Of streaming and sherpas
Maria (Lopez) Twena says media misses Latinos who translate the world for family
As a symbol of media's challenges, the descent of the Texas Observer - a magazine my old station produced a weekly roundup with - is an appropriate opening for this newsletter. 💀
Like many print publications, in my view the Observer was not able to pivot in time. No longer are we limited to reading magazines delivered to our doorsteps. Instead, we can find content whenever we want. 🔍 Editors I knew there a decade or more ago seemed to get it, but no one understood how profound the change would be. (I’ll hold out hope the reprieve sticks, but history is a tough teacher.)
The print experience is not unlike what we in public media have grappled with for years. News and entertainment is increasingly digital, and we are pressed to respond.
Enter Maria (Lopez) Twena, who may help you think about opportunities. 🤞
There are a number of reasons why streaming has become so important to Latines. For one, it is an affordable way to consume content. In addition, streaming provides access to a wide range of content that may not be available through other means. 🌎 Finally, streaming services have made it possible for Latinos to create and share our own content with the world.
This newsletter may get you thinking less about the tech, though, and more about the people consuming it… and how we reach them well. 🧑🏼🤝🧑🏾
Lopez serves as Chief Marketing Officer of both Nuestra.TV, an on-demand bilingual network. Twena previously served as Executive Vice President of Brand and Marketing at WelcomeTech, the world’s first digital platform providing immigrants the resources needed to succeed. Prior to WelcomeTech, she served as CMO of Entravision Communications and as CMO of Pulpo Media, in addition to key leadership roles at a range of agencies including GH Latino and Second Generation Soy, which she founded to guide Fortune 100 brands on acquiring 1.5 and second-generation Hispanics. In addition, Lopez has served as a board member of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼
Can you describe how you came to this point in your career?
I'll start at the beginning because it informs everything that came thereafter. I was born in Miami to a Spanish-born father and a Cuban-immigrant mother. When I was two weeks old, my parents moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. So, I was raised in the Deep South in the late ‘60s, and early ‘70s, in a non-Hispanic white neighborhood. We were the anomaly. We spoke a different language, we acted differently, and I very much felt like an outsider; different from all these kids. When I came home, my siblings and I would speak English to each other, Spanish to my parents, and Spanish to my grandparents -- your typical multi-generational household. But there was definitely a sense of not feeling like I fit anywhere.
I studied psychology because I really thought I wanted to be a child psychologist to understand my upbringing, but destiny took me elsewhere. I got a degree in psychology, and then I ended up getting an M.A. with a specialty in film and television, and I embarked on an ad agency life. When I tell you I spent 20 years doing general market advertising, I did not touch the Hispanic market. I only focused on general market.
There is something called retro-acculturation where you return to your roots. It definitely happened to me. Fourteen years ago. I came home from the grocery store. My late husband was helping me put up the groceries and he said, ‘you know, you never buy the same brand of anything twice.’ I said, ‘really?’ and he goes, ‘I find it interesting because I just read this study that says that Hispanics are brand loyal.’
My response, without even thinking about it, was, ‘whenever you read a study like that, they never talk about me.’ They are talking about my parents. When I look back, that conversation started my retro-acculturation from a career perspective. I became obsessed with trying to figure out why brands don't talk to us.
Where did that lead you?
I told colleagues that I wanted to focus on bilingual, bicultural audiences and digital because that's the future of the Hispanic market and no one talked about it. The belief at the time, which still is prevalent in a lot of corporate America today, is, ‘well, you guys are bilingual, and you speak English fluently, so I'm reaching you with my general market advertising.’ My argument was always, ‘you're reaching me, but you're not touching me because I'm not brand loyal.’ There's no brand resonance when you market to me. Those colleagues were so supportive. I'm grateful to them for believing in my vision because we gained so many insights through research across acculturation levels, across the country.
