Ypsi's Spanish-language radio station is bridging cultural divides with a sense of fun

Alicia Duque says her Spanish-language radio station and multimedia company, Contacto Michigan (CM), grew from the vision of two "dreamy and restless women," and carried on when tragedy struck one of them.


Duque, who spoke with Concentrate via online messenger with assistance from Google Translate, refers to herself and friend Carla Valpeoz. When the two women met, Duque shared what she then considered a "crazy idea": a Spanish-language media project that could be a source of employment for them both, combining each woman's skill set.


"My idea of Contacto Michigan focused initially on making my friend's talents known by making videos and interviews about her while we got together to start subtitling jobs," Duque says. "In 2018 the tragedy presented itself in our lives and the course of CM changed."


The tragedy she refers to is Valpeoz's disappearance in 2018 while traveling in Cusco, Peru. Valpeoz has never been found, but Duque continues to run CM from 234 W. Michigan Ave. in downtown Ypsilanti in honor of the two women's dream.


"Although it was difficult, I made the decision to continue strengthening the mission of dignifying and empowering local businesses and talent, always and in honor of our most personal motivations and waiting for her return," Duque says.


Duque initially focused on offering services like graphic design, photography, video production, and video subtitling, which CM continues to offer. But as Duque talked with clients, the idea of starting a local internet radio station emerged, giving birth to Contacto Michigan Ypsilanti (CMY) Radio.


"Connecting a multicultural market with the Latin market is our goal, and connecting our multicultural audience with their families and friends is our daily desire," Duque says.


She says part of Contacto Michigan's mission is "to advertise and dignify the presence of small businesses and the audience on the radio" and to "identify local talent … and DJs as people who have something to contribute in the media." In return, the radio station is supported in part by small local businesses who advertise during livestreamed shows.


Contacto's signature show is the "El Pariente" show, livestreamed in Spanish from 9-11 a.m. Monday through Friday and hosted by Javier Aquino. Aquino is known for singing on air and interacting closely with his audience. The morning show has proven to be popular with the audience, attracting about 4,000 followers in the first year, Duque says.


El Pariente translates to "the relative" in English, but Aquino says its meaning is closer to calling a good friend "cousin" or "cuz," indicating that Aquino is a friendly presence in listeners' lives.


"When I first started talking to Alicia about the show, the goal was to make something to bring the people together, where we can all have fun, forget our problems, and figure out everything together," Aquino says.


To that end, Aquino is endlessly curious about his audience, made up of Spanish speakers all over north, central, and south America. If he knows there are audience members listening or watching CMY's in-studio video stream from Guatemala or Venezuela, he will ask them to suggest a song that is popular where they come from. Then he will rehearse it and sing it on a future show. Listeners often ask Aquino via Facebook Messenger to send greetings to relatives living far away.


"They will ask me to say hi to a friend in Mexico or Chile or Honduras," he says. "It brings everybody all together in the same spot for a couple hours."


Aquino says the show tries to avoid politics and religion, but it does touch on current events and civic engagement. He sometimes will help listeners with problems ranging from workplace discrimination to how to find a lawyer who speaks Spanish to resources for victims of domestic violence.


Aquino says CMY Radio combines many of his interests: music, singing, bringing people together, helping those in need – and cooking. He's worked as a chef at several local restaurants over the years, and he likes to ask audience members from other countries about the cuisine they enjoy. He duplicates those dishes during an occasional cooking segment on the morning show.


He sometimes also cooks with a group of three women who host a health and wellness show called "Cúrate en Salud" ("Heal in Health") during El Pariente once a week. One of the health show's hosts, Silvana Marcos, says the women are all from the Seventh Day Adventist community. She says they've been giving talks about health, especially healthy vegetarian cooking, for years at churches and other small gatherings. But CMY Radio is a way to reach an even larger audience and connect with the Hispanic community.


"Mostly people are focused on business or reaching their goals, and especially with immigrants, they are coming with a dream, with a purpose, and sometimes trying to get that you forget about (taking care of) yourself," she says.


The show focuses on educating Spanish speakers about diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart health, and how a healthy vegetarian diet can aid in treating those conditions. Each month has a theme, like eating for heart health in February.


For instance, on one February show, the hosts educated listeners about how good avocados are for the heart because they are high in good fats. The hosts showed that you can eat guacamole with vegetables or low-fat pita bread, or serve avocados sliced in a salad, instead of eating them with greasy, sodium-laden tortilla chips.


A recent development for CMY Radio is adding two English-language hosts: Alex Thomas, an Ypsi Township-based community activist who talks about local social and political issues; and Roy Finny, bringing a positive and motivating approach to human interest topics. Duque says the station's subtitling team is working on adding Spanish subtitles to the two English-language shows.


Duque calls Thomas and Finny "local talents who have much to contribute in these beginnings of this beautiful CMY project where knowing the differences between our cultures and languages.. is key."


Listeners may call in to the live morning show at (734) 353-4287. Other ways to keep up with CMY Radio include streaming live shows or watching recorded videos of past shows via Facebook or via CMY Radio phone apps.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos by Doug Coombe.