11 July 2012

Reflections from LATISM 2011 in Chicago

Downtown Chicago
Aside from a turbulent landing on my return flight to Austin (during one of the very rare rainstorms we've had in Central Texas over the past year) the Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) conference in Chicago, from November 9-11, 2011, went beyond my expectations. Not only did I learn new things about social media, blogging, and marketing, and not only did I make great professional contacts, but I also made amazing new friends for life - por vida. I can't think of many conferences in the U.S. where you say goodbye with un abrazo fuerte.

Two Tejanas in the Snow
My flight into Chicago O'Hare on Wednesday was slightly delayed - in 1962, it was dubbed the “World’s Busiest Airport”. Currently, it is the nation's only dual-hub airport, and in 2011, it only lagged slightly behind as the world's 4th busiest airport (behind Atlanta, Beijing, and London). I hadn't pre-arranged transportation plans to get to the InterContinental Hotel downtown, on Michigan Avenue (also known as the Magnificent Mile). Fortunately, the airport thought of people like me, and within 10 minutes of grabbing my luggage from the baggage claim, I was on a $30 shuttle ride to downtown Chicago.

When I arrived, I checked in to get my key and went up to meet my roommate, Melanie Mendez-Gonzales, from San Antonio. We had not met beforehand, but we'd connected via the #LATISM network on Twitter. She was hoping to find a roommate, and I was looking for one. Coincidentally, we were one of the very few attendees from Texas - let alone Central Texas. Shortly after meeting, we bundled up and headed to the Navy Pier for registration and the opening ceremony.

Smith Museum of Stained Glass
The LATISM website had stated that the hotel was "located at walking distance from the Chicago Navy Pier [approximately 5 minutes]." They didn't mention that it was 5 minutes JUST to the land-side entrance of the pier. It was about another 20 minutes to walk down to the very end of the pier, at the water's edge. But it gave us a chance to chat more, check out the fun souvenir stands, and even walk through the magical Smith Museum of Stained Glass!


The next day, at breakfast, we heard from Ana Roca Castro (LATISM Founder and Chair), who led one of the cyber-sustainable projects in Montecristi, a small city on the border of Haiti on the Dominican Republic island. Through donations and volunteers, they set up social media programs for local artisans, hospitality and businesses. One of the artisans from Montecristi was present at the conference with a table displaying their handmade bracelets, and I was delighted that our LATISM goodie bag contained one! My bracelet turned out to be red coral (my favorite color!) with little seashell shards.


That evening's keynote speaker was Dolores Huerta, who co-launched the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 with the legendary César Chávez. Dolores was not only instrumental in gaining farm workers' rights, but also in advocating for women's liberation and youth education and well-being. She strongly believed that everyone - particularly the working poor - should have access to basic good health, a clean environment, education, and information on how their government and financial institutions operate. At the end of her speech, she had the entire LATISM conference vivaciously chanting "Si se puede! Si se puede!"

A glass of wine with the legendary Dolores Huerta
After the banquet, Melanie and I, along with our LATISM friends Juan Alanis (aka Juan of Words) and Alicia from Los Angeles, headed back to the hotel, absolutely exhausted from a full day of panels, workshops, networking, and meeting new people. As we were headed toward the elevators, Melanie suggested we stop into the hotel bar for a drink. "Sure, why not," I said. "I'm in Chicago - I should take advantage of every moment! I'll sleep when I'm dead."

As we walked into the bar, we ran into Elianne Ramos (Vice-Chair of Communications and PR for LATISM) who was with none other than Dolores Huerta! They were also accompanied by Sylvia Aguilera (LATISM Board Member) and Hernán Guaracao (Founder & CEO of Al Día News). They suggested a wine bar that was hidden behind the regular bar, which sounded much more lovely. Before we knew it, we were seated at a rustic wood table with Dolores Huerta. This was truly unexpected - an evening I will never forget.

Dolores told us about many of her adventures, but there are a few that stood out. Before she partnered to work with César Chávez, she literally had to chase him around, until he was finally able to see her incredible talent for leadership - as well as persistence. Originally, César had come up with the idea of boycotting potatoes. Dolores rightfully pointed out that would have been appropriate in Idaho, but not so much in California. She suggested boycotting grapes, which is what César Chávez is most known for (¡UVAS NO!).

She and César, along with those working closely with them, took a vow of poverty. They were constantly fighting society's propensity for materialism. This resonated highly with me, as I'm currently doing everything in my life to simplify and be more resourceful, as well as supporting local agriculture and economy. She suggested that we read "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins, a controversial book describing the evils of globalization. When Dolores mentioned that she attended the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert last year, I was half surprised, half not. At 81 years old, she has more energy and youth than most adults in their 20s. Needless to say, she is now one of my heroes. (Black and white photo of César Chávez & Dolores Huerta by Jon Lewis.)

Read Melanie's take on the evening, and for a different spin, read Juan's!


There really was so much more - I'd have to write a short novel about it all. We heard a motivational talk by Ramon De Leon, who started out as a pizza delivery driver and eventually became the Marketing Mind of a six-store Domino's Pizza franchise in Chicago. He urged us to "Show up early and show up often." We also heard Mary Anne Müller, founder of Fundación Chile, a school offering high qual­ity and cost-free edu­ca­tion for socially vulnerable young­sters and adults. Their edu­ca­tional model is based on the search for a cul­ture of peace and sus­tain­able coex­is­tence, including an Agro-Ecological vision, which con­sid­ers agri­cul­tural activ­ity in a holis­tic way.

One thing I have not been hearing or seeing enough in the general Latino/Hispanic community is talk about living sustainably and adopting environmentally friendly practices. Seeing how much Dolores Huerta and Mary Anne Müller inspired others at LATISM, I am hoping that some of us can band together to create a "green" tribe, to join the various other tribes (couponing, education, PR & marketing, etc.). I was inspired to finally launch my new blog, Ecoloxica: A Mexican American Ecological Chica.

I do want to give a special shout-out to the couponing tribe: Mirna Arce of Ahorros Con Cupones, Yoly Mason of Cuponeando, Myrah Duque of Coupon Mamacita, Denisse Icaza of Ahorros Para Mama, and Sisy McDowell of Mama Latina en Philly - thanks to all of you for sharing your insight and experience on the world of savings in the Latino community.

Tony Melendez - Singer and Guitarist
And last but not least, a bow of admiration to musician Tony Melendez, born without arms, but nevertheless has made tremendous achievement as a world-performing singer and guitarist. If you ever feel you can't do something because you're missing something, or because it's too difficult, picture Tony plucking at the guitar with his nimble toes.

And to any of you whom I have not mentioned by name - please know that if we chatted, even if only for a few minutes, you've touched me in some way, and I hope we meet up again.

Saludos to all...and ¡WEPA! Long live #LATISM. See you all this October in Houston!

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