What we uncovered was that all children of immigrants play this role that no one ever recognizes, which is the role of sherpa for our foreign-born relatives and friends. We become their guides. We translate the language. We interpret. We navigate a world that is all about self-reliance (here in the U.S.), and collectivist (the Latino ethos). They're at odds with each other -- one is about independence and one is about interdependence. It is a burden to be the sherpa for your relatives. Yet it is part of how we all grow up. It adds a touch of adulthood to our childhoods and it's a lot of responsibility.
If we're the sherpas and we're the ones who are guiding our parents and our relatives, why wouldn't you market to us differently? That really became the core of the insight. It has really propelled me to stay engaged with the Hispanic market. I find it very rewarding to have been at the forefront of this with others who have always been interested in this space to give a voice to that bilingual, bicultural consumer.
How large would you estimate that subset of Latinos is?
In my own life experience and the research, it was definitely two generations. First, it was the generation that were U.S.-born to foreign-born parents, and then immigrant children that came to the U.S. at the age of 10 or younger. Those had come to the U.S. at the age of 10 are younger are the 1.5 generation, while those that are born here of foreign-born parents or the second generation. The 1.5 and the second generation all had parents that couldn't navigate on their own successfully. The two represent a major percentage of the total Hispanic market. However, this wasn't just our story, but also the story of all immigrant children. This is a universal truth across bicultural America.
I was in Detroit when an auto manufacturer asked me to go speak. I was doing this presentation about acculturation knowing full well that none of them were Hispanic in the room. When I finished the presentation, they politely applauded and one man in the back of the room raised his hand. And he said, ‘Maria, you have told me my whole life story and I had never stopped to even think about it. I am the child of Polish immigrants and I'm going to share something with you that only you will understand. I bought my first car when I was 10 years old.’ He had tears in his eyes because he felt that he was the one who had purchased that car. He negotiated with the salesman. He told his father where to sign the agreement. He did everything. So, in his 10-year-old mind, he had that responsibility and he had purchased that car. That’s oftentimes the role we play.
What do you feel corporations and media are getting right about Latinos and what are they getting wrong?
There are some that truly are understanding that it's okay to reach the Hispanic market with a mix of languages. Some organizations are at the very beginning of understanding, and it scares them, and I get that because it's a gray area. When you start talking about consumers, it gets tricky because it's not as easy as just Spanish or English. It’s about hybrids – bilingual, bicultural hybrids. They can consume English and they can consume Spanish. They're living in multi-generational households. We're sometimes consuming media concurrently with different members of the family. It doesn't fit in a box, and it's interesting to me as I look back in on my life, because I too never fit in a box when it comes to marketing.
I want to ask about Nuestra.TV and this point that you just raised about language. How do you navigate both languages in an authentic way?
When we initiated the streaming app, we wanted to call it nuestra because that means ours. We wanted to be the big umbrella where all of us feel like we have a home. We decided from the very beginning to have a bilingual footprint because we wanted to make sure that, whether you were a first-generation Spanish-dominant immigrant or a third-generation grandchild of immigrants who prefers English or English-only, you had a place on Nuestra.TV.
We are working to ensure that all Spanish content has English subtitles, and all English content has Spanish subtitles, to serve as a bridge across generations. I grew up in a household where, if there was one TV set and my mother wanted to watch the soap opera, that's what we were going to watch. And the last thing I wanted to do as a child was to watch a soap opera because I couldn't relate to it. I tell people all the time I lived between Marcia Brady and Veronica the damsel in distress in the telenovela, and I was overshadowed by both of them, but I was neither. We are committed to finding those people between Marcia and the telenovela watchers, and those that have felt always overshadowed by both.
You made mention about the future for Latinos being digital and Nuestra.TV is an on-demand service. Would you describe the market for those who may not be aware?
I'm going to back up a little before I answer that because there's something historical that I think is really important to understand on the bilingual, bicultural front. The first group to truly embrace the internet was the bilingual, bicultural one, and the reason, as research indicated, was that we never saw ourselves in traditional television or radio. We, the bilingual and bicultural, had a hard time finding ourselves, so we went online to create content for others like us to connect with others like us. At the very beginning of the internet, it was a phenomenon. Streaming is very connected to the bilingual and bicultural because it's an online service that we organically have moved to.
