In 1811, practical printers Smith and Hezekiah Salisbury, also known as the Salisbury brothers traveled westward from Canandaigua and landed in the Village of Buffalo.
At the time, Buffalo was a small settlement with a population of 500 and growing. In October of that year, the brothers were responsible for printing the first issue of the Buffalo Gazette: the city’s first newspaper.
It wouldn’t be long before more people started to migrate to Buffalo bringing with them their printing knowledge and their language.
George Zahm, a printer from Zweibrücken, Germany started the first German language newspaper in Buffalo in 1837. In the inaugural issue on December 2 of that year, Zahm made this announcement to justify the creation of his paper, a sentiment that would resonate in the foundation of every foreign language newspaper that followed.
“The number of German people in Buffalo has increased significantly in the past four or five years. The commercial and political situation of this city is of such great importance to the Germans living here that people have felt the urgent need for a newspaper in the German language for a long time. Its goal is to inform the German people of this country’s politics and to communicate the most important American and European events. Indeed, informing the reader is its prime motive, therefore it will join no particular political party; rather it will attempt to remain independent and non-partisan in order to sustain the fundamental principles necessary to the preservation of the Constitution. In important political issues the platforms of both political parties will be communicated in order to put the reader in the position to form his own opinion. The newspaper will provide a definitive voice against the persecution of immigrant Europeans and it will make these people aware of their rights guaranteed by constitution and law.”
Crushed by a Liberty Pole that was being raised in the Town of Cheektowaga, Zahm died in 1844 at the age of 45. His funeral procession was the largest to move through the streets of Buffalo up until that time.
Zahm’s wife took charge of the paper until 1853, when it merged with another German language paper, Der Buffalo Demokrat. At one point there were six German newspapers operating in Buffalo simultaneously; Der Demokrat, Freie Presse, Volksfreund, Täglicher Republikaner, Tägliche Tribüne and Volksblatt.
In a 1974 pamphlet published by the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, A. Gordon Bennett said anti-German sentiment following World War I in conjunction with immigrants speaking more English and less of their native tongue, led to the demise of the German Newspapers.
“Atrocity stories soon made all things German unpopular. The German-American Bank became Liberty Bank, and the German Language newspapers faded away.”
The first Polish paper came in 1885. Originally known as Ojczyna, Polak w Ameryce was published until 1920. The Italian language newspaper, Il Corriere Italiano, appeared shortly after in 1898 and was joined by the Socialist Italian language paper, La Fiacolla, in 1909.
Il Corriere Italiano continued to be published until 1950. In People of Our City and County, Stephen Gredel said “The Italians had an ear for music and sound that made it possible for them to learn English quickly.” This led to the end of the Italian language newspaper.
Local artist Lory Pollina poses another reason for the loss of language.
“We grew up in the Italian community, and my family, although both parents spoke Italian, never spoke it around us because they wanted us to seem American and fit in and all because there was great prejudice in the 40s and 50. If you were an Italian immigrant they’d treat you terribly. So it all white washed everything and now, I can’t speak Italian.”
Assimilation was the deathbed for most of the foreign language papers in Buffalo.
One of the last of the Polish language papers, Dziennik Dla Wsystkich, also known as Polish Everybody’s Daily, ended it’s 49 year run in 1957. This timing saw the foundation of the Am-Pol Eagle in 1960. A weekly newspaper for the Polish American community published primarily in English.
Despite the 1950s seeing the final editions of many of the German, Italian, and Polish papers, an influx of migrant farm workers brought a population of at least 1,500 Puerto Ricans to the area by 1953. As with those who came before, there was a need for news in their own language.
According to a 1956 article from The Union and Echo titled “Newspaper In Spanish,” June of 1955 saw the publication of La Tilma, a “four-page offset publication, in newspaper style, carrying news, articles on health, family life and on the Catholic faith.”
Today the City of Buffalo carries two spanish language newspapers, Utlima Hora founded in 1987 followed by Panorama Hispano News in 1992.
Since 1837 Buffalo has carried numerous publications in German, Polish, Italian, Spanish, and at least one newspaper in French.
Each sharing threads of the same story. Each coming to an end due to a loss of the language among succeeding generations. The push for assimilation often drives it forward, leaving people to carry on with a culture bereft of its language.
In 1917, the Civic Education Association printed, in it’s handbook for New Citizens, “One Hundred Facts that Every New Citizen of Buffalo Should Know.”
Number 25 reads:
“More than 75,000 foreign born persons in Buffalo have learned to speak and understand the language. It is possible to get a working knowledge of the Language of America in one winter’s study. The language of America can be learned easily by listening carefully whenever it is spoken, by watching the signs on stores, the posters, and street cars, and by purchasing every night an American newspaper. The person who asks the most questions learns the most.”
In a city that is brimming with lingual diversity, it is important for the English speaker to read closely by this as well. Listen to people speaking on the bus and in the streets. Pay attention to the Burmese script that hangs in shop windows and the Arabic contained in restaurant menus. Pick up a Spanish newspaper. The person who asks the most questions learns the most.