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Jacobo Strimling Honors Rafael Prieto in First of ‘Charloteanos’ Series

Jacobo Strimling
Jacobo Strimling at work on an illustration.

While Hispanic Heritage Month has been observed since it was expanded from a week into a 30-day period between Sept. 15-Oct. 15 in 1988, folks like Jacobo Strimling are aware that stories within the Hispanic and Latinx communities deserve the spotlight year-round. That’s especially true in a city like Charlotte that’s seen explosive growth of the Hispanic population in recent decades, and it’s a belief that he shares with fellow Hispanic journalist Rafael Prieto. 

As a local journalist working for Spanish-language publications since 2003, Strimling has long been telling the stories of Charlotte’s Latin-American residents. It’s a passion he plans to continue with his latest project, Charloteanos, a series of artistic portraits and essays highlighting the work of leaders within Charlotte’s Latinx community — business owners, artists, activists and lesser known residents who act as advocates in their own ways.

Charloteanos was originally planned as a collaboration between Strimling and former Hola News editor-in-chief Mayra Arteaga, but when she passed away after a two-year battle with cancer in July, Strimling decided to carry on as a way to honor his friend and mentor. He added Arteaga to the list of people he plans to spotlight in the series. 

For the first installment, Strimling chose one of his colleagues, Rafael Prieto, known mostly for his work with the Spanish-language print publication Mi Gente. You can find Strimling’s essay and portrait of Prieto below, along with an English translation done by Dalia Razo. Visit qcnerve.com over the next year to see how Strimling’s Charloteanos project unfolds, as we plan to publish each essay in both languages along with the artwork every other week.

We did get a glance at Strimling’s list of honorees, handwritten on a piece of paper he carries in his pocket, while discussing this new partnership, and we’re excited to see some of the well-known and less recognizable names brought to the forefront as Charloteanos. You can also follow the project at Strimling’s website

Rafael Prieto, Charloteano, guerrero del periodismo

Written by Jacobo Strimling

Con su pluma y su voz, Rafael Prieto ha luchado por la comunidad inmigrante de Charlotte, por ya dos décadas. Orgulloso de sus raíces, difunde además la cultura latina entre los que vivimos en la ciudad a través de centenares de eventos, y por supuesto, con la publicación de numerosas historias.

Llegó como periodista por primera vez en 1993, tiempos en los que en la ciudad en realidad no se generaban noticias, y los hispanos eran “algo extraño”. Aún más que extraño, el servicio informativo en el que trabajaba, “Canal de Noticias NBC”, se transmitía desde la Ciudad Reina a gran parte de Latinoamérica, sin que los charloteanos lo pudieran ver.

El ‘Mijito’, como muchos lo llaman en reciprocidad a su cariñoso saludo, recuerda Charlotte como una ciudad “muy conservadora” donde no se hablaba español y estaban “todas las iglesias del mundo”. En su memoria también está el haber asistido a una de las primeras ediciones del Festival Latinoamericano, “algo muy pequeño en los predios del CPCC”, la primera publicación en español “El Boletín de la Coalición”, y la primera emisión radial en español.

Rafael Prieto, Jacobo Strimling
Rafael Prieto (Artwork by Jacobo Strimling)

Su segunda aventura en la Ciudad Reina comenzó en 2001 tras años en Miami como periodista en importantes medios, como Telemundo, Univision.com y Televisa.

Una relación sentimental lo trajo de vuelta, y que en su historia queda como “el naufragio más horrible del mundo”, pero también como el impulso para involucrarse a fondo con la comunidad hispana de las Carolinas, que en ese entonces empezó a ser víctima del racismo que se estaba desarrollando en el país.

Tras el desastre sentimental, “por primera vez no salí corriendo”, recuerda. Ante similares experiencias en Los Ángeles y Nueva York, ciudades donde también fue reportero de noticias, decidió huir del despecho. “En esta ocasión, me quedé porque encontré a la comunidad hispana muy débil, muy vulnerable”, afirma.

Fungía como corresponsal de la agencia de noticias EFE en Carolina del Norte y Carolina del Sur, y cubría para el resto del mundo incidentes de xenofobia provocados por los ataques del 9-11. “La gente comenzó a ver mal a los extranjeros, y las victimas lógicas eran los hispanos” recuerda.