If you look at the market, a typical American family has about six streaming apps on their TV. A typical Hispanic family has a little over seven. It's a mixture of English and Spanish because none really serves the total Hispanic market. Thus, there’s a huge opportunity for streamers. In Nuestra.TV’s case, it's a free service, so there is no impediment to accessing great content both in-language and in-culture, as well as across language and culture.
One huge undertaking is technology. There are different degrees of experience levels in finding content that is unique. Also, we have been purposeful in acquiring content from countries where a lot of Hispanics may be underserved. In the U.S., we are a majority Mexican population. So, we have been very purposeful in acquiring content from areas outside of Mexico while also including Mexico.
What advice would you give to a creator who aspires to get on a platform like yours?
It starts with embracing the totality of who you are. That's something that we tend to not do when we're younger. When we're young adults, we're just trying to fit in until you realize you're not comfortable in your own skin. No matter where you are, it is hard to fit into someone else's skin if you're not going to be comfortable. So, embrace who you are and recognize that you are on a journey. Embrace your totality.
And for those who have produced content targeting the Hispanic market, in Spanish, English or both, reach out to Nuestra.TV. 🟢
Thanks for reading OIGO! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
After several requests, OIGO is adding tiers of support. 🍾 Many people have approached me about wanting to promote content efforts, job postings and more. Now, your opportunity is here.
Classified ads and single- and multi-edition sponsorships are the start. I tried to keep it affordable for all sized organizations. Interested? Reserve your space here.
Cafecito: stories to discuss ☕
But first, an ask to discuss. 🎤 Stephanie Rivera, audience editor at Colorado Public Radio, is researching if and how news outlets offer language skill pay to their employees. This could look like a dollar amount added to salary/hourly wages or offered on an as-needed basis, like overtime pay.
👀 Do you offer something like this or know others who do? Feel free to email email@example.com or DM on Twitter. This will help CPR's internal policies but she is happy to share results with others as well.
The Pivot Fund shares a persuasive essay on the importance of journalism in Spanish. 📝
This Columbia Journalism School report on Latino-centered community media is making the rounds, for good reason. 🧵 Conecta Arizona, El Tímpano and Enlace Latino are among those highlighted. (Thanks to Julie Drizin for the spot.)
The newspaper El Pais launched a book club. 📚 We see this in public media at times, and it might be one to watch should an outlet wish to create a bilingual version.
El radar: try this 📡
See if Border Patrol staff present at your high school job fairs. 🏫 Aspen Public Radio covered the controversy where officers pitched roles at a school job fair, and how local Hispanic groups felt about it. Do you know if such happens in your community, too?
Explore Latinx electric vehicle ownership. 🚗 Electric cars are trendy, and states like California are committed to converting residents to EV. KQED spotlighted the lack of ownership among Hispanics. What does this look like in your state?
Ask your community about “American names.” This viral Washington Post commentary taps into a forever-fertile issue. 🚸 Past generations of Hispanics adopted generic names to avoid discrimination, and there are many angles public media could approach.
Contextualize data privacy in your state and its affect on Latine residents. Open Markets Institute translated El Tiempo Latino’s reporting on how lax data privacy protections exposes Latinx communities most to online criminal elements. 💻 This seems like a story you could talk with lawmakers about as well as with nonprofits in your region.
Visit with Costa Ricans about conflicts at home. 🚨 The Knight Center lays out tensions, including President Rodrigo Chaves going after journalists verbally and in the courts.
🎆 The next OIGO is in your inbox April 14. Let’s look at a recent Latino audience listening initiative that offers much for public media to learn from.
👉🏽 If you’re in the Bay Area, I’m moderating a panel April 13 on producing stories around mental health, housing and workplace well-being. Sign up at Eventbrite.
🥤 You can buy me a coffee if you’d like to support the newsletter.