By JULIANA SUKUT, Bozeman Daily Chronicle
It’s not often a teenager decides to start a newspaper.
But after eight weeks chronicling the lives of Latinos in Big Sky as a student intern with a local newspaper, Samantha Suazo was hooked.
“I wrote about the fears, needs and everyday life of the Latino community,” Suazo told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “And after I finished that I realized I couldn’t stop there.”
She dug up stories affecting Latinos for the Lone Peak Lookout that hadn’t been reported on — a common challenge she found was a lack of reliable information for Spanish speakers. Bilingual herself, Suazo wanted that to change.
“My Latino community feel that we weren’t part of the broader community due to the lack of information,” she said. “I saw the issue.”
Suazo, 19, founded Noticias Montaña, or Mountain News, in 2020. It’s the only Spanish-language publication in Montana and the online publication covers local and regional news in Gallatin County.
She writes general news, local business and feature stories. She profiles successful Latino community members, and posts news about events around Big Sky.
She always aims to publish reliable, useful and timely information for Spanish speakers, who otherwise don’t always have access to local news.
“I knew that Montana was actually one of the only states who didn’t have Spanish media in the country. Which was shocking to me,” Suazo said. “A lot of people are coming here to establish ourselves and we need to do something about it.”
While Gallatin County has a predominately white population, the Latino and Hispanic population has been steadily growing. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the county’s Latino population grew by 138% from 2010 to 2020, and now accounts for about 5% of the county’s population.
Gallatin County has the fastest growing Hispanic and Latino population in Montana, with Missoula County coming in a close second.
Yet resources are still scant for Spanish-speakers, Suazo said. Often, she sees Latinos getting local information off social media and Facebook, and worries it’s not always factual or reliable.
The language barrier makes doing simple things more difficult and can keep people from feeling well informed, connected and valued.
Suazo knows firsthand how hard it is to be the only one in the room who doesn’t speak the language.
When Suazo first arrived in Big Sky, she was the only Spanish speaker in her class.
Originally from Honduras, Suazo immigrated to the U.S. with her mother at 12 years old. A few months after arriving in the U.S., Suazo and her parents moved to Big Sky.
There was a language barrier, culture shock and cold weather — all things that took adjusting for Suazo.
“I’ve learned to love it, I’ve learned to establish myself and build a life from zero and create an environment that I will thrive in,” she said.
She wants to make the transition to Montana for other Latinos easier. She also happens to love what she does.
“It’s so fun to go out into the world and listen to people and empathize with them,” she said “Listen to their perspective and testimony and then telling their story and giving them a voice and giving light to who they are is something I really appreciate.”
As the founder, Suazo has had her share of bylines — publishing stories as often as she can.
But other teens and young adults contributed last summer as well — as part of a paid internship funded by the local nonprofit Women In Action.
Suazo doesn’t do it totally alone. In addition to having other interns and contributors, she has an editor, Barbara Rowley.
Rowley and Suazo met about two years ago, connected by an adviser at Suazo’s school who knew Rowley might be able to support Suazo.
Rowley, a Big Sky resident with a background in journalism, edits Suazo’s stories first in English. Then Suazo translates them to Spanish and publishes them.
Suazo and Rowley met about two years ago and clicked over the shared interest in journalism.
Rowley enjoys working with Suazo and sees a bright future for her, regardless of her chosen career path.
“I can tell with everything, that she can go places,” Rowley said. “She has this sparkle of intelligence and drive.”
In addition to finishing her final year in high school, she also started a Latino Student Union at her school.
“Samantha always says yes,” Rowley said. “Whenever I bring anything to her attention, whenever anyone asks her for help — that extends to people in her community needing help. Samantha always says yes and always finds the time.”
Suazo is a senior at Lone Peak High School and isn’t totally sure what her future holds.
The future of Noticias Montaña is also uncertain. If Suazo goes out of state for college, she’ll have to find someone to take over the publication. She’s searching for more contributing writers and potentially a successor.
She wants to attend college — she hasn’t decided on a university — and has thought about becoming a lawyer.
“I want to make an impact in the world and go back to Honduras and help people there,” Suazo said.
But journalism, she said, will always be a part of her.
“It’s definitely something I will keep close to me in the years going forward,” she said. “Regardless of what I do I will have ties to it, because honestly it has changed my life. It’s shaped me and made me mature even more.”
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