It’s not often that a teenager decides to start a journal.
But after eight weeks of chronicling Latino life in Big Sky as an intern student at a local newspaper, Samantha Suazo was hooked.
“I’ve written about the fears, needs, and everyday life of the Latino community,” Suazo said. “And after I finished, I realized that I couldn’t stop there.”
She dug up stories about Latinos for the Lone Peak Lookout that hadn’t been reported – a common challenge she found was the lack of reliable information for Spanish speakers. Bilingual herself, Suazo wanted that to change.
“My Latino community feels we weren’t part of the larger community due to lack of information,” she said. “I saw the problem.”
Suazo, 19, founded Noticias Montaña, or Mountain News, in 2020. It is Montana’s only Spanish-language publication and the online publication covers local and regional news from Gallatin County.
She writes general news, local affairs and features. She profiles successful members of the Latino community and posts news about events around Big Sky.
It always aims to publish reliable, useful and timely information for Spanish speakers, who otherwise do not always have access to local news.
“I knew Montana was actually one of the only states that didn’t have Spanish media in the country. Which shocked me,” Suazo said. “A lot of people come here to settle and we have to do something about that.”
While Gallatin County has a predominantly white population, the Latino and Hispanic population has grown steadily. According to the 2020 U.S. Census, the county’s Latino population grew by 138% from 2010 to 2020 and now represents approximately 5% of the county’s population.
Gallatin County has the fastest growing Hispanic and Latino population in Montana, with Missoula County coming second.
Yet resources are still scarce for Spanish speakers, Suazo said. Often, she sees Latinos getting local information on social media and Facebook, and worries that it’s not always factual or reliable.
The language barrier makes the simple things more difficult and can prevent people from feeling well-informed, connected and valued.
Suazo knows firsthand how difficult it is to be the only one in the room who doesn’t speak the language.
When Suazo first arrived at Big Sky, she was the only Spanish speaker in her class.
Originally from Honduras, Suazo immigrated to the United States with his mother when he was 12 years old. A few months after arriving in the United States, Suazo and her parents moved to Big Sky.
There was a language barrier, culture shock and cold weather – all things that required Suazo to adapt.
“I learned to love it, I learned to settle down and build a life from scratch and create an environment that I will thrive in,” she said.
She wants to make the transition to Montana easier for other Latinos. She also happens to love what she does.
“It’s so much fun to get out into the world and listen to people and empathize with them,” she said. “Listening to their perspective and testimony, and then telling their story, giving them a voice and illuminating who they are is something I appreciate.”
As a founder, Suazo has had her share of signings – posting stories as often as she can.
But other teens and young adults also contributed last summer – through a paid internship funded by local nonprofit Women In Action.
Suazo doesn’t do it alone. In addition to having other interns and contributors, it has an editor, Barbara Rowley.
Rowley and Suazo met about two years ago, connected by a counselor from Suazo’s school who knew Rowley might be able to support Suazo.
Rowley, a Big Sky resident with a background in journalism, first edits Suazo’s stories in English. Then Suazo translates them into Spanish and publishes them.
Suazo and Rowley met about two years ago and clicked on their shared interest in journalism.
Rowley enjoys working with Suazo and sees a bright future for her, whatever career path she has chosen.
“I can say with everything, she can go places,” Rowley said. “She has this spark of intelligence and drive.”
Along with finishing her senior year in high school, she also started a Latino student association at her school.
“Samantha always says yes,” Rowley said. “Every time I bring something to his attention, every time someone asks him for help, it extends to people in his community who need help. Samantha always says yes and always finds the time.
Suazo is a senior at Lone Peak High School and isn’t entirely sure what her future holds.
The future of Noticias Montaña is also uncertain. If Suazo leaves the state for college, she will have to find someone to take over publishing. She is looking for more contributing writers and potentially a successor.
She wants to go to college—she didn’t choose a college—and plans to become 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 says, will always be a part of her.
“It’s definitely something I will keep close to me for years to come,” she said. “No matter what I do, I will bond with him, because honestly, it changed my life. It shaped me and made me mature even more.