Ernesto Fraga, publisher of Tiempo newspaper, found himself in his comfort zone June 29 in downtown Waco. Microphone in hand, he spoke passionately at the “Families Belong Together” rally, calling for action against the forced separation of children from their guardians at the southern border.
But that night, a heart attack hit, and the recovery process has forced Fraga to stop publishing.
A longtime activist, Chicago native and Army brat living in Texas during the ’70s, Ernesto Fraga, now 68, joined the push for civil rights. He supported Chicano Movement causes including the Brown Berets, which stood up for migrant farm workers, opposed the Vietnam war and spotlighted police brutality in Texas and elsewhere.
Some who have known Ernesto Fraga over the years say he mellowed but never lost his zeal. The newspaper he founded 36 years ago doted more on quinceañeras, Hispanic festivals and local achievers than controversy. But Ernesto Fraga never ducked an issue vital to Mexican-Americans, they said.
His wife, Linda Fraga, said her husband delivered a rousing speech to hundreds attending the “Families Belong Together” rally, “and there he was on the front page of the Tribune-Herald the next day, Sunday morning.”
“He came home very excited, buoyed by the enthusiasm,” she said.
Then his and Linda’s worlds took a turn for the worse that evening. Ernesto Fraga started suffering pains in his throat that became intense. A trip to a clinic on Valley Mills Drive revealed he was in the throes of a heart attack. An ambulance took him from the clinic to the emergency room at Providence Health Center, where his wife joined him.
“A stent was placed in his heart, and his cardiologist thought he would be out of the hospital in a day or two,” Linda Fraga said.
But the promising news became a nightmare, as complications that included several strokes had Ernesto Fraga teetering on the brink. He spent most of July receiving treatment, she said.
Rehab now includes walks inside Richland Mall, “from Sears to Penney’s,” Linda Fraga said. She has informed friends and well-wishers of her husband’s schedule, and some briefly interrupt his regimen to chat and inquire about his condition.
The grind and his uncertain future spelled the end of Tiempo, at least for the immediate future.
“The office has closed. July 25th was our last issue,” Linda Fraga said. “Ernesto was the paper. I worked with him, though I spent more time recently taking care of grandkids. I had no formal role. Whether we start up again, I don’t know. That depends on his recovery, but I can’t think about that right now. I’m just taking it day by day. Essentially we have no income and a lot of medical bills.”
Tiempo was published once a week, on Wednesday, with 10,000 copies printed in Hillsboro and distributed locally free of charge. It survived on advertising revenue, Linda Fraga said.
The demise of Tiempo leaves a void, in the community and in Ernesto Fraga.
“Working on community newspapers here and elsewhere in Texas was part of his activism,” Linda Fraga said. “He loves Waco, has always felt very close to the community. He was often sought out to publicize the achievements and contributions of Mexican-Americans in Central Texas. He often worked in partnership with the Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, promoting small businesses and activities supporting economic growth for Hispanics.”
The Latino community owes Ernesto Fraga and Tiempo a debt of gratitude, chamber President Alfred Solano said.
“We’ve grown accustomed to having Tiempo published, to having someone speak to the issues that are important to Hispanics, providing a voice for those really not heard,” Solano said. “I don’t know that there is another such outlet locally, something that picks up where the mainline media leaves off.”
Rudy Solano, Alfred’s 82-year-old father, called Fraga “the genuine article,” though they often clashed when discussing politics.
“I worked from 1971 to 1987 in the community relations division of the Waco Police Department,” Rudy Solano said. “We had an office at Kate Ross Homes, and Ernesto would be out peddling his papers. One guy, one of the police officers, would always say, ‘Here he comes,’ not really happy about it. He always had views too strong for some people. But you have to consider the context of the time, back in the 1970s. There were racial issues, civil rights issues. I admired his passion, and no one could say he didn’t fight the good fight. Closing the newspaper is a blow to all of us.”
Rudy Solano said he noticed a kinder, gentler Ernesto Fraga the last time they met.
“I said, ‘You’ve become a distinguished publisher now,’ only half-joking,” he said.
Felipe Reyna, a Republican, former McLennan County district attorney, former justice on the 10th Court of Appeals in Waco and father of current DA Abel Reyna, said he and Ernesto Fraga often met for breakfast, where they analyzed the political climate.
“He was very active in the Brown Berets, in the movement, but he wasn’t radical like some of the other bleeding-heart liberals,” Reyna said. “I respected his opinions, and he respected mine. When I would go to a restaurant in South Waco, I’d always pick up a copy of Tiempo and read it. He had a lot of articles in Spanish, which was a service to recent immigrants.”
Baylor University journalism professor Bob Darden said he was saddened to learn of Ernesto Fraga’s health problems and his closing of Tiempo.
“Small niche newspapers serve a valuable, maybe an invaluable role in any community,” Darden said. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, we had African-American newspapers, Hispanic newspapers, Czech-language newspapers, all crucial to the media mix, along with the Tribune-Herald and the TV stations. Each time one of these passes, for whatever reason, the community is poorer for it.”
He said Ernesto Fraga is an “extraordinary human being who has given so much to the community. This is a devastating blow for him, his family and Waco.”
Linda Crawford has published a black-centric newspaper, The Anchor News, for 16 years with distribution in Killeen, Harker Heights, Waco, Riesel and Marlin and a target audience of predominantly black churches, she said. Crawford said she was shocked to hear of Ernesto Fraga’s health issues.
“Ernesto encouraged me,” she said. “He was my go-to person in Waco. We didn’t talk often, but he was always available for encouragement. Tiempo, like The Anchor News, published things that wouldn’t otherwise get published, positive things, small things. I have often wondered if anyone really reads what we have to say, whether anyone sits and waits for the paper to come out. They do.”
McLennan County Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Duty said she considers Ernesto Fraga a friend. She has been following his recovery and marveled at his progress when he and Linda stopped by her family’s Poppa Rollo’s Pizza.
“He was smiling his great smile,” Duty said.