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El Planeta, one of the few Spanish-language newspapers remaining in New England, is celebrating 20 years of work.

Deputy publisher Rafael Ulloa remembers El Planeta’s resource-deprived early days in 2004. He would join his fellow founders — Javier Marin, Jerry Villacrés, Julio Nuñez and Luis Lugo — in delivering papers at 4 a.m. And to get the word out, the founders took turns donning the costume for their mascot, Luisin, at public events.

2003 Oficina de EP en Coolidge Corner Rafael en escritorio.JPG
Journalists setting up El Planeta's office in 2003.
Courtesy of El Planeta

At the time, the Hispanic population in Massachusetts was over 420,000, according to the 2000 census. Many were Puerto Rican or Dominican, Ulloa said. The population grew to over 880,000 by 2020. And since then, even more new arrivals have come from Central and South American countries as part of the growing humanitarian migration north.

“People coming from Honduras, from Salvador, from Guatemala, they started to grow. Also during that time, the Colombians also started to grow — now the community is really diverse,” said Ulloa. “We have people from Venezuela, Colombia, Central America, Mexico and other countries that are part of the Latino community in Massachusetts, especially in Boston.”

“We have aligned priorities: to elevate Latino stories and to amplify the good work that’s being done by Latino leaders across sectors,” said Eneida Roman, Amplify Latinx President and CEO. She said El Planeta covered their inaugural conference in 2017, and their organization many times since.

El Planeta clawed through the recession of 2008 and has gone through its “proving itself” phase, said Ulloa. The paper began with only 5,000 copies in circulation. Now, the news organization has grown to 18,000-30,000 copies monthly, and serves 600,000 Spanish-speaking readers in Massachusetts through its digital platforms and printed publication. There’s even a WhatsApp group for people interested in getting the most important stories of the day through direct messages.

Over the past 20 years — as the Latino population has grown and as El Planeta’s audience has, too — Ulloa has noticed some changes.

He said for years, government organizations and others did not consider El Planeta to be a valid voice at the table. He remembers reporters being asked: “If we invite you to a press conference in English, do you speak English? Do you understand?”

That’s shifted, but there are still challenges.

“You would think, like, everyone knows how important is to include the Latino community, but it still is something that we need to do more education and more work to convey that message,” he said.

A reporter for El Planeta out on an assignment at a small business.
Courtesy of El Planeta

The organization has partnered with primarily English-speaking outlets like the former DigBoston, Boston Business Journal, WBUR and GBH News to publish English content in Spanish. El Planeta has a staff of 15 people, although it shares a creative team with El Tiempo Latino in Washington, D.C., and some of its reporters and editors provide stories for both.

Ulloa says wide-ranging coverage — from immigration and live music to the MBTA and the pandemic — is important, especially for newcomers to Massachusetts.

“El Planeta really was instrumental to help them navigate the dos and don’ts, and what to expect, what to do, where to go, where not to go during COVID,” he said. He said Facebook Lives were popular to address “constant” messages from the community, and they would have on experts from area hospitals.

It’s not just about reporting news events though. Ulloa said El Planeta goes beyond that to hear the communities’ struggles, help them navigate existing systems, and highlight their accomplishments.

El Planeta also covers Latino businesses opening statewide to show readers what it’s like to open a business, and for entrepreneurs to give advice to other people who might want to open their own.

“The way El Planeta works with the community is very direct,” said Diana Cardona, co-founder of the organization Las Parceritas. It’s a self-dubbed “community outreach organization,” which promotes entrepreneurs, artists and nonprofits.

“We also produce our own private events like health fairs and farmer’s markets for the community,” Cardona said, “and they’ve been a number one supporter for our events.”

Updated: May 17, 2024
This article was updated to note Dominican and Puerto Rican people made up a large portion of the state's early Latino community, and to include Boston Business Journal as one of El Planeta's English-language partners.