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The Latin Interactive World: The New Americans, Bilingual, Bicultural, Global

The following is a preview to the Joe Kutchera´s forthcoming book – Latino Link: Communities and Content Online – from Paramount Books.


The following is a preview to the Joe Kutchera´s forthcoming book – Latino Link: Communities and Content Online – from Paramount Books.

A few weeks ago, while having a very American lunch of cheeseburgers and milk shakes, my goddaughter Madeline, 11, and her brother Ricardo, 13, asked me, “so, what’s your book about Uncle Joe?”

“Well, it’s about how families like yours use the Internet and what is the best ways for companies to communicate with people who speak Spanish,” I responded. Madeline and Ricardo speak Spanish with their mother, who immigrated to the United States from Peru, and English with their dad, my friend Kevin. “What do you guys do online?” I asked them. Following our lunch, I asked them to give me a tour of how they use the Internet.

They use Google often as their discovery engine for their interests, even searching for the word Facebook to get to its home page. But they spend the vast majority of their time on social networks. Ricardo goes online four to five times per week for about 30 minutes per session. Once online, he mostly uses Facebook to connect with his friends from grade school, capoeira class (a Brazilian martial art growing in popularity), and his family in Peru. Offline, he likes playing basketball, listening to bands like Linkin Park, seeing friends, and playing video games.

Since she doesn’t like playing outside as much, Madeline spends up to two hours a day online, mostly on MySpace, where she plays reality games like SuperPoke! Pets, YoVille, and Sorority Life. While showing me the game YoVille, she jumped in and asked, “Hola, anyone speak Spanish?” It was very telling. She assumes everyone is like her: bilingual English and Spanish. “Where are the other kids from?” I asked. “All over the world,” Madeline told me. Clearly, backwater villages do not exist on the Internet. All the web is a global stage, and we are social citizens, connecting and conversing with others who use the same platforms, like the same games, share the same interests and read the same news.

While Madeline prefers MySpace to play games and occasionally listen to music, she also uses Facebook about 20 minutes a day on average. Both Ricardo and Madeline chat with friends and family on Facebook after school, specifically, with their cousins Jordi (13), in Spain, and Giovanni (14), Carla (22) and Juan Carlos (22), in Peru. They have met kids from Egypt, Latin America and the U.S. on MySpace while playing games, chatting with them in English or Spanish. Like most young kids, Madeline lists her age as 19, even though she is 11, as the site doesn’t allow kids below 18 to join.

As we wrapped up the tour of the Internet, I asked “How much TV do you watch?” Madeline said, “Never”; Ricardo told me, “rarely.” That’s not to say that Madeline and Ricardo don’t watch television content. They do…on YouTube.

If marketers want to reach kids these days, TV is not the way to do it. They need to develop content – games, videos, articles, tools, and helpful information – and distribute it on platforms like YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, websites, mobile applications, and whatever social networks emerge tomorrow. Just as importantly, they need to learn about the Spanish-speaking and bi-lingual Hispanic community online. Interruption advertising does not work anymore with kids or adults. But truly helpful, interesting, funny, and informative content can attract the right audiences and the best place to do that is on the Internet and on mobile phones.

The most amazing thing about Madeline and Ricardo is that they live in Milwaukee, not in a cosmopolitan, bilingual city like Miami or New York. This is the new Middle America. Growing up with social networks is a far cry from my youth when my brother and I played Atari games in our basement. Kids today can maintain almost daily relationships with family or friends from around the world, especially with cousins, aunts and uncles from far away places like Peru.

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