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The New Barrio: 5 Questions for our #Boricuasonline Panel

In case you are late to the party, several months ago in an effort to better understand the Puerto Rican experience in the United States, Centro's staff began asking itself a very simple question: Where /are/ the Puerto Ricans online? The question lingered until we decided to dive into it, exploring it fully with our community. Puerto Ricans in Social Media: The New Barrio, a panel by and for Puerto Ricans in social media was born. The panel, which will take place on May 12, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM (est) will look at where the Puerto Ricans are in social media, how we are using diverse online platforms to create social communities, as well as Puerto Rican identities and social consciousness. We could not be more excited about the panelists we are bringing together to explore this question. Not only do they shine in their fields and in social media, but alongside our Twitter Party hosts, these are some of the nicest and most committed group of people we have met. In preparation for the festivities, we asked them 5 questions to help you get to know them better. Without further ado, we leave you to them:


Julio Ricardo Varela@julito77

Digital Media Director at Futuro Media Group, an independent nonprofit news organization led by award-winning journalist María Hinojosa. He is also the founder of Latino Rebels.com, one of the top U.S. Latino sites in the world. 

Suset Laboy: In 3 sentences, tell us a little bit about you.

Julio Ricardo Varela: Three sentences? Just three? @#$%&!, my time is up.

Suset Laboy: Where did you grow up? What was your specific Puerto Rican experience like?

Julio Ricardo Varela: I was born in Hato Rey, PR just a month before astronauts landed on the mooon and a few months before the New York Mets won the World Series. As a kid, I lived in Río Piedras, Guaynabo and Humacao, until my parents split and I headed up to the Bronx with my mom and little sister. I would spend winters in the Bronx and summers in Puerto Rico until around I was 12; and then my dad moved to Sugarland, Texas in the early 80s, which if you know anything about Houston in the early 80s, it was as far away from Puerto Rico as Mars. Texas summers were crazy hot, and Galveston is not Luquillo, let me tell you. After we survived Texas, the Varelas moved back to Isla Verde when I was 15, around 1985, so I spent my last few summers as a teenager in San Juan.
 
Meanwhile in the Bronx, I instantly saw the ridiculous artificial divide between the island and the mainland. As I started college, I vowed that I would do what I could to remind people that being Puerto Rican was not just limited to geogrpahy. I majored in Latin American history and literature, with a minor in Puerto Rican and Cuban studies. I wrote my thesis about the literary motif of Puerto Rico as an "isla víctima/island victim." After graduation, I went back to live in Puerto Rico and I felt like I had outgrown it, but I attribute that to being 21 years old. A lot of my family still lives down there and every time I head back home, it is home. I have always had a deep love of my homeland and it is one of the reasons why I do what I do know.
 
Suset Laboy: How did you get into social media? 
 
Julio Ricardo Varela: I got an early invite to Facebook because I had a Harvard email address. I was intrigued. Then I joined Twitter in 2008 and got even more intrigued. So I have been on social media for close to 10 years now, which is a lifetime if you think about it.
 
Suset Laboy: Name your social media handles and how did these come about? What do they tell us about how you choose to identify yourself on social media?
 
Julio Ricardo Varela: @julito77 is a childhood nickname from my stepuncle in Juana Díaz. He was a big fan of 77 Sunset Strip (that part is fuzzy) but he would call me Julito 77 Sunset! So when I came up with a Twitter handle, that was what I chose. Now I can't change it even if I wanted to.
 
Suset Laboy: Name your top aha moment on social media. A moment that made you go, darn I am good at this.
 
Julio Ricardo Varela: I don't really look at social from that perspective at all. I think if you get caught up in whether you are good or not, you lose focus. I am just myself and I have never approached social media as a means to be "good" at it. Just be.
 
Suset Laboy: La ñapita: What is the one question we should have asked you that we didn't ask you?
 
Julio Ricardo Varela: Tostones for breakfast? Yes or no? If I could, I would eat tostones for breakfast every day of my life. Although I do love the fact that no matter what place you are at in Puerto Rico, you can get tostones. That's just genius.

Lynn Ponder@webcitygirls

Founder of the social media platform Web City Girls and the interactive online talk show “Behind the Pink Wig”. Awarded LATISM Top Blogueras 2013/2014, LATISM Best Latina Micro-Blogger in 2013 and recognized by Hispanicize 2015 with Tecla Awards as Best Latina on Twitter and best Entertainment Blogger. She is based in Miami, FL.

