Promoting Latino advocacy

Cyberspace: A new Web site may be the first aimed at getting young Hispanics to speak out on issues.

August 15, 2005|By Sandra Hernandez | Sandra Hernandez,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

The image on the brown T-shirt is simple, a colorful outline of the Southwest's craggy hills. The message under the picture - "New Mexico, Cleaner than Regular Mexico" - has galvanized thousands of Latinos, who are taking their protests from the streets to cyberspace.

"I was born in Mexico, so when people make comments about Mexico I take it personally," said Carime Hernandez, 24, of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Hernandez took action. She went to BlueLatinos.org and sent an e-mail demanding that the chairman of Urban Outfitters, the retail chain that sells the tops, remove them from the store. About 6,000 Hispanics signed the cyber petition.

BlueLatinos.org is thought to be the nation's first online advocacy aimed at twentysomething Hispanics eager to speak out and challenge the notion that they aren't cyber savvy. Its mission, according to the Web site, is "To organize progressive Latinos online and ... move voters, particularly Latino voters, toward progressive issues and action."

Since its launch in April, the Web site has gained 9,000 members. BlueLatinos takes its name from the color assigned to the states that backed Democrat John Kerry in last year's presidential election.

Jose Quiqonez, founder of BlueLatinos.org, hopes the site will appeal to a generation as likely to get their news from MTV as from the Internet.

"I'm just trying to translate some of the legislative issues to the street level for younger Latinos," Quiqonez said.

BlueLatinos.org has led two other cyber campaigns: pushing to oust a CNN host and getting a Latino Supreme Court nominee. In its latest drive against the T-shirts, would-be activists fill out individual petition forms and click to forward them to Richard Hayne, Urban Outfitters' president and chairman.

The Sun-Sentinel was unable to reach an Urban Outfitters Inc. representative for comment, despite repeated telephone calls to its Philadelphia headquarters.

Beyond its burgeoning membership, the nascent Web site is also attracting attention from experts, who say BlueLatinos .org shows how young Hispanics, who came of age during an era when many states considered passing anti-immigration legislation, are taking a cutting-edge approach to politics and organizing in cyberspace.

"This is important in that BlueLatinos.org are trying to reach the demographic who has participated the least in the political world - the 18-to-24 Latinos - and they are doing it in the language and using the tools that fit them," said Harry Pachon, director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a Hispanic research group at the University of Southern California. "If this spurs them to action, this is really remarkable."

It is that targeted message that sets BlueLatinos.org apart from bloggers and other Web sites that focus on Latino issues.

"There aren't a lot of groups that pick a targeted demographic group, let alone focus on Hispanics," said Michael Cornfield, an assistant professor of political management at George Washington University and a consultant with the Pew Internet & American Life Project/Pew Research Center in Washington. "And those groups that do aren't using the Internet to publicize it and build a grass-roots organization."

In addition to the petitions, the site offers a forum where members can speak out on issues such as the depiction of Latinos in Hollywood and the environment. While no membership fees are required, the site asks for donations. "But I don't expect people to give money to the first Web site that comes along," Quiqonez said.

He said he hopes to add a Spanish translation to the site soon, but for now he is focused on busting the perception that Latinos are uneducated and ill-prepared to take a stand on issues.

Quiqonez came up with the Web site idea during the 2004 presidential election, while working in South Florida for MoveOn.org, the nation's largest liberal online advocacy group.

"We needed to take on some issues that some of the national groups weren't looking at ... issues that play out at the legislative arena but also play out in pop culture," he said during a telephone interview.

The group's first e-mail campaign focused on CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and its popular host, whom Quiqonez said fans anti-immigrant sentiment by describing U.S. borders as overrun by undocumented Hispanic immigrants. In April, Quiqonez started a petition calling on the network to fire Dobbs.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper

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