Comenzó a desarrollar importantes vínculos con las principales organizaciones latinas del estado, y con ello a evidenciar en los medios escritos los abusos e injusticias que sufrían los trabajadores inmigrantes. La reticencia por trabajar en los medios locales en español, “porque no cumplían con mis estándares”, se deslió, y asumió el papel de director editorial del semanario ‘Mi Gente’, función que le permitió, además de comunicar los sucesos, abogar por los derechos de la comunidad inmigrante.

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“Era un deber estar luchando por gente que no tenía ninguna protección”, asevera al darse la implementación del 287g, el programa de colaboración del alguacil local con ICE (Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas), y que hizo de Charlotte un centro de atención a nivel nacional.

Con el apoyo de la periodista Patricia Ortiz, semana a semana dio seguimiento a la maquinaria de deportaciones, “los números eran altísimos”, y en varias ocasiones encaró al entonces sheriff de Mecklenburg, Jim Pendergraph con datos reales sobre la efectividad de expulsar “criminales” del país.

“En la primera conferencia de prensa de Pendergraph, junto con la congresista Sue Myrick, sobre el 287g, se jactaron de haber deportado 1,000 bandidos. Nosotros dimos a conocer que de ellos sólo 31 eran realmente criminales, habían cometido ‘Aggravated Felonies’, el resto había sido detenido por infracciones de tráfico, o delitos menores”, rememora como un ejemplo de su lucha y compromiso con la comunidad indocumentada, y de la influencia que sembró en sus colegas de los medios en inglés.

“Mi Gente reclama una Reforma Migratoria integral que legalice a los indocumentados” se leía en cada portada de la publicación.

A diferencia de otros impresos en español, que principalmente presentaban cosas positivas, o bien reflejaban a una comunidad que hacía negocios, o bien llenaban con noticias internacionales, el periódico ‘Mi Gente’, bajo la dirección de Rafael Prieto, comenzó a tratar el fondo de los problemas de los latinos radicados en Estados Unidos, y a publicar las denuncias comunitarias.

Fortaleció en gran forma la cobertura de las noticias locales, sobre todo en los rubros de Inmigración y Policiales, sin descuidar los asuntos de salud y servicios públicos. En materia deportiva, en el “periódico que piensa en ti”, se publicaron por primera vez en español crónicas de los equipos Panthers de Carolina y el entonces Bobcats de Charlotte, y las carreras de NASCAR. Pero más importante aún hizo ver al público en general otras caras de la migración a los Estados Unidos.

“No era un periódico, era una causa” afirma con orgullo sobre los tiempos en los que descargaba su pasión en “La Bitácora’ semanal.

Su servicio a la comunidad fue reconocido, primeramente, con los primeros Premios José Martí a la Excelencia en Publicaciones que la Asociación Nacional de Publicaciones Hispanas (NAHP) otorgó a un periódico de Carolina del Norte, y en seguida, con el liderazgo que cultivó entre los reporteros hispanos de la región.

Sumando a su causa social, el periodista charloteano cofundó, en 2015, el Comité de Fiesta Patrias y Tradiciones de Charlotte, para celebrar las independencias de los países iberoamericanos, entre otros eventos, y con el objetivo de que los latinos radicados en las Carolinas tengan un sentido de recuerdo de identidad nacional, de su cultura y de sus raíces, y que esos sentimientos se transmitan a las nuevas generaciones.

Indudable figura de la historia de la comunidad latina de Charlotte, Rafael Prieto nos ha dejado memorias imborrables. Ha sido el cronista, pero también el protagonista. Su lucha sigue y su huella permanece entre todos los que hemos tenido la dicha que nos llame ‘mijo’ o ‘mijita’.

Rafael Prieto, Charloteano, Warrior of Journalism

Translated to English by Dalia Razo

With his pen and voice, Rafael Prieto has fought for Charlotte’s immigrant community for two decades now. Proud of his roots, he also spreads Latin-American culture among those of us who live in the city through hundreds of events and, of course, with the publication of numerous stories.

He arrived as a journalist for the first time in 1993, a time in which news was not really generated in the city, and Hispanics were “something strange.” Even more than strange, the informative service in which he worked, “Canal de Noticias NBC,” was transmitted from the Queen City to a wide swath of Latin America, without Charlotteans being able to watch it.

