#LATISM: Digital Media's Pull For Latinos

Reports show that Latinos are plugged into social media, but does this mean they are turning from traditional media? Host Michel Martin speaks with Viviana Hurtado, founder of The Wise Latina Club, and entrepreneur Fernando Espuelas about how social media is helping to empower Latinos.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

According to a recent Pew Research poll, Latino Internet users frequent sites like Facebook and Twitter 10 percent more than the average Internet user in the U.S. We were talking about this in a special Google Plus hangout yesterday, and we'd like to invite you to join us today by using #NPRLatism on Twitter and Facebook. But I think one of the reasons that Latinos are over-indexed on social media is our next guest Viviana Hurtado. She's blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. She's also here with us in Washington, D.C. Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

VIVIANA HURTADO: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: One of our regular contributors. Why do you think that - just giving more detail from the Pew Research poll - 68 percent of Latino Internet users say they use Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites, while only 58 percent of the general population says they use these sites. Why do you think that is?

HURTADO: Well, I think it has a lot to do with representation. And we've seen that in the mainstream media - it's really not until the last maybe five years plus, give or take a little bit, that you've seen a really big push towards more representation of Latinos - including them in primetime television, including them more in the news. We also know that it is such a hot space, that everybody is rushing to reach these 50,000 Latinos that are turning 18 every year. We see the digital space has gotten a lot more crowded. Univision has merged with ABC in a new venture Fusion. Fox News Latino is out there in the digital space as is NBC Latino.

But before that happened, we weren't represented, and so we turned to the social space - places like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter - so that we can connect. And in that connection, we're speaking with each other. We're being listened to by each other. We're calling out each other and we're dreaming. We're dreaming big. That was just kind of - we were kind of like this invisible giant for many, many years until the technology and the digital space allowed that opening.

MARTIN: Yesterday, for our Google Plus hangout, we talked with Ana Roca-Castro. Her organization focuses on Latinos in tech and social media. Fernando, she had the theory that the technology just overlaps very nicely with culture. That Latinos have a very strong desire, no matter which country they're from, to remain connected and often because you have family who are separated.

FERNANDO ESPUELAS: Yeah.

MARTIN: That it just dovetails very nicely with kind of a very strong cultural impetus. Do you think that that's true?

ESPUELAS: Absolutely. One of the early experiences we had in the '90s with StarMedia was people told us that Colombians don't want to speak to Venezuelans, and Uruguayans to Chileans, and so forth and so on. And what in fact we found was that it was the direct opposite, that there was a tremendous interest of a Mexican who would never meet a Uruguayan or Chilean to connect through a chat engine or through whatever that would be. So yeah, I think culturally - look, we're all very different, you know, like every other culture. But at the same time, we share certain qualities and social media allows us to connect and share not just experiences, but really who we are in a way that is genuinely ourselves, without again, the filter of the representation of, you know, major media who may want to depict us in a certain way.

MARTIN: Well, some of the critique has come from within, Viviana. One of our Twitter followers, @cpm05, tweeted us and said she turns away from a lot of traditional media because quote, I got tired of novelas and most shows on Univision - too sexist, unoriginal and no stimulant for the brain. And I wonder if you think that that's - do you think that that's in part true? That people - it's not just the outside-in gaze, people aren't loving the inside-out gaze. Do you think that that's true?

HURTADO: I think it is. And, you know, it's really interesting because I think if we think about traditional media, certainly radio falls in that, but so does a television juggernaut like Univision. It is a little bit anachronistic. And so, yes, it is true that there is the novelas, for example, and that the 50,000 plus Latinos turning 18 every year aren't tuning into Univision. They're not tuning into Telemundo or NPR, maybe a little bit of ABC...

MARTIN: NPR. Yes, they are.

HURTADO: ...But maybe a mix. And they're increasingly finding a lot of their information on social sites. And so it is there that they are finding, that they're picking and choosing - it's almost like they're curating this library of information of culture, of politics. The danger with that, of course, is that we can get stuck in these social silos where we're just kind of talking amongst ourselves and navel-gazing and not part of a larger, broader conversation where the power's at.

MARTIN: Do you think that's happening now?

HURTADO: I do actually. And it's interesting because...

MARTIN: But that's true of all groups, isn't it? It's not only - or do you think it's that the size of the Latino market is such that it makes it easier for people to not really engage with anything outside of it? I mean...

