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SXSW Puts Spotlight On Latinos In Tech

Mar 11, 2014

The interactive section of South by Southwest (SXSW) wraps up today, and for the first time it included three days of panels and discussions specifically focused on the integration of Latinos in tech.

The sessions were designed to make Latinos feel more comfortable in a field where they are underrepresented.

We hear a report from Veronica Zaragovia of KUT that for some Latinos, the results were less than satisfying.

Here & Now’s Robin Young then speaks to Julie Diaz-Asper, founder and CEO of Social Lens Research, about her experience as a Latina tech entrepreneur and her research on how Latinos use technology and social media.



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The interactive section of South by Southwest wraps up today in Austin, Texas. And for the first time, it included three days of panels and discussions specifically focused on the integration of Latinos in tech. The sessions were designed to make Latinos feel more comfortable in a field where they are underrepresented. But as Veronica Zaragovia from HERE AND NOW contributing station KUT reports, for some Latinos, the results were less than satisfying.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi. Here's where it starts?


VERONICA ZARAGOVIA, BYLINE: At South by Southwest interactive this year, people are discussing where Latinos stand in the tech world. And their place, geographically at least, was far from front and center. The so-called Latinos in Tech sessions took place at a Holiday Inn about a mile or a 20-minute walk from the Austin Convention Center. As one blogger was typing out tweets using hashtags like latism or Latinos in Social Media, next to her, Austin blogger Mando Rayo asked why they were so far from the action.

MANDO RAYO: I guess what would be your suggestions to be more integrated into those conversations, the key players, the decision makers or being at the convention center.


ZARAGOVIA: Becky Arreaga, one of the speakers at a session titled "Chicapreneurs," said she too was disappointed with the location and low turnout.

BECKY ARREAGA: So we need to find power behind that and trend next year that we are at the convention center because it is a little, you know, it feels a little shameful that we are over here. And maybe it's just...

ZARAGOVIA: At a session titled "What Would Cesar Chavez Tweet," the late liberal leader's son, Paul Chavez, noted that Latinos are heavy users of social media. No small coincidence. Actress Rosario Dawson was in the crowd. She has a part in a movie about Cesar Chavez that's screening at South by Southwest Film. She says Latinos are quick to adopt new technologies.

ROSARIO DAWSON: 80 percent of Latino adults use social media versus 70 percent of whites, 75 percent of African-Americans. We really kind of shoot through the roof on almost every issue when it comes to technology.

ZARAGOVIA: But that doesn't seem to translate into Latinos working in the tech sector. A 2010 study by the Department of Labor found less than 6 percent of workers in computer and math jobs in the U.S. are Latino. That can leave Latinos that do work in tech feeling isolated. Deldelp Medina is president of a group called the Latino Startup Alliance based in San Francisco. She says the group has helped her find a human connection in the tech world.

DELDELP MEDINA: You can talk about conversion rates, and you can talk about user rates, and you can talk the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts of how you're building something and what's one product versus another. You know, we have those conversations. That's not unusual. But we also talk about, like, the personal part of a, like, hey, how are you doing?

ZARAGOVIA: Jennifer Arguello is tech advisor at the Kapor Center in Oakland, California, which helped organized a Latinos in Tech event. She says one challenge to leveling the playing fields for Latinos when it comes to tech startups is that many venture capitalists won't talk to entrepreneurs who don't already have some money to invest.

JENNIFER ARGUELLO: It's a network problem, so they may not know a lot of people that could help them out and get the word out of what they're doing. And it's also an educational problem. And this isn't just for Latinos, but the public education system is not necessarily teaching the skills that we need for the future workforce.

ZARAGOVIA: And organizers hope that networking and conversations events like this one at South by Southwest will lead to better and more opportunities in the tech sector for Latinos. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Veronica Zaragovia.


