Technology Rules for Young Girls
By Maria Rivera
For Reporting Texas
Laura Donnelly Gonzalez, one of the founders of an after-school technology program called Latinitas, got an unexpected call one night from a former participant now in college. The young woman was set to interview the lead singer of the All American Rejects and needed help in getting a press credential at the last minute.
“I was blown away that her journalism and Latinitas training was still with her freshman year into college after her seventh-grade club experience,” Gonzalez said.
Latinitas is a nonprofit digital initiative that Gonzalez and Alicia Rascon founded 10 years ago as students at University of Texas at Austin. They wanted to build a journalistic platform for young Latinas to create original content as well as to communicate with each other in an online community. According to Gonzalez, Latinitas Magazine was the first digital outlet made by Latina girls intended for Latina girls.
Gonzalez said that the program serves more than 4,000 girls annually through its after-school programs, many more in readership and has helped “tens of thousands” since the nonprofit began in 2002.
The program’s goals are beyond mere exposure to technology. A Kaiser Family Foundation study “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds,” published in 2010, found that Hispanic youth spend almost 13 hours a day exposed to such media as television, computers and gaming, when multitasking is taken into account, while their white counterparts spend an average of eight hours 36 minutes. Latinitas is targeting young girls to help them do more than text or play games. On an annual budget of about $250,000, most of from grants, the organization provides media skills training through its magazine, after-school clubs, camps, art shows and conferences, like the recent TECHchica.
Omar L. Gallaga, the tech columnist for the Austin-American Statesman, said he first encountered Latinitas when he was a writer for ¡ahora si!, a Spanish-language newspaper in Austin. While many organizations help teach technology to teenagers, Gallaga said, Latinitas was teaching practical media skills to even younger girls.
“They were learning to write, publish and post to the web before many of the tools we take for granted now to make web publishing easy were even available,” he wrote in an e-mail. “They seemed very ahead of the curve, enthused about what they were learning and curious to learn more.”
Gallaga added that Latinos have historically embraced new technology, especially with social media.
“I think by giving students access to online tools and devices (whether they’re mobile or otherwise) just empowers them to get comfortable with the technology and to learn the writing and publishing skills in an environment they’re more likely to actually use,” he wrote.
For example, TECHchica, a one-day event underwritten by Time Warner Cable recently held at Austin Community College, was designed to teach girls 9 to 14 how to create social media campaigns. TECHchica served as a space for expression as well as access to technology they normally don’t have in a regular classroom. The 70 girls in attendance received social media training and direct lessons in posting, blogging, Internet safety, podcasting and video and audio production through interactive workshops.
“We are very excited at the turnout,” Gonzalez said. “Many of the girls who came to Latinitas events are coming to something like this for the first time. Our surveys showed that over 50 percent of the girls had never been to a conference.”
TECHchica was also live-streamed to female-only gatherings in West Texas, New York City, Washington and Los Angeles.
The girls heard from a panel of Latina movers and shakers, including Alex Landeros, a professional blogger and president of LATISM Austin; Ana Villegas, social media director at Dell, Crestina Chavez, managing editor at YNN news, and Evelyn Castillo, editor of Latinometro.com.
“This conference really showed these young ladies real women, that looked like them, with real jobs doing these things they only hear about other people doing or see on TV,” Castillo said in an interview. “Once they experience all of these things firsthand, they can envision themselves in these careers and then it becomes something that is attainable.”
The girls at TECHchica produced social media campaigns about bullying, stereotypes, girl empowerment and pursuing higher education. Destinee Rogers, a sixth-grader at Pearce Middle School in Austin, said she enjoyed blogging with her own account on the Latinitas site. Her classmate Diamond Watson said she learns “cooler” things that she does not get to learn from her regular schooling.
“I enjoy being in Latinitas because I get to be with other girls, get advice from them, talk and learn about new things,” Diamond said.