HURTADO: The demographics are so mind blowing of the changes, the profound changes, that are happening in this country led by the Latino community Democratic shift, particularly young kids - U.S. born and English dominant.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you - speaking of language - this is one thing I wanted to ask each of you about. I wanted to talk about language preference. Both of you are bilingual. And both of you broadcast, or shall we say distribute content in both languages. Correct?

ESPUELAS: That's right.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, I know...

HURTADO: I'm predominantly in English. And I, you know, mix a little bit of Spanglish, but I do contribute to Univision, occasionally.

MARTIN: Yeah, I do.

HURTADO: I've been off and on the show...

MARTIN: Yeah.

HURTADO: ...And I speak in Spanish.

MARTIN: So I wanted to ask you, though, we've gotten a number of questions from listeners. Listener Alberto Morales Jr. (ph) offered this comment on our Google Plus hangout on Monday and he said, what language is the best way to communicate using social media? Should you have a social media tool and a website for your business in Spanish or is an English domain sufficient, given the fact that the population is predominately young and is English-dominant? What do you say?

ESPUELAS: Well, I think that if you just look at some of the Pew research, by the third generation, the percentage of people who are Spanish-dominant is literally down to 2 percent. So if you have a forward-looking business, it will be in English. The pattern of language adoption is the same pattern of every other other immigrant group, which means by the third generation, it's fully in English. So I think, you know, my children - and I'm, you know, I'm probably going to get fired for this - but have never seen Univision TV. And not because we don't let them but because they have no interest. It's not for them. They're watching mainstream television. Now they have a high degree of identity with being Latinos, but it's not language driven.

MARTIN: Are they fluent, though? Are they?

ESPUELAS: No, they're not. I mean, we tried. But I think it's one of those things most - you see this in a lot of families - lots of parents who want to teach their kids Spanish. They try. The kids understand Spanish but don't speak it back. And, you know, I saw that in Brooklyn when I was young in Polish neighborhoods where, you know, the people would be speaking in English and the grandma would be speaking in Polish, and they'd be nodding their heads.

MARTIN: Yeah, but the technology's different now. Grandma couldn't Skype back in the day. You know what I mean?

HURTADO: Well, and I think...

MARTIN: Right?

HURTADO: ...And I do think - Fernando is right. Just, organically, the patterns of assimilation mean that with every generation you're one degree removed from that culture and from that heritage...

MARTIN: But you aren't...

HURTADO: ...And from the language. But what's different about U.S.-Latinos...

MARTIN: Yeah.

HURTADO: ...Particularly from our generation on, is that there is a turn and you're seeing that particularly in the digital space with so many websites and blogs devoted to conserving the language and the culture and books in Spanish and bilingual tones. You're seeing this kind of desire to try to stay connected to that. But it's really a plus one. It is knowing and understanding that English is the language of power in this country. But it's also saying, but you know what, I'm plus one and I want to stay connected to that. And there's a lot of pride wrapped up in that and a lot of family and culture and connection.

MARTIN: Interesting, 'cause we tried to - we tried again to connect with Ana Roca-Castro, who was part of our Google Plus hangout yesterday, and she's very deeply involved in tech - and told us that when it's a matter of, you know, business, she tends to go to English, but when it's a matter of feelings and family, she tends to go to Spanish. And I wondered, is that true for you, as well?

ESPUELAS: Yeah. I mean, I think it's - for me, doing a bilingual show and just going back and forth between English and Spanish, depending on who I'm talking to - I get phone calls from young people who don't speak Spanish very well, so I switch to English. When I'm interviewing McCain or the president, obviously, I'm speaking in English. I think it's - either one is fine.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask one more quick question very, very briefly about marketing. How are advertisers doing it so far? Are they kind of hitting the mark or is it too much, too little?

HURTADO: Well, I - the thing about it is that brands would be absolutely delusional not to try to reach this audience. And I think one of the things that I'm going to challenge brands to do is not just to sell goods but to invest in this community...

MARTIN: OK.

HURTADO: ...Because there is nothing more powerful than aspiration and giving the people the tools to be powerful.

MARTIN: Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of the website The Wise Latina Club. Fernando Espuelas is the host of "The Fernando Espuelas Show" here in Washington, D.C. He was named by PODER Magazine as of the nation's 100 most influential Hispanics in 2012. Thank you both so much for joining us.

ESPUELAS: Thank you.

HURTADO: A ti, Michel. Gracias

MARTIN: And remember, you can keep the conversation going using #NPRLatism on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you all so much.

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