In New York and other major American cities, newspapers and magazines that cater to immigrant communities are thriving, and are more numerous than ever. It's easy to understand their appeal. The ethnic press not only keeps America's growing foreign-born readership up-to-date on news from their native countries, it also educates them in what they need to know about life here as both immigrants and Americans.
The variety of skin tones and accents at an awards dinner for the Independent Press Association (IPA) makes it seem more like a party for United Nations staffers, than a celebration of the scores of ethnic and foreign language newspapers and magazines that inform America's immigrants.
Andrew White, one of the IPA's founders, says the group's ethnic media division has found a natural home in New York City, where over 40 percent of the population is foreign born.
"In New York, it's amazing. You've got a population that has grown by a million in the past 12 years, most of that from other parts of the world " he says. "You've got all these parallel perspectives in what's happening in New York City and US politics and the US government… And the more we can do to support and encourage and strengthen the coverage, the more likely it is that those voices will filter into the mainstream."
According to IPA's Anthony Avincula, the former editor of the Filipino Express, many articles in the ethnic press offer practical help to newcomers as they adjust to life in America. For example there are stories "to help them find… cheaper or reasonable housing, [and] to find people you can trust if you are looking for a car." Avincula says it's difficult for immigrants to find people they communicate with when conducting business. "Language is a barrier. People talk so fast!"
Reading a newspaper in their native language can be a challenge for some immigrants who were not literate in their home country. Wenji Dong wrote for the highly respected Hong Kong edition of Ming Pao, but found she needed to take a different approach to writing for many of the Mandarin-speaking immigrants who buy the newspaper's New York edition.
"Most of the readers for the Hong Kong edition are professors or students of universities, and most of them have come from the middle class of society," she says. "But here we have a lot of new immigrants. Some of them have lower-level education. Some of them don't even read Chinese! So we have to adjust to this."
The special challenges many immigrants face -- such as language barriers, questions about their legal status, and problems finding work -- can place a unique burden on the journalists who write for ethnic media to balance straight reporting with a kind of community advocacy.
Reporter Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska's award-winning series for the Polish Daily News is a case in point. It addressed the question of social security benefits for illegal immigrants, benefits which recent federal legislation had ended.
"For years, undocumented immigrants were able to work illegally," she explains, "but as long as they paid social security taxes, they were able to get retirement benefits later on when they went back to Poland. Now it's not possible."
Kern-Jedrychowska adds that she hoped her series would do more than simply inform Polish immigrants in America. She wanted the facts to help mobilize immigrants to take political action on their own behalf, a democratic right in America with which they may be unfamiliar.
"Maybe after Communism they don't feel they actually can have an impact on politics," she speculates, "so they are just staying within the community. They are working hard, but they don't feel like they can have any impact on the American reality. And we'd like to encourage them to start doing something, because who else can do it for them?"
Today, there are well over 1000 newspapers and magazines that cater exclusively to ethnic and foreign-born communities nationwide. With the rate of immigration to the United States at a record high and rising, the strength and diversity of the foreign language press can be expected to grow as well.