Something is missing in modern-day American neighborhoods: It is the neighborly banter that occurred across the tops of fences across the country, as people who shared a common language and culture became friendly while watering their flowers, walking their dogs and mowing their lawns.
The neighborliness has gone the way of U.S. homogeneity, replaced by cultural islands, as commonalties are replaced by diversity, with a single city block occupied by immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Ireland, the Ukraine and China.
But look closer at these islands of cultural diversity and you will notice a new network of neighborhood fences being traversed by high-speed cable modems and satellite dishes. People sharing common languages and cultures are congregating again, but they are doing it virtually via social media.
Leading the charge toward the brave new world of social interchange are the bloggers—spokespeople for the new digital town halls, where the new town criers use keyboards rather than megaphones to make statements to the community.
Latinas in Social Media
Hispanics—especially women—have been leaders in social media, partly because they are among the quickest of the demographics to adopt new technologies, but also because they tend to be a highly social group, eager to interact.
"Latinas are natural buzz-builders," says Ana Lilian Flores, a pioneering founder of the self described "Latina Bloggers," a group that helps each other establish blogging communities for everything from plus-size fashion to recipes and relationships Ms. Flores established www.spanglishbaby.com two years ago to tackle the challenge of being part of a bilingual, bicultural family in America.
She feels that there is a unique challenge in balancing the two cultures, making sure children understand and appreciate their Hispanic roots while also embracing America as the common denominator for their families and communities.
The term "Spanglish" hints at the hybrid nature of her website. Ms. Flores often speaks with fellow bloggers using phrases combining English and Spanish.
"For people who are bilingual, it is who we are," she explains. "You can't separate. You have to go back and forth. For us it is perfect."
A visit to Ms. Flores's website reveals a huge serving of "Spanglish," along with a mixture of recipes ("How to Bake Pan de Muerto") and blogging by parents anxious for advice on how to integrate languages and cultures.
There also are forums where readers can chime in, and an "Ask the Expert" section.
There is one more thing you will find on Ms. Flores' website: paid advertisers. Among the early blogging
pioneers, she is a success story, establishing an audience of more than 900, as well as advertisers anxious for the unstated endorsement of appearing adjacent to highly valued information.
Among advertisers: Ingenio bilingual toys, Little Pim Fun with Languages and the Latin Baby Book Club.
The Same, But Different
Although Ms. Flores considers herself part of the "Latina Bloggers" network, her background and editorial focus are not the same as the other members of the informal network.
"My co-workers once asked me what a chalupa is," says Carrie Ferguson Weir, a Latina blogger based in Nashville, Tenn.
"How would I know what a chalupa is? I'm Cuban!"
Ms. Weir started www.tikitikiblog.com in 2009 with her partner, Marta Darby. They intended the site to be an offshoot of another blog she developed to help promote a novelty T-shirt business.
She moved to Nashville from her native Miami with the intention of living there a few years.
Twenty years later, she is still there.
Her isolation from other Hispanics prompted her to start www.bilingualintheboonies.com, a now-discontinued
website that was a cry for the friendship of fellow Latinas interested in sharing stories, cultures, traditions, recipes—anything Hispanic.
Her early involvement there led to connections to other Latinas, which led to TikiTiki.
Yap, Yap, Yap
"TikiTiki—it means a chattering noise—'yap, yap, yap,'" she laughs, explaining that many Latinas are great talkers, and the blog site was intended to provide an outlet for socializing.
Ms. Weir is still getting her feet wet in the blogging business, attending conferences on how to grow her blogging "brand" and how to attract advertisers.
She currently only has a few hundred followers of the blog, but she is working hard to grow the business.
"What we do is curate content," she explains. "I don't have the money to pay writers, so I'll ask if I can republish material that has been written."
Her effort has resulted in a few affiliate advertisers, which provide income for the site on a click-through basis. She has been building a following for a little more than a year and plans to work hard to increase
traffic (and revenue) over time.
The connections she has made through "Latina Bloggers" has been invaluable to her.
"I was operating blindly before," Ms. Weir explains. "I reached out, looking for other Latina bloggers. I knew they were out there.
"From online connections a few of us got in touch," she adds. "We share information with each other, along with advice and media kits. A lot of resources."
She covers a broad range of topics, but they are all united by her mission statement, which in the best tradition of "Spanglish," has a bilingual flair: "Stories with cultura, color and sabor."
Among the recent postings at Tiki-Tiki: "Inspirations from a Baby Abuelita Doll," "How to Create Thanksgiving Placards," and "Are You Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents?"
"We like to feature Spanish proverbs— called 'dichos,'" says Ms. Weir.
She says the site will also often feature an inspirational photo or quote.
Highly Specific Niche
Monique Frausto, who lives in Los Angeles, Calif., went after a highly specific niche when she launched www.curvesandchaos.com, a fashion blog site for plus-sized customers.
Ms. Frausto decided early on that fashion would be the focus of her writing, but she found that conventional clothing designs were not the right focus.
"I thought, 'Why am I writing about something I don't even wear?'" she said. "I like writing about curvy fashion. All my friends think of themselves as curvy."
To help launch her career, Ms. Frausto established a network of Latino bloggers.
"I could not find other Latino bloggers at first," says Ms. Frausto. "Sitting behind a computer can be a very lonely world. You feel a bit lost out there."
One of her first contacts was with Ms. Flores, whom she met at a conference in New York.
"I felt like I knew her forever," she says now, adding that it was wonderful to find other Latinas who also are bloggers.
While her blog site is focused on fashion, Ms. Frausto writes about other topics as well. She and a number of other Latina Bloggers were recently invited to the sneak preview of a new Eva Longoria documentary on the accomplishments and impacts Hispanics have in shaping the United States, "Latinos Living the American Dream."
That is the common theme you find among all "Latina Bloggers": The challenge of straddling two cultures and carving out a successful business in a new medium.
Each is focusing on a different audience segment; each has different ethnic roots; and each struggles with the challenge of balancing their heritages with the social values and mores of the United States.
They all work together toward success in blogging, even though several of them are competing for the same audience.
They are all very proud to be Latina; equally proud to be Americans.
And all are well-versed in "Spanglish."
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