Building Community: Latinas Take Media Representation into Their Own Hands
Tickets for the upcoming We All Grow Latina Summit — a networking and empowerment conference that draws over 500 women from across the U.S. and beyond — sold out in a record-breaking three hours and six minutes. The annual gathering, geared toward Latina bloggers, content producers, and creative entrepreneurs provides a vibrant networking space for attendees to share their professional journeys and provide inspiration and support for aspiring Latinas in the digital space. The event also features prominent beauty and lifestyle bloggers, TV, radio and social media personalities and company founders that share a common message — high-paying, professional careers are attainable, despite historic underrepresentation of successful Latinas in mainstream TV, news and magazines.
“Once you see it done, you can see yourself reflected and you have a path,” says Ana Flores, founder, and CEO of We All Grow Latina Network, the organization behind the popular summit. With a motto like “When one grows, we all grow,” the network is providing the representation Latinas need to continue to pursue goals such as one-day producing award-winning content, becoming spokespeople for major brands, or even starting a business.
Although Latinos continue to be one of the fastest-growing demographics in the United States, a gap in ethnic representation in the media persists. By producing informational webinars and workshops to help social media influencers monetize their content, connecting bloggers to brands for paid partnership opportunities and hosting events for creatives to engage with one another, the organization provides the tools necessary for Latinas to feel empowered to achieve career success in the face of lingering marginalization.
“I couldn’t see myself represented,” says Flores. As a working single mother, she felt that the online content she came across did not speak to her particular interests, nor did it come from a source that felt familiar to her. She explains that while she followed several popular parenting blogs, they often fell short in featuring content on topics like raising bilingual children in the U.S. and cooking traditional Latin dishes — that’s when she saw a need and decided to jump in.
“I’ve had to carve my own path,” she adds, “(I realized) I can create it on my own and reach to that community that doesn’t have anybody talking to them right now.” She first launched the online network in 2010 after recognizing a need for Latin American online content by Latin American bloggers, content creators, and entrepreneurs. Her mission to uplift and empower the Latina community by providing tools, community, and representation has grown into a national conference and an online network of nearly 10,000 connected Latinas that now leverage their newfound relationships for opportunities for advancement within the digital sector.
Representation at its core definition means “the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way or as being of a certain nature.” When put into the context of career advancement and opportunity, seeing someone achieve a particular milestone may have a galvanizing impact on one’s confidence, but the absence thereof may magnify negative feelings of self-worth.
According to a study by the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, these effects can begin to form as early as the childhood years. “Media-based experiences contribute to users’ knowledge structures, including their person schemata (i.e., typical characteristics of people or groups of people) and their behavioral scripts (expectations of how people behave in particular situations),” say the researchers. This impact on how a child sees others, and in turn, how they see themselves has fueled Flores’ passion for her network.
“We have so many entrepreneurs right now, so many bloggers and influencers that have come from being teen moms, in gangs, growing up in South Central, talking about LA or Chicago et cetera, now being able to transform and share those stories and really give mentorship and inspiration to girls that think that there is no path for them because nobody is offering them that,” says Flores.
Representation, mentorship and role models have one thing in common: inspiration. “It’s so important to have someone to look up to — not one, but many people that can inspire you,” says Davina A. Ferreira, founder and CEO of Alegria Magazine. Founded in 2012, the bilingual media company praises the achievements of prominent Latinos and celebrates the beauty of Latino culture through the curation and publication of a luxury magazine distributed digitally and in print.
Before starting Alegria, Ferreira recognized a void within both English and Spanish mainstream media. “I saw that everything for Latinos and for Latinas was very low end,” says Ferreira, “I wanted to create a platform that was inspiring and high-end and shows respect to our community.”
As a Latina who’s passionate about providing representation and role models for the next generation, Ferreira noticed that most of the Latinos that made it to top network news were celebrities and entertainers. While Alegria covers pop culture topics as well, there’s an effort to feature stories of other Latinos, such as Spring 2018 cover girls Millana Snow, Edna Chavez, Julissa Arce, and Sarahi Espinoza, who have achieved success as social activists, authors and company founders, and deserve a moment in the media spotlight.
Although more Latinos are going to college than ever before, many tend to be the first in their families to pursue higher education, which can make professional career mentorship an entirely new experience. “Latinos living here (in the United States) don’t see a lot of those role models growing up or in their family,” says Ferreira, “It’s so important for them to really look forward and pursue their dreams and get the confidence to just think a little different outside of their environment.”
While some major news sites may seem like they’re focused on covering people and companies that already have more press than they can list in their ‘about me’ section, Entrepreneur Magazine says they’re always in search for unique entrepreneurial stories. “We’re always looking for stories that will be valuable to our reader, so that’s our priority,” says Stephanie Schomer, Deputy Editor at Entrepreneur. But where does representation come into play? Though she is a white woman working for a 41-year-old American magazine founded by a white man, she explains that both she and the magazine recognize that their readership is diverse and needs to feel both represented and acknowledged.
“It’s not just about checking a box,” says Schomer, “Covering the entrepreneurial journeys of women, people of color, and women of color is how we can best serve our audience.” With successful spin-off magazines like Women Entrepreneur, it’s clear the publisher values serving specialized content to targeted audiences. “Different points of view and different opinions are the bread and butter of entrepreneurship, so to do our job well and inspire our readers, we need to make sure they’re hearing from many voices,” Schomer adds. As far as the rest of the major news sites, Schomer admits that there’s work to be done in both storytelling and newsroom staffing. It will take a combination of strong diverse voices and mainstream leadership that’s willing to listen to a new generation of innovators in order to turn the spotlight on inspiring stories that would otherwise go unnoticed by major publications. The Latino population throughout the nation is projected to undergo significant change when it comes to growth, education, representation, and career opportunity. Armed with a mission to establish a more accurate representation of what success looks like in the US, Latinas like Flores, Ferreira and many others are continuing to build online and offline communities to grow their networks, ignite empowerment and feel represented. “I know we’re there,” says Flores. “I know that there are incredible women that can be featured and doing everything from astronauts to entrepreneurs, to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) — we’re there.