Suset Laboy: In 3 sentences, tell us a little bit about you.  

Lynn Ponder: I am an entrepreneur and a founder. An entrepreneur moves on to different projects but a founder never gives up on the dream. Perfectionist, Determined and Passionate about everything I set out to do. I started my transition into the digital world trying to create an interactive show about 3 girls talking about social media and evolved into a full fledge social media platform supporting and promoting brands, celebrities and causes.

Suset Laboy: Where did you grow up? What was your specific Puerto Rican experience like?

Lynn Ponder: I grew up in San Juan surrounded by beautiful beaches and lots of boating trips. I was fortunate to have wonderful friends that had boats and I got into windsurfing and became an expert competing around the island. My memories are about great friends and family. Lots of loving moments and lots of laughter. Not to say that it was all color de rosa, but I have always had a positive view of life no matter how hard things were.

Suset Laboy: How did you get into social media? 

Lynn Ponder: It was a decision I made as part of my transition from traditional marketing to immerse myself into social media and learn how to communicate in the digital era as well as create a business model where I could make a good living.

Suset Laboy: Name your social media handles and how did these come about? What do they tell us about how you choose to identify yourself on social media?

Lynn Ponder: My name is Lynn Ponder and my BFF  called me Ponderful, so when I opened my first account on Twitter in 2009 it seemed like the perfect choice.  Second account I opened was in 2010 for @webcitygirls the brand and now that I launched a weekly online talk show “Behind The Pink Wig,” I have a new handle to brand and promote the show | @behindpinkwig

Suset Laboy: Name your top aha moment on social media. A moment that made you go, darn I am good at this. 

Lynn Ponder: LoL! Funny question amiga :)
Basically receiving so much love online from likeminded people, I would have never met if it wasn’t for the magic of connecting online mainly via Twitter (my favorite).

Another aha moment was at the very beginning of my learnings of how to interact on Twitter while trying to understand how it worked. I created my first social media promo campaign … the purpose was to express how much I wanted to go to a conference at the time in NYC called the 140Conf. by Jeff Pulver …I used hashtag #wishwish and #140Conf 2011 … magically Jeff Pulver found my tweets and sent me a DM if I wanted to come to the conference …me desmaye y se me salieron las lagrimas de la alegria… luego te cuento mas de esta experiencia porque fue fundamental para mi crecimiento y aprendizajes...

Suset Laboy: La ñapita: What is the one question we should have asked you that we didn't ask you? 

Lynn Ponder: How do you monetize your passion and love for social media….


        George Torres@urbanjibaro                        

Social media/cultural consultant and creator of Sofrito Media Group. Creator of the online blog Sofrito For Your Soul, and co-creator at Radio Capicu and Capicu Poetry & Cultural Showcase, a partnership that develops and produces live cultural events in New York City.

Suset Laboy: In 3 sentences, tell us a little bit about you.

George Torres: My name is George Torres and I love my cultural heritage. I hated that the history books did not tell the whole story so I created www.SofritoForYourSoul.com so that we can document the evolution of our culture.
 
Suset Laboy: Where did you grow up? What was your specific Puerto Rican experience like?
 
George Torres: I grew up between Brooklyn & Bayamon (PR). I experienced living in very different places. Bayamon, Dorado, Carolina and Loiza Aldea. My experience in Loiza really shaped my taste in art and music. I was always fascinated by the colorful blur of the vejigantes as they danced to Bomba y Plena.
 
Suset Laboy: How did you get into social media? 
 
George Torres: It was never really social media for me. It was my affinity to connect, network and connect people that has been part of my DNA my whole life... the internet just caught up and created the technology & platforms for me to do it faster and reach more people. I believe that my social media persona is just a digital extension of who I really am, so I did not get into it... it was there all along.
 
Suset Laboy: Name your social media handles and how did these come about? What do they tell us about how you choose to identify yourself on social media?
 
George Torres: Urban Jibaro pays tribute to my mentor, the Late Richie Perez. Richie was a champion of the people and lived his life demanding social justice for us. He was a big influence in who I am, an ideological father if you will... he loved that I had the street smarts of a Brooklyn kid, but the old soul of a hard working jibaro... so he when he passed, I decided to use the nickname he gave me to add a new dimension to his legacy. I am so proud of that cultural duality.
 
