The front room of an office in Canton serves simultaneously as a foyer, editing bay and broadcast studio, complete with a news anchor desk and dropcloth green screen. A hallway leading off the main room is plastered with awards and certificates.
This cramped but tidy space is the new home of Somos Baltimore Latino, an online news publication, and Mundo Latino, a monthly newspaper, that serve Spanish speakers in Baltimore and surrounding counties. They are operated by Pedro Palomino, a Peruvian journalist who has been connecting immigrants without legal permission to enter the country to Baltimore-area information and resources since 2009. Now, to serve a growing audience, Palomino is expanding his news operation.
In March, Palomino moved the business from his home basement to the new office on the corner of Hudson Street and Ellwood Avenue. This is the first office space of his own that isn’t shared with other businesses. He hired a second news reporter, Zayda Muñoz, a Nicaraguan journalist who came to Baltimore in December to join her family.
Palomino needed the help. Though he contracts with a number of freelancers, until this year he had been the only journalist to appear in video broadcasts. Muñoz now hosts a regular television segment three days a week.
Hiring Muñoz was a step toward realizing his dream of leading a buzzing newsroom staffed by Latino journalists, Palomino said.
“My dream is to give more Hispanic journalists work because when I came, I couldn’t find any jobs doing … what I love,” Palomino said in Spanish, with his daughter Maria helping to interpret.
Mundo Latino and Somos Baltimore Latino have experienced considerable audience growth over the years. While some sectors of the economy came to a near standstill during the early part of the pandemic, news organizations saw jumps in readers eager for the latest news about the virus. Palomino found himself busier than ever and continued to expand his reach. Somos Baltimore Latino has about 70,000 followers on Facebook.
The expansion reflects the growth of the region’s Latino population. Every county in Maryland saw an increase of Latino residents between 2010 and 2020, according to census figures, with Latino Marylanders now making up about 12% of the state’s total population. In Baltimore City, the Latino population increased by 77%, from about 4% of the city’s population to nearly 8%.
Mundo Latino is a newspaper, but it’s also a “hub,” said David Rosario, who works on the edge of Highlandtown and Canton as a State Farm insurance agent and serves as board president of the Latino Providers Network. Palomino often features local organizations and agencies on his shows, such as the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Centro SOL, Rosario said.
“Folks were literally afraid and didn’t have anywhere they could go for resources,” Rosario said. “Mundo Latino brought in people to let them know this is what you should be doing. Wear your masks. Now there are shots available. Here’s where they’re being offered. Whenever there is a situation that is affecting the Latino community, [Palomino] has always let folks know what needs to be done.”
Rafael Lorente, associate dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said ethnic news media plays an important role in the lives of immigrants by providing information, serving as cultural translators and advocating for their communities.
“They give people a place that speaks to them about them,” Lorente said. “Immigrant communities may have different needs or different questions. They may not know how to navigate the school system or navigate registering to vote. They fill that information we all need.”
Starting in the 1800s, Baltimore was home to an array of ethnic news organizations — Der Baltimore Wecker (German), Czas Baltimorski (Polish), Il Risorgimento Italiano nel Maryland (Italian) and Telegraf (Czech), to name a few. They reflect immigration trends that have helped shaped the identity and culture of the area.
Nowadays, in Maryland and in the Washington, D.C., area, there are at least 50 newspapers, television and radio stations that specifically serve immigrant communities or ethnic minorities. They publish and broadcast in languages from around the world, including Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Urdu. Mundo Latino is just one of the Spanish-language newspapers that serve the region. Others include Latin Opinion in Baltimore, Prensa Libre de Maryland and El Ojo Latino, according to Rosario.
Mundo Latino’s August issue is chock-full of colorful advertisements, Palomino’s main source of revenue, and features information about Maryland’s primary election, the opening of a new grocery store and a policy change that affects asylum seekers. All stories are published in Spanish and some are translated into English.
Palomino delivers his news in a variety of mediums to reach as many people as possible, he said. He knows there are some Latino immigrants who don’t know how to read, but says they can watch his videos, which he regularly posts on Somos Baltimore Latino’s Facebook page.
Delivering the news is a family business. Palomino reports and serves as the main face of the operation. His 32-year-old daughter, Maria, handles sales and administrative responsibilities. His son, 38-year-old Pedro Palomino Jr., is producer and creative director and does “a little bit of everything,” he said with a laugh. He said he entered the news business after watching his dad work.
Before Palomino came to the United States in 2001, he was a sports journalist for 22 years in Peru, covering cycling, golf and sailboat racing. After arriving in Baltimore in 2001, he applied for positions with Hispanic publications in the area, but had trouble finding a job. For years, he worked in construction, cleaning offices and operating forklifts. But he said he wanted to return to the field he knew and loved.
In 2009, he created Somos Baltimore Latino, an online news site that he later expanded to a Facebook page of the same name. By 2013, he had quit his warehouse job and begun working full time on his news operations and purchased the newspaper Mundo Latino.
“As soon as I started all this, my main concern was to always try to help people when they first come here,” Palomino said. “To let them know where to go, what not to do. Because it’s not the same as [their home] countries … I do it because I didn’t have that information when I first came here.”
Much has changed in the two decades since Palomino first arrived in Baltimore. There are now many more new immigrants. The newcomers today want to get an education, while in the past they may have been more focused on finding work, he said. While Palomino’s target audience was originally immigrants without legal permission to enter the country, Spanish-speaking residents from all backgrounds read his paper now, he said.
After each new print edition of Mundo Latino, Pedro personally delivers every copy of the paper to stores across Central Maryland. He drives a circuitous route through Baltimore and Annapolis and to Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties at least once a month when new issues are hot off the press. Oftentimes he retraces his path to deliver refills when stacks of the paper run low. The free paper’s monthly print circulation is 10,000 and the electronic edition has about 30,000 online readers, according to Palomino.
People have told Palomino he should hire others to do the menial task of delivering papers. But the journalist said he couldn’t bear to see copies of his paper tossed unceremoniously on the doorsteps of businesses.
“I treat it like my baby,” Palomino said. “I do it with love.”
- Baltimore County’s first cricket field: A sign of immigrants’ growing influence and fertile ground for friendship
- Traffic and lines turned Howard County Asian food festival into a ‘disaster’
- New Latino cultural center opening in Highlandtown
- In Southeast Baltimore, Latino families face barriers in child care