On Sunday nights, a group of women gather to talk politics, play lively Mexican music and reflect on being immigrants, gazing out over downtown Northfield through a pane of glass as they chat.
Far from a private conversation, the voices of Lucy Gonzales Miron, Marlene Rojas and Mar Valdecantos — along with several other occasional hosts — dance over the airwaves in Spanish on local station KYMN and into the homes of local residents.
The show, called “El Super Barrio Latino” or “The Super Latino Neighborhood,” isn’t purely entertainment. Its founders hope it will provide a sense of connectedness to Latino residents, informing and encouraging them to get involved in Northfield’s city government and schools.
“[We] need to have a voice in spaces like this to inform our community about what’s going on politically but also to have a presence,” said Rojas, who started the show six months ago.
Over an hour, the women take turns discussing U.S. politics, sharing news from Mexico and Latin America and happenings in Northfield. There’s also a sizable helping of “music that people know,” including cumbia and ranchera tunes from Veracruz, the home state of many Mexican immigrants, Rojas said.
The Latino community in Northfield numbers 3,000, or about 15 percent of the city’s population. Many are from Mexico, but others hail from Guatemala, Puerto Rico or Peru.
There’s been a Latino presence in the southern Minnesota college town for at least three decades, said Rojas, and the draw has usually been jobs.
But Latinos in Northfield are sometimes uncomfortable getting involved in community and civic affairs. They’re segregated geographically, with many residing in trailer parks north of downtown, and by language, Rojas said.
Another problem: They work long hours and don’t have much extra time, Valdecantos said.
Longtime Northfield resident Miron said she’s been shy about putting herself out there and wasn’t sure she’d be welcome in the wider community. But now she’s on the city’s human rights commission and loves doing the radio show, calling it a dream come true.
Rojas, too, is active in the community and had to shoehorn the radio show into an already-full schedule. A Mexico native, she’s a hairstylist and community organizer who’s currently busy encouraging local residents to get out and vote.
“We said, ‘Omigod, I don’t know if we can do this [show],’ ” said Rojas. “And we keep doing this.”
An underserved market
KYMN (AM 1080) had a long-running radio show in Spanish in the ’90s and 2000s, but over time it became too time-consuming for the hosts — all volunteers — to continue, station owner Jeff Johnson said.
The Latino population is a “sizable market,” and the community has been underserved, he said.
“I really appreciate what Marlene and her group have done,” Johnson said. “I think they understand that they can be the voice of their community.”
Valdecantos said radio is an ideal way to communicate because unlike a newspaper column, listeners don’t have to know English or write letters to participate — they can just listen.
“For the community to be able to just turn on the radio and listen to their music and to their stories, I think it’s just phenomenal,” said Valdecantos, an artist and teacher.
The hosts said they’ve heard positive reactions to the show and its Facebook page has hundreds of visitors, but it’s difficult to measure how many listeners there are.
Eventually, the hosts want guests to be able to call in and share their perspectives. They plan to conduct live interviews out in the community, too, but they’re still mastering the radio equipment.
Rojas said there’s talk of finding sponsors and doing the show more often.
Johnson’s open to giving the show more airtime, but said it depends on how much time the women can commit.
“This is a part-time thing they do out of love and certainly not for the money,” Johnson said.