Fernando Zapari, publisher of El Mexicano News, had never heard of Fort Wayne when he met his wife, Trina.
He also never had any intentions of moving to the States.
Nineteen in 1978 when he came to Fort Wayne to reunite with Trina after meeting her in Los Angeles, Zapari grew up in Mazatlan, a port town in the Sinaloa state of Mexico. He was working on yachts.
Indiana? “I thought it was full of Indians,” Zapari said. When he arrived here, what he found was a town he called “kind of sad.”
“I was coming from a resort place. There was not much to do. There were not many Hispanics you could speak 'spaņol with. It was different.”
But Fort Wayne became his hometown and nearly 40 years later, he is a leader in the community, advocating for local Hispanic immigrants and others and a local businessman.
El Mexicano News, the Spanish-language newspaper he founded in 1994, is the voice for the Hispanic community, a publication he has expanded from a Mexican-centric monthly to reach all Spanish-speaking people.
His family, including four grown children and five grandchildren, has flourished and stayed here. His daughters are a banker and a nurse; his sons, a biomedical engineer and a musician with a degree in communication.
Zapari, who has remained on the city's south side where he first planted roots, has a story similar to those of the many immigrants and the other people he fights for.
His first job was a cook at Fortmeyer's restaurant.
“I told them I was a cook, but I really wasn't a cook,” Zapari recalled. But with patience from the owners and his own hard work, he got put in charge of making the doughnuts.
He left that job to be a janitor and then to work in a scrap yard, a hard job “shoveling scrap metal all day,” he said.
For 14 years he worked as a construction laborer as a union member.
He was working at Glenbrook Square one day when he fell off a scaffold and was badly injured. Off work for four months, when he went back to work, he was put back on the scaffold. He had to quit because it terrified him.
His wife had a good job working for General Motors in Ohio, so with her support, he decided to start his paper. His family, which included nine siblings, had always been a newspaper family.
When he was 6 or 7, he delivered newspapers in Mazatlan for the neighborhood store and his father, a railroad worker, used to write for the local newspaper.
His first edition was published with the help of Michael Patterson of Frost Illustrated News in Fort Wayne. Then Patterson told him he was on his own.
“Now you gotta swim, Fernando,” Zapari recalls him saying. Zapari was a one-man show who wrote the whole paper and typed it, too. At first, the only thing missing were the “acentos and the enyes.”
Zapari has been involved in other business ventures including a Mexican restaurant and music promotion.
He remembers bringing in Los Tigres del Norte, a band that Mayor Graham Richard honored with the keys to the city
“We did that for about 10 to 12 years until finally I didn't want to do it no more. It was too risky and too stressful and my health was going down,” he said. He didn't have enough time for family.
Besides his newspaper, Zapari works as an interpreter and in community activities. He started the annual summer Hispanic festival held at Headwaters Park and The Ark, a foundation dedicated to helping Spanish-speaking students and parents.
After the negative rhetoric during the 2016 presidential election, Zapari organized two meetings to bring the entire immigrant community together.
“There's a misconception that we come here and we steal people's jobs and that we're all criminals, undocumented, whatever they want to call it and that we live off the government. It's a huge misunderstanding. I wish people would start to realize the jobs that they (immigrants) do are pretty much what most people don't want to do. I don't know who's going to do that for us, so we have to be grateful for that,” Zapari said.
Zapari knows the wrenching stories his fellow immigrants have to tell, and he has great respect for police. A brother who recently died was the police chief in Tijuana, he said.
“He's someone who speaks to the community in their own language,” says JoAnne Alvarez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Coalition of Northeast Indiana and an administrator at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast.
“He's invaluable to the community.”