Economic self-sufficiency and increasing services for the Spanish-speaking community in the Yakima Valley are goals that guide the steps of Gilberto Alaniz, director of the Northwest Community Education Center.
And these are not new plans, he says. Since taking office shortly after Sea Mar acquired the center and bought the license of Radio Cadena in Granger, its purpose was to move forward with a project in which his company believed and bet on when acquiring in it 2011.
Sea Mar is a nonprofit organization aimed at health services, education and housing in the Seattle area.
After four years as director, Alaniz contemplates what they have reaped. Three years ago, the building’s terrace was built, a multipurpose space that serves to carry out community festivities such as the celebrations for Cinco de Mayo, Sept. 16 (Mexican Independence Day) or the farmers market that began this fall, he explains while looking at the building from the entrance window.
On one side is the parking lot, built at the same time as the terrace, which facilitates the arrival and departure of visitors as well as employees of the agencies that rent spaces in the center to provide services to the community.
While walking through the modern facilities, Alaniz explains that the center houses organizations and companies that offer various services of advocacy, education, human rights and employment, among other services. The offices are occupied at maximum capacity.
“The building has allowed channeling services in the Lower Valley,” he says. The task to reach this point has not been easy, he adds, recalling the day he took office.
The building is also a point where you can hold conferences, workshops and even family parties in the community room.
This center in Granger is known for being the home of Radio Cadena, the only public and educational radio station in Spanish that transmits 24 hours a day in the state of Washington and exclusive in its kind in the Yakima Valley.
In fact, several people refer to the facilities as “Radio Cadena” because this place — the former building was demolished a few years ago — gave birth to that radio station with the slogan “The voice of the farmworker” on Dec. 19, 1979.
After nearly 38 years of existence, Radio Cadena has undergone several changes that today place it as one of the most listened-to radio stations in the Yakima Valley. The station reaches listeners across southeast Washington and northern Oregon and via internet, according to documents from the radio station.
As a public station, KDNA 91.9 FM has a membership of 300 people and is supported through the financing of Sea Mar and by donations from members, agencies and corporations during their fundraising that takes place each May, Alaniz says.
“Radio Cadena is for the community, and if they are members of Radio Cadena, they are families of the station,” he says.
Throughout the years, the radio station located in the rural area of the county has transmitted to several generations. In its beginnings, it focused on migrant farmers from Texas and the first settlements of Mexicans in the Yakima Valley, recalls Ricardo García, one of the four founders — Julio Guerrero, Rosa Ramón and Daniel Robleski were the others — and a former director of the station.
In a time of social changes in favor of the agricultural worker, the station served to “communicate with the farmworker, open the doors of the radio so that the voice of the farmworker could be heard,” García says. With the start of a public broadcaster in Spanish, a new stage in the life of farmworkers in the Yakima Valley began.
That first December broadcast was at noon on the dot “with the voice of Julio César Guerrero,” Garcia says, and it started a movement for the benefit of the farmworker who spoke Spanish as a first language and who needed to be trained and get answers to basic needs.
Ezequiel Ramírez was there that day and shares that memory of being on air in that same broadcast. Since then and until now, he broadcasts a children’s program impersonating the “old man,” as well as sharing employment opportunities.
Ramírez is the one who opens the building every morning, and his is the first voice that listeners hear.
From those first minutes of news transmission, sporadic radio music programs and one specifically for the children’s audience, today Radio Cadena is recognized in the Valley for its contribution to the Latino community. According to its statistics, 75 percent of its listeners speak only Spanish.
Looking to the future
With the Latino population expected to increase in the coming decades throughout the country, Radio Cadena and NCEC have, on the one hand, an opportunity to continue to blossom, and on the other, challenges to face.
The growth options will be aimed at expanding the building to provide more services to the community, predicts Alaniz. The needs of the population they serve now require more “pesticide research, scholarships for adult education, English as a second language classes and to learn how businesses are managed in the United States,” the director says.
The “commitment,” explains Alaniz, is
“to get the center and the radio to be self-
sufficient, with funds to continue educating the community and for the public to recognize the agencies (sponsors).”
This task was never simple, nor will it be.
“We are in a rural area. Whatever we achieve, we are blessed. It takes time to develop good relations, good communications to work in the middle of a rural area,” he stresses.
Celebrating 38 years, Radio Cadena stands by — broadcasting educational programs, music, entertainment, timely warnings, employment, news and interviews. Their managers don’t foresee any changes to programming.
•Gloria Ibáñez is editor of El Sol de Yakima, the Yakima Herald-Republic’s weekly Spanish-language publication. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.