OK. Let's bring in Julie Diaz-Asper. She participated in the South by Southwest Latinos in Tech Track. She's the founder and CEO of Social Lens Research. That's a company that uses social media to help companies connect with hard-to-reach communities. And she joins us from the NPR studios in Washington. Welcome.

JULIE DIAZ-ASPER: Welcome. Thank you.

YOUNG: And so we rush to say no group is a monolith. But as we just heard, it's Latinos claiming a relationship with, an impact from the tech world. We heard Rosario Dawson say 80 percent of Latino adults adopt new technologies as opposed to 70 percent of whites. She says we shoot through the roof on every issue when it comes to technology. How have you seen that?

, SOCIAL LENS RESEARCH: Well, one thing that's very clear is that the Latinos are leading the way on mobile usage, for example. Latinos are almost 10 percent more likely to use mobile phones than non-Hispanic whites. And when you look at the usage patterns, three out of five Latinos are just primarily using their mobile phones.

Why this is important is as there's been a lot more intention - attention on the Latino market, you're seeing that a lot of the innovation is going to be focused around getting Latinos, reaching Latinos and engaging them via these mobile technologies. You're...

YOUNG: Well, then that's what you do. You work with companies. You research how people use social media and then work with companies like American Express - I'm seeing some others - Booz Allen, AARP, to help them connect what they do with communities that are using social media. So how would you - let's say you have this information about Latinos. That's pretty powerful. How would you use that?

, SOCIAL LENS RESEARCH: Well, what you're seeing is we recently just - we did a study on the mobile - the movie industry. And what was very surprising was how much Latinos wanted to leverage mobile to buy tickets, you know, to do their research and how they weren't being served by the movie industry. So it's really helping those companies understand that if you want to gain share and to really reach this market, they need to build customer experiences that are relevant for Hispanic users.

YOUNG: You spoke on the South by Southwest panel called Latino Digital Landscape: Insights and Solutions. It sounds like that would have been an insight. And a solution would be a company to begin marketing to this huge audience.

, SOCIAL LENS RESEARCH: Yeah. And this really kind of goes across government, non-profit, commercial. What was very strong about - there was a pre-event to South by Southwest put on by Kety Esquivel and the Kapor Center. And a real call to action there was as Latinos in tech, we understand in - our communities. We understand the needs of our community. And we need to take a leadership role in helping to represent those needs. And as we're trying to kind of increase civic engagement, for example, you know, we were 10 percent of the electorate at the last election.

But there was almost 12 million people not registered. So there's a lot of opportunity to really improve performance there. If you look in the education area, there's four million Hispanic children who are English language learners. There are statistics that are just terrifying that by fourth or sixth grade, they're four grades behind. And there's, you know, new startups like Plaza Familia, who understand this community and are building solutions that really help address the specific needs of our community.

For example, I've talked with Ana Roca about Plaza Familia a couple of times, and one thing that, for them, has been kind of a breakthrough understanding is that for them to really make progress with these English language learners is building an apparent engagement tool that's mobile enabled. So it's that kind of in-depth, detailed knowledge of the needs of the consumers that's going to really make a different to the community and to businesses that are trying to grow and also to do some good.

YOUNG: Well - and we just have a couple of seconds here, but I'm wondering, if you look ahead to next year's South by Southwest Latinos in Tech Track, what would your, very briefly, one wish be?

, SOCIAL LENS RESEARCH: I would really like to see some of the thoughtfulness and kind of the organization that went into the pre-event happening with the official track. I...

YOUNG: Well, I thought you were going to say, put us in the main building.


, SOCIAL LENS RESEARCH: Well, that too. I mean, I would like to be in the main building. I got a lot of - maybe too much exercise during that weekend. But...

YOUNG: Julie Diaz-Asper of the group Social Lens Research, commenting on Latinos' involvement in this year's South by Southwest. Julie, thanks so much.

, SOCIAL LENS RESEARCH: Oh, thank you for having me.

YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.

HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.