November 04, 1996 12:00 PM

WHEN THE TEJANA SINGER SELENA was murdered on March 31, 1995, few of us at the New York City offices of PEOPLE knew very much about her. But the outpouring of grief and anger in the Latino communities where she was already a superstar quickly commanded our attention. A week after the tragedy, we reported the story of Selena’s death, at 23, featuring it on our cover in seven states, including Texas and New Mexico. Those Selena editions of the magazine sold out almost overnight, as did two printings of a special Tribute issue that followed.

This powerful response led us beyond short-term publishing economics to realize a startling fact: Even though America’s Latino community is 27 million strong—and by 2010 is projected to constitute the largest minority in the U.S.—this country had no mass-market Spanish-language magazine that viewed pop culture at large from a Latino perspective. In May of 1996, we took our first step toward filling the gap by publishing La era de Diana. Now we present, on Oct. 28, the first edition of PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL, with four issues to follow in 1997.

In this new magazine we will combine news, human-interest and celebrity pieces conceived for the Latino market with stories and pictures that are also running in the English-language edition of PEOPLE. It’s a logical formula, but publishing the text of PEOPLE in a foreign language hasn’t been easy. “When you translate a story, to get the subtle nuances you really have to rewrite it,” says PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL assistant managing editor Jacob Young, a former PEOPLE Up Front editor who launched WHO WEEKLY, our Australian spinoff (and first international edition), in 1992. “It was difficult to keep the stories concise but still in our style—a language that is fun but lets the voice of the story’s subject shine through.”

With a staff of 10—including Cuban-Americans, Dominican-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans—Young put together this first issue in eight weeks. “The celebrities we interviewed seemed eager to be a part of this,” says associate editor Betty Cortina, who as a PEOPLE correspondent reported from Corpus Christi and Houston on the aftermath of Selena’s murder and later conducted an exclusive interview with Selena’s father. Cortina, who has joined the staff of ESPAÑOL in New York City, says the magazine’s premise helped pave the way for interviews with Jimmy Smits, Salma Hayek and others in its first cover story, “Las 10 estrellas latinas del momento” (“The 10 Hottest Latin Stars”). “These celebrities were happy to see a publication speaking to an audience they cherish,” Cortina says.

Not that the idea of PEOPLE EN ESPAÑOL hasn’t generated some controversy. We have already heard some concern that a Spanish-language magazine might discourage certain members of the Latino community from aculturating fully into American society. In fact, it is our hope and expectation that ESPAÑOL, with its vibrant mix of stories, will help inform Latinos about mainstream culture. ESPAÑOL, by the way is not the only place you will be seeing more Latino names and faces. PEOPLE lately has rededicated itself to making sure Latino newsmakers get the coverage they deserve on the basis of the vital and growing role they play in America.

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