Suset Laboy: Name your top aha moment on social media. A moment that made you go, darn I am good at this. 
 
George Torres: One of many, was when the United Nations Foundation reached out to invite me  a few years back to be part of the Social Good Summit to represent the Latino voice of the community I represent. I understand that the reason I was selected was because of the work I had done amplifying the cause of Diabetes Awareness via my #PorTuFamilia social experiment. 
 
My team and I were able to cultivate almost 1200 posts in 30 days reaching over 2 million Twitter users and generating more than 10 million impressions for a local Feria de Salud event. 
 
The biggest accomplishment in that besides the health awareness was that we united Latino platforms such as Hispanicize, Latina Mom Bloggers, Web City Girls, Capicu Cultural Showcase, Being Latino, DigiBunch, Novell Research, Media Rumba, Los Tweens, Pa’Lante Latino, Expresso Con Leche, Autism Wonderland, Bloggers of Health, Jesse Luna, LATISM, Divabetic, Deborah Deras, Vista Hispano, United Latino Professionals, Foxy Family, Latina Leadership Institute, NALFO, AARP En Espanol, Latino Rebels, and the very passionate Bohemian Babushka for a single cause despite the fact that many of them are competiing entities. To this day, it remains one of my proudest moments.

Nuria Net@nuriapuntonet

Social Storytelling Editor and founding editor at Fusion, the digital and TV network launched by Univision and ABC News. She also co-founded the pioneering English-language startup Remezcla.com in 2006. Billboard Magazine named her one of ‘30 Under 30 People in Music and Entertainment’. She is based in Miami, Fl.

Suset Laboy:  In 3 sentences, tell us a little bit about you.  
 
Nuria Net: I'm a digital entrepreneur passionate about music and diversity. In 2006, I co-founded the pioneering English-language startup Remezcla.com and in 2011, ElPuntoEs.com, a website bridging the gap between Puerto Ricans inside and out of the island.
 
I was born in Barcelona, raised in San Juan and thrived in New York City for 12 years before moving to Miami two years ago. So in a way, I consider myself part of a Puerto Rican diaspora that is multicultural, proud of its roots and determined to change stereotypes about Puerto Ricans in the media and society and do whatever I can to improve ties among diaspora.
 
Suset Laboy: Where did you grow up? What was your specific Puerto Rican experience like?
Nuria Net: Oops answered that already. But going in more specific: My mom was a Puerto Rican in Barcelona, where she met my dad. My sister and I were born in Barcelona, moved to San Juan when I was 5 years old. My father is the staunchest defender and lover of all things Puerto Rico. Through his perspective as a foreigner I was able to appreciate the little things about our cotiniadidad  and idiosyncrasies in the island.  When I was 18 I moved to New York City for college, and learning about the Young Lords movement and Nuyorican community had a deep impact on me. Why weren't we taught about them in school in the island? We have different, varied experiences but are waving the same flag. Not one "Puerto Rican" experience is more authentic than the other. We are a community that goes beyond borders, and that is a beautiful thing.
 

Suset Laboy: How did you get into social media? 

Nuria Net: As a journalist and digital entrepreneur I've been an early adopter of almost all social networks. It's a vital reporting, distribution and engagement tool. Of course, I've also met amazing people on platforms such as Twitter. Funny story: I got on Facebook in the spring of 2004 since Columbia was the second school after Harvard to get Facebook. 
 
Suset Laboy: Name your social media handles and how did these come about? What do they tell us about how you choose to identify yourself on social media?
 
Nuria Net: I'm @nuriapuntonet on all my platforms except for Snapchat (nn185). That started when I opened my MySpace account. Since people think my last name, Net, is part of my online persona (I work online, after all), I played with the idea of Nuria.Net. Since it's in Spanish it's a bit confusing for some people, I've considered changing it but - meh!
 
Suset Laboy: Name your top aha moment on social media. A moment that made you go, darn I am good at this. 
 
Nuria Net: Mmmm, when Calle 13 followed me on Twitter!? That was a proud moment. But it had to do with my professional relationship with him - I was one of the first journalists to interview the band and follow their trajectory and continue to do so. Last year, I walked the Puerto Rican Day Parade with René for a story. That was amazing.

Want to learn more? Don't forget to tune in tomorrow here: http://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/tv/ and join our twitter party with #BoricuasOnline.


© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 12 May 2015.