The “Mijito,” as many call him in reciprocity to his affectionate greeting, remembers Charlotte as a “very conservative” city where Spanish was not spoken and “all the world’s churches” were found. Attending one of the first editions of the Latin American Festival is also in his memory, “something very small on the properties of CPCC,” along with the first Spanish publication El Boletín de la Coalición, and the first Spanish radio transmission.

His second adventure in Charlotte began in 2001 after working for years in Miami as a journalist for important mediums and platforms such as Telemundo, Univision.com and Televisa.

A sentimental relationship brought him back and ended up being “the world’s most horrible shipwreck,” as he calls it, but also inspired the impulse to become thoroughly involved in the Carolinas’ Hispanic community, which back then began to fall victim to racism bubbling to the surface around the nation.

Following that sentimental disaster, “for the first time I did not run,” he remembers. Upon similar experiences in Los Angeles and New York, cities in which he was also a news reporter, he decided to run from spite.

“This time I stayed because I found the Hispanic community very weak, very vulnerable,” he affirms.

He served as correspondent for the news agency EFE in North and South Carolina, and covered xenophobic incidents caused by the 9-11 attacks for the rest of the world.

“People began to see foreigners badly, and the logical victims were Hispanics,” he remembers.

He began to develop important ties with the main Latin-American organizations in the state and, through those connections, evince in written media the abuses and injustices that immigrant workers suffered.

His reticence to work in the Spanish local media, “because they did not abide by my standards,” unraveled itself and he took on the role of editorial director of the weekly publication Mi Gente, a function that allowed him to both communicate events and advocate for the rights of the immigrant community.

“It was a duty to be fighting for people who had no protection,” he asserts upon the implementation of 287g, the collaboration program between the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which put Charlotte in a spotlight at a national level.

With the support of journalist Patricia Ortiz, week after week he followed up on the machinery of deportations — “the numbers were extremely high” — and several times confronted then Sheriff Jim Pendergraph with real facts on the effectiveness of expelling “criminals” from the country.

“In Pendergraph’s first press conference, along with congresswoman Sue Myrick, on 287g, they boasted about having deported 1,000 bandits,” he recalls. “We revealed that only 31 of them were truly criminals, they had committed aggravated felonies, the rest had been detained for traffic infractions or minor felonies.”

It was just one example of his fight and commitment to the undocumented community and on the influence he spread to his colleagues in the English-speaking media.

“Mi Gente demands an integral immigration reform to legalize the undocumented,” the cover of the publication read.

Compared to other printouts in Spanish, which mainly displayed positive things, reflected the business community, or were filled with international news, the newspaper Mi Gente, under the direction of Rafael Prieto, began to address the depths of issues that Latin Americans residing in the United States faced. The paper published the community’s true complaints.

Prieto significantly strengthened the coverage of local news, especially in the areas of immigration and police reports, without neglecting the areas of health and public services. In sports matters, in the “newspaper that thinks of you” (Mi Gente’s slogan), chronicles in Spanish were published for the first time on the Carolina Panthers, the Charlotte Bobcats (now Charlotte Hornets), and NASCAR races.

But even more importantly, Prieto made the general public see other faces of the United States immigration.

“It was not a newspaper, it was a cause,” he affirms proudly of the times in which he unloaded his passion in the weekly La Bitácora column.

His community service was recognized initially with José Martí award for Excellence in Publications from the National Association of Hispanic Publications (NAHP), the first such recognition for a North Carolina newspaper. He also served as a leader among Hispanic reporters of the region.

Adding to his social cause, the Charloteano journalist co-founded in 2015 the Committee of Patriotic Festivities and Traditions of Charlotte, to celebrate the independence of Ibero-American countries. He also held other events with the objective of giving a sense of national identity to Latin Americans residing in the Carolinas, to remember their culture and roots, and for those sentiments to be transmitted to newer generations.

Undoubtedly a figure of the history of Charlotte’s Latin American community, Rafael Prieto has left us unforgettable memories. He has been the chronicler, but also the protagonist. His fight continues and his mark remains among all of us who have had the good fortune of having him call us “mijo” or “mijita.”

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