devourer of Men," now are a dimly copied portrait of Jesus, an exhortation to "get interested in mexican art" and several almost hysterical pleas to contact him at his offices.
This should not be difficult. Unless he is out partaking of a free meal at La Alma center, Austreberto, more commonly known as Beto, is in his office day and night, because it is also his apartment. The two small rooms in a senior housing block near downtown are crowded with the trappings of Beto's life--the Book of Mormon sharing space with a big-skirted doll who has the power of brujera, a selection of slippers and hats, intensely strong tea perking in a stained electric pot. Not that Beto really cares about his surroundings. At 79, he would prefer to be seen as a newspaperman of longstanding. Fortunately, he has three typewriters and a photocopier on hand, and happily introduces visitors to the intricacies of each.
"I am going to explain this to you," he says in Spanish, paving the way for an onslaught of facts. By the time his explanation ends, Beto hopes you will fully comprehend his dream. You will grasp the need for a truly excellent Spanish-language newspaper whose sphere of influence is nothing less than the world itself. More important, you will understand that, although Beto intends to retain complete control over his publishing empire, he needs help. Three cataract operations have ruined his eyesight. Although he moved to the United States in 1956, he does not speak English. But no problem is without a solution. For starters, Beto would like to have a secretaria--someone to take dictation, research the occasional color story and drive him around on his circulation and ad-sales routes. "We can take my Mercedes," he says, attempting to sweeten the pot. "It's a nice car."
Then, like a true old-school journalist, he cuts to the chase. "I am going to explain to you what the problem is," he says. "The problem is that no one will help me. Not even a Mexican! I am going to tell you what the problem is with them. They are always telling me to come back tomorrow."
To Beto, it is painfully evident that tomorrow will be much too late. Now more than ever, he needs to get his newspaper going. He would prefer that his oldest son, Virgil Aguirre, once his partner in the business, make a real commitment to the writing life and help him out. Virgil himself would prefer that his father take it easy--participate in senior activities, or attend church. Upon hearing this, Beto sighs impatiently.
"Virgil is smart," he says, "but let me explain something. Virgil is not smart enough. He cares too much about making money. He does not care about helping me. I am willing to be a patient man, but Virgil does not have patience."
In fact, as anyone who knows him could tell you, at fifty Virgil has all the patience in the world. "Let me tell you what I remember," he says. "My father started his newspaper in 1947, in Morelia, Michoacan. When I was four or five years old I used to grab a bunch of papers and sell them on the street. I was the best sales kid around."
From that first job until he married Rosa Linda in 1970, Virgil's destiny was not just tied to his father's--it was his father's. "Virgil's father was a very strict man, real proud," Rosa Linda remembers. "I thought, okay, he can have his newspaper. I just wanted his son."
She got him, and in 1985 they started Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe, at 33rd Avenue and Tejon. Today it is successful enough to support the Aguirre family, Beto included, as well as feed nearly 2,000 hungry people at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Over the past two years Rosa Linda's myriad volunteer jobs have kept her from the restaurant more and more, but Virgil is almost always around, from the time he begins cooking in the early morning until whenever the last customer leaves. In the afternoons his five children, ranging in age from eight to 22, help out. Whenever there is a lull, they do homework in one of the booths. At last count, three of the five intended to be journalists.
"Let me explain this to you," Beto says of his ink-bit descendants. "We're not interested in fantasies. We like the truth. That's why we write."
It was 1956 when Beto Aguirre left Mexico. Typically, he did so under a cloud of drama and intrigue. A longtime journalist, Beto had started his own newspaper, Antena de Michoacan, a decade earlier. By the early Fifties, Virgil remembers, his father not only put out the most controversial paper in town, but also had decided to get into politics--in particular, to mount a vicious campaign against the current governor. It wasn't long before Beto's editorial stance came to the attention of Lazaro Cardenas, then president of Mexico. In a midnight meeting, Cardenas reportedly gave Beto Aguirre three choices: Learn to love the current regime, leave the country, or dig his own grave, lie down in it and die.