About three months ago, VOXXI blogger Eliana Tardío was participating in an online chat with other blogueras. A mother of two children with Down syndrome, Tardío writes about parenting.
In answer to the question “where do you see yourself in five years?” she answered: “at the White House, standing there on behalf of my two children.”
She didn’t have to wait five years. On Monday, May 21, her vision materialized.
Tardío was one of about 70 bloggers selected to participate in the inaugural Top Latina Blogger Retreat in the nation’s capital.
The event, organized by Latinos in Social Media (LATISM), brought together bloggers from around the country to participate in professional development workshops, mentoring sessions and a briefing at the White House.
Meeting needs, filling voids
Some of the writers started their blogs for fun, but many started blogging to meet a need in the blogosphere.
In 1999, for example, Jeannette Kaplún, who also blogs for VOXXI, noticed there was no website in Spanish that had “easy to understand, credible information for people trying to conceive or raise children.”
She saw an opportunity to help inform and to launch a business. Thirteen years, later, todobebe.com has evolved into a franchise that includes a website, a television show, a book and presence in social media.
Similarly, Yoly Mason started writing in Spanish about saving money by using coupons three years ago after she realized there were no Spanish information outlets on this topic.
Then about a year after that, she met other Spanish-language bloggers through LATISM and Twitter and thought, “Why don’t we form a community so we can help the ones starting out?” That’s how lasblogueras.com was born, and it now connects its over 125 members, lists them on a directory and offers tips, chats and other support activities.
In Eliana Tardío’s case, she started her blog after her second child with Down syndrome was born, to reach out to parents with children with special needs. At first it was a private blog, but about a year ago she made it public.
“It was an opportunity to make a difference. I understood how important it was to be an advocate for others,” she said.
These women had already met and been talking online, but seeing each other in person strengthened their connections, they said.
Also valuable was the access they had to executives from successful companies in the networking and business development sessions, said those interviewed by VOXXI.
But the highlight for many participants was the visit to the White House, where the Office of Public Engagement hosted a briefing with administration officials on various topics including education and the “Let’s Move” initiative. Bloggers took the opportunity to ask questions and tweet about it.
“Feeling powerful to be able to voice my concerns,” tweeted Silvia Martinez, founder and CEO of Mama Latina Tips Media.
“Voice of Latina women is being heard loud & clear at @LaCasablanca,” read a tweet from @SpanglishBaby, an account for the site spanglishbaby.com, launched in 2009 by Ana Flores and Roxana Soto.
“White House staff should all just wear buttons that say ‘Blame Congress,’” tweeted Maegan Ortiz about some of the responses the administration was giving. Ortiz blogs about politics, culture and entertainment on vivirlatino.com.
Eliana Tardío lined up to ask a question and, just like she imagined three months ago she would, she got up to the microphone to talk about Latino disabled students.
“The educational system can segregate these children for two reasons when they really deserve to be integrated and have a regular experience,” she told VOXXI a few hours after the White House visit. “I worry about them.”
Tardío believes the officials were touched by her words.
“I think that they didn’t just see an advocate or a communicator. I think they saw a mom,” she said. “It was our opportunity to speak up, to let them know what’s going on because they probably don’t know. This is our life.”
While some of the participants make a living off of their blog, some are happy their blog is at least “sustainable.”
Ericka Sanchez writes about food and shares recipes in nibblesnfeasts.com, but she has a day job in marketing. She says she is happy her blog pays for itself: money to buy a better camera for photos or to go to conferences comes from her blog. She considers feedback a form of payment.
“I like when people email me and thank me,” she said. “When they say, ‘this recipe reminds me of my grandma’ or ‘I hadn’t seen this recipe in a long time’.”
“Latina bloggers have limited resources to make their projects grow at a competitive pace,” said Elianne Ramos, vice-chair of communications and public relations for LATISM and one of the event organizers. “That was one of the reasons for creating this event.”
“Our objective was to provide them not only with the information and training they need to turn their blogs into social enterprises and tools for advocacy, but also with the connections to make it happen right away,” said Ramos. “We have seen an unbelievable growth in our community, but the opportunities have not necessarily grown at the pace we’d like to see for all of these voices online to truly thrive.”
Even long-time bloggers like Tobebe’s Jeannette Kaplún were able to benefit from the learning opportunity.
“Platforms are evolving so fast, you need to know what’s the next Facebook or the next Pinterest. You always have to be evolving, learning,” she said.
During a workshop she learned, for example, that the “About” page on a blog is important to potential advertisers or partners. She jotted down the tips and says will improve her page based on them.
But the most rewarding experience, she says, was meeting other top blogueras and reaffirming that they own a space in the cyber and the real world.
“A blogger can use their voice to empower others,” she said. “Once you have a voice, you need to use it wisely and with integrity.”