El Paracaidista: Easing the arrival of thousands of migrants
El Paracaidista: Easing the arrival of thousands of migrants
No other image could better reflect the quest to not crash in the attempt to migrate successfully. And with the certainty it gives, information becomes that parachute that one should not forget at the moment of jumping into the void.
This time, PanamericanWorld invites you to go through the ups and downs of a small communication business, El Paracaidista (The Parachutist) and its story, its reasons and the lessons its Chief Editor and owner, Ira Guevara, has left.
A Yogi-Communicator or vice versa
A fast speaker with careful diction, Ira Guevara’s Venezuelan nature is immediately evident . With curled hair and thin, she transmits a relaxation that is as a big a part of her life, as it is in her communication. Nowadays, she is the yoga instructor with the newspaper; until recently she was the entrepreneur, editor, PR, and advertiser of her print and digital newspaper, and the little free time she had was for yoga.
The priorities in life, and the right times for investment, mark the changes, she tells us with her gift of storytelling. Graduated from Universidad Central de Venezuela as a journalist, Ira sensed the opportunities were limited, and that was in 1994, when Venezuela still conserved the winds of greatness from the heyday of oil.
“During my whole career I noticed that the situation was becoming more difficult; the problem was mostly in the safety. I decided to go, I didn't know where, I looked towards Europe and USA, and at that moment my partner was more leaned towards coming here thanks to a good prior experience.”
As a migrant her story is shared with all the others, “... having a good future, to be able to develop as a professional, to be able to provide my talents and be rewarded in equal form.”
20 years ago, when Ira arrived in the country, things were a lot easier, “... with a week's wage you could pay the rent, and you had the other three weeks for the other expenses. One could buy a car and happily live the American dream, which is not more than a place to live, eating well and moving in peace. Developing yourself and having the opportunity of opening your own business if you want. This is the country of opportunities, where in 24 hours you can open a corporation. Then, the issue of documentation and citizenship was simpler, there was a lack of qualified physical labor, the Latin market was growing, there was an increasing need for Spanish services.”
A guide for the newcomer used even by the established migrants
El Paracaidista emerged, says Ira, from her own experiences, and her want to serve others. “The basic, what we all ask. Where are we going to live? What car should I buy and from who? How are the laws of this country? How to fix the migration status? Where are my kids going to study? What doctor is going to see me? All the doubts we have as we arrive, and even after a while of being established in USA.
“The year ‘99 was when the idea of El Paracaidista emerged. From ‘94 to ‘99, there was a big migratory wave. Between ‘94 and ‘95 was the time of the crisis of the rafters and we saw many Cubans coming to the Florida coasts. And ‘96 was the beginning of the migration of the Venezuelans that came in a plane, called “balseros del aire” (flying rafters), I found then that many of them were being remitted and needed help. How do I do that? That was the question. We made copies of the little license book, we told them about the Social Security, we guided them, having to repeat the same information to everyone.”
The need of information for migrants was evident, from there came the entrepreneurship, recalls Ira, how everything started: “God, we need something to orient people, one of the first slogans of El Paracaidista was: 'Don't leave your friends in the dark, if you don't have time to help them, send them to El Paracaidista.' I knew an Argentine journalist, Cynthia Zak, and both of us were trying to find something to do, after trying radio, we had the project of a mass magazine, it was a big project, and we prepared ourselves in everything related to small businesses, courses, meetings, how to get a loan. And finally we were told no, because opening a restaurant or a magazine are the riskiest ventures in USA. So we dropped the idea of this beautiful magazine, attractive, of profound content, but too costly, and we realized that we should start something that we could finance ourselves.”
An idea arrives
“We started to work on the project, there was a pilot in the year 1999 which came from a normal printer, designed by us, something very homemade, but the response was amazing. We made 500 copies and distributed them through Little Habana, Hialeah, Miami Beach, Doral, Kendal, Lincoln Road, and we offered a free subscription, starting out with 500 subscriptions in the first month. We didn't have enough time to answer the first calls because each still maintained our full time jobs. There is where we realized that this could be done, and we decided to plan it out more carefully and save money for the launch.” And that is what they did, they saved money, a safety net, that allowed them to commit to this adventure 100%.
The launch of El Paracaidista was finally realized in 2001, in print and a month later the online version was opened. It was not improvised anymore, Ira and Cynthia were organized, had the help of a designer, and a planed to distribute 5000 copies, which shortly turned into 20,000. A lot of savings, a lot from credit cards, faith and hard work.
“It was the right time with the right idea, El Paracaidista had a clear niche, it was just a matter of getting there. We put ourselves in the shoes of the newcomers, what they need, how they begin, we captured some common errors, from there we organized the content.”
Good journalistic principles that included simple language, with many technical and bureaucratic issues, many of them tedious. And something that is widely recognized, "We have a conversational style but are very strict with the information, we have a very careful contact with sources " confirmed the editor.
The printed version helped them to reach the local public, but with the online edition they went further, “We had two types of reader because we started to reach Latin American audiences in a very strong way. Online readership in other counties such as Palm Beach, Broward, and Orange then development. And northern cities like New York, California, Texas.”
The initial curve of business was positive and by the third year was covering its expenses, and generating enough money to maintain a small team. "Customers, and advertisers are the hardest part to get, it is definitely the hardest part to undertake in this business, with a lot of effort, by 2004 we got some large customers", but even as a little communication project, led by women, which fits into various models that deserve state assistance, they refused to the idea of becoming a nonprofit organization, because they wanted to remain independent.
"What happened was that we had very good accounts with the local education sector, they were interested in reaching the Hispanic community, and participated together in seminars for newcomer parents, who then received a copy of El Paracaidista.”
It was hard work, after a long time of being editors, journalists, and vendors, Cynthia, the other partner, made an expected decision, she chose to pay more attention to the family. Ira, supported by her husband, a loving and very compressive Texan, decided to go ahead.
Ira was no stranger to the recession. December 2008: "We started getting calls from advertisers, even those who bought ahead for the entire year were canceling. 2009 and 2010 were very difficult years, in 2011 we became a 10 year old company. " It is a great achievement for a business like theirs to stay running uninterrupted for this whole time, with their editorial principles intact.
The economy improved this year and next, but still no change. "Too much work to recover what was lost, retake customers, large accounts and I realized that my energies were also changing. We closed the print edition, because of that and because, in any case, it was the global trend."
This new phase includes many things, Ira assures us that the work paid off, at this time they are doing a re-engineering towards the digital on expert hands. The newcomer's guide with over 10 years of research has its own life, people are still looking for information that is unique and extremely useful, there are no better search optimization techniques, Google rewards you, and that is why when searching any information of this kind, El Paracaidista jumps at the top of your search results.
Ira, meanwhile, has taken it calmly, with more Yoga and helping others, but does not leave the company that has made her happy. "El Paracaidista is a model replicable anywhere in the world where there are migrants," said Ira, not to close this interview, but to open a thousand opportunities.
Translated by Sebastian Llavaneras