What started as a gathering of the Puerto Rican online community at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Centro) at Hunter College has made way to what many are calling the movement the community needs.
As part of their mission to better understand and preserve the Puerto Rican experience in the United States, Centro hosted the first panel ever about Puerto Ricans in Social Media. With studies proving that Puerto Ricans are one of the few countries in the world whose majority of residents live outside the country itself, Centro began exploring how Puerto Ricans are communicating and representing themselves while also addressing issues that truly matter to them in an increasingly dispersed world.
“When you look at the numbers and at the strong migratory wave, this exchange just makes sense. Social media has made available the creation of connections that were not possible in previous waves of migration. We have to explore this new space,” said Centro Director Edwin Meléndez, “The Internet has really transformed the creation and spread of knowledge, and it behooves educational institutions to get with the program and truly adapt to these changes.”
In the weeks leading up to the May 12th panel discussion, Centro prompted the online community to questions about identity, placement, and who and what they follow on social media under the hashtag #boricuasonline. There are over 300 Puerto Rican focused Facebook groups (according to the last time we counted) so it seemed pretty fitting to kick the night off with the question, “who are the #boricuasonline and how are they using social media to tell their stories?”
“We are beyond borders,” said Nuria Net. When speaking at the Puerto Ricans in Social Media: The New Barrio panel, the co-founder of Fusion and Remezcla spoke about the power and identity social media platforms are giving the community. There are many voices to the Puerto Rican experience and while more and more communities are popping up all across the United States and the world to a greater extent, Puerto Ricans have found a way to stay connected and to keep the culture alive. “We are on the island, we are here (in the states), and we are everywhere. Now we have a common space where we can talk to each other.”
And talk they did.
The panel featured Lynn Ponder from Web City Girls, Julio Ricardo Varela from Futuro Media Group and Latino Rebels, George Torres from Sofrito for Your Soul and Capicu Culture, and social media sensation LeJuan James who joined the panel from Orlando, Florida via Zoom. The #Boricuasonline panel ignited a collaboration of ideas with the audience of Facebook and Twitter users as well as popular bloggers who hosted the night’s Twitter party , including Marixsa Rodriguez, Rebecca and Raquel, Gemarla Babilonia, Mayra Rodriguez, Yadira Ambert, Melanie Edwards, Julia Torres Barden, Jillian Baez, Harry Franqui-Rivera and Johanna Torres about how Puerto Ricans are choosing to tell their stories and which ones in particular we're choosing to tell.
Fans, readers, and advocates who have followed each other for years on social media but had never met turned their support for each other and the community into physical action. In a room filled to capacity, mothers, writers, and politicians transformed their likes, favorites, and comments into hugs, handshakes, and one on one exchanges about how to use language to connect with each other, bridging histories with other Latinos, and using social media to educate those outside the community on the Puerto Rican experience. The panelists urged the Puerto Rican community from the abuela who likes her grandson’s photo to the historian publishing a piece on the military involvement from the island to own their voices and their stories to celebrate the good of the culture but also bring attention to issues that affect the community both on the island and off. The audience who attended in person, via stream or on Twitter were called to not leave it to others to tell their stories because, according to Julio Ricardo-Varela, news engines “get an F- covering Puerto Rico news.”
It’s time for Puerto Ricans to be their own advocates to uplift the community. They have been called to action in the digital realm and are coming together online and offline to do just that.
To be sure, Puerto Ricans have been online for quite some time. George Torres mentioned being a part of the online scene even before his organizations took off, back when dial-up was the only way to connect to the internet. As a people who gravitate to community building and creating coalition, the Internet was tailor made for us. The night’s event took that to another level, granting #Boricuasonline its own channel, a platform where Puerto Ricans can more easily find one another on social media, support one another. So much so that the hashtag itself was trending on Twitter in New York and Puerto Rico and singer-songwriter of Hurray for the Riff Raff Alynda Lee Segarra joined the Twitter party stating “agree w the power of puerto ricans using our voices online 2 create positive & informed representation of our people. #boricuasonline” and "thank you @CentroPR for hosting #BoricuasOnline it gave me inspiration and i can't wait for the next!"
The fire that began with the panel isn’t dying out. Since the event, more and more Puerto Ricans are using the hashtag on their newsfeeds when sharing or writing Puerto Rican related stories. At Centro we have already started talking about future panels, as well as a statistical research report to be published later on this year and monthly twitter parties where different social media influencers will lead a night of discussion. Stay tuned for those.
In the meantime, catch some of the highlights of the night’s discussion here and then let us know who you would like to hear speak on our next #Boricuasonline panel.
Hero image by María Laboy.
© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 22 May 2015.