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Last night during the final round of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” my brother Fernando Varela made me cry.

His emotions after FORTE’s spectacular rendition of “Caruso” were real and loving, and my tears for him were tears of joy and relief. You see, I know that Fernando has busted his tail for over 16 years and now he,  Josh Page, and Sean Pannikar are on the cusp of having their lives change forever.

CREDIT: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

CREDIT: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

That is my brother. Soaking in the moment, but still taking the time to remind us that this is all about dedication and (surprise, surprise) hard work.

Yesterday my brother’s Twitter was extremely active. So was FORTE’s. They got a lot of love from all over the world, but this is the one tweet that said it all for me:

The “boys” left it all on the floor last night. They are already winners. The ride has been a fantastic one. This is the only the beginning.

This is the NBC AGT YouTube video that was posted last night.

This is the full performance video where my brother said it all at the end.

Yes, people, there are still good stories out there.

Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.

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This is happening.

Tonight. AGT Finale. Vote here after 10:55 EST. Also you can tweet a vote with “#VoteAgt Forte.”

FORTE with Josh Page, Sean Pannikar and my brother Fernando Varela. Let’s do this!

FORTE in #AGTFinale: Don't Forget to Vote Tonight!

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Exactly two years ago today, while I was covering the latest from Puerto Rico, several of my friends shared a report about the island that, according to them, was a “must watch.” It was a segment called “Puerto Rico: The fiscal experiment,” produced by Al Jazeera. To this day, it is still one of the most comprehensive reports I have ever seen about Puerto Rico’s current situation. The piece was journalism at its best: tell the story, include different points of view, and invite viewers to draw their own conclusions.

I was highly impressed, and it was the first time I had ever really noticed the quality of news content Al Jazeera was producing in English.

Fast forward to the end of 2012. I was in New York City hanging with friends in lower Manhattan when I got a call from Washington, D.C. It was an Al Jazeera English producer for a show called “The Stream.” Would I like to be a guest next week to talk about Puerto Rico’s social media activism and the issues surrounding the “La Comay” controversy?

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Even though my schedule couldn’t accommodate the invite, I was even more impressed that Al Jazeera English was dedicating time to a story that deeply connected with me and millions of others in the Latino online space. Ever since then, I was hooked to the “The Stream.” The combination of conversation and social media was powerful. Here was the new media “60 Minutes.” I soon found out that many of my friends also loved the show, as well as a huge part of our Latino Rebels community.

This Monday, I start my new job as a Digital Producer for “The Stream.” Having met the show’s core staff and leadership, this decision was an exciting one for me, as well as an easy one to make. Simply stated, “The Stream” fully understands the power of the new media. For example, tomorrow they are running an #OpenEditorial for content and ideas. They believe in amplifying stories that come from the ground up, a belief I have been embracing ever since I started tweeting in 2008 and founded LatinoRebels.com in 2011.

Although the Rebeldes will always be with me, my new position at “The Stream” allows me to expand my talents at a ground-breaking award-winning news show I believe is the future of news media.

And no, I won’t be disappearing from the online world. Quite the contrary. I will do my best to get the stories that matter to “The Stream.” If you ever have a story that you think needs attention, please do not hesitate to contact me via Twitter or Facebook. You know where to find me.

This is going to be an incredible adventure. Something’s coming, for sure.

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Originally published at LatinoRebels.com

Who knew? Who knew that a Public Shaming Tumblr post published late Tuesday night (June 11, 2013) would turn an 11-year-old boy from San Antonio into a national hero in less than 48 hours? Yet that is exactly what happened to Sebastien de la Cruz, whose story went from one of ignorance to one of pure joy and love. Like the Buzzfeed headline from a story written by Adrian Carasquillo (full disclosure: my brother from another mother), de la Cruz’s moment showed “a nation how to love again.”

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Less then 48 hours. That is all that it took.

Tuesday afternoon, Sebastien de la Cruz was just one of millions of talented kids out there. He had gotten national attention last year on “America’s Got Talent,” but outside of San Antonio, not many people knew about him. By Thursday night, the Twitter profile of President Obama gave him a shout out. San Antonio mayor Julián Castro was reintroducing him to the world. He was trending on Twitter. National media had descended to scoop up the interviews. He had gone global.

Welcome to the new media.

As expected, I thought a lot about the story late last night. Why this one? Why did the story of a little boy in a charro outfit become the viral story of the week? Here are my random thoughts:

  • The story had honesty and authenticity. It came from “the ground up.” Late Tuesday night, while I was monitoring the Latino Rebels Facebook site, we received three messages from fans and a post linking to the Public Shaming post. Within minutes of reading the Tumblr post, I instantly knew that this story would resonate with our incredible social media community, which is the most connected and most engaged group in the Latino media space today. This story evolved from the real feelings of people. That was it. This story spoke to relevant issues of identity and culture. It was an easy decision from our end to amplify the story, and the results proved it. In the past 48 hours, LatinoRebels.com amassed its highest level of web traffic ever. The response was so overwhelming that it crashed our web server three times. When we posted our first story early Wednesday morning, the story took off. Soon, the story was being linked by Colorlines, Reddit, Jezebel, HuffPost, Latina, Buzzfeed, CNN, Puerto Rico’s Vocero, and countless other links and online forums. LR takes pride in amplifying stories that originate from our community. Mission accomplished.
  • San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich used the story to tell the truth about this country. Even though I am a huge Knicks fan and I still can’t get over what the Spurs did to my team in the 1999 NBA Finals, my respect for Popovich reached a new level when he said the following at a press conference yesterday before Game 4: “I would like to say that I would be shocked or surprised by the comments. But given the fact that there’s still a significant element of bigotry and racism in our nation, I’m not surprised. It still plagues us, obviously. And what I was surprised by was how proud these idiots are of their ignorance, by printing their names next to their comments. [Sebastien’s] a class act. Way more mature than most his age. And as much as those comments by the idiots sadden you about your country, he makes you feel that the future could be very bright.” In a world where anti-Latino racism is raw, Popovich’s words had to be said.
  • Will we as a community continue to amplify other stories that matter? I can only hope that the reaction people generated online to support Sebastian can now turn to other stories that merit even more attention, like the case of boricua David Sal Silva (yes, Silva is half Puerto Rican), whose death at the hands of Kern County officers continues to go under the radar. If we as a community of engaged online Latinos can rally around the talent of an amazing boy, can we also do the same to share our outrage towards a death that was clearly condoned by law enforcement? Changing the paradigm about what it is to be Latino in this country right now must go beyond the feel-good celebration of a boy’s singing talents. We must approach stories like Silva’s with the same vigor and commitment as we did with Sebastian’s story.
  • The real (and sometimes uncomfortable) dialogue surrounding identity cannot stop here. Let’s face it: Sebastian’s social media story speaks to us all. It raises issues that must continue to be explored by the mainstream media, and not just be limited to the social one. de la Cruz proved that the United States is a better place when we celebrate our differences and find the commonalities within those difference. Being Latino in the U.S. doesn’t mean that you love this country any less, quite the contrary. Yet it also doesn’t mean that this country is perfect. It is not. Far from it. We are at a crossroads once again in determining what we want this nation to become. Do we want to be a country that understands that being proud of one’s roots (and for all those suggesting that Sebastien was overlooking his Mexican heritage when he said that he was American, cut the kid some slack—he’s only 11 and I seriously doubt that as he grows up to become a young man, he will shy away from his heritage) does not mean that you are “less American,” or do we want to be a country where an actual congressman freaks out about his office being “invaded” by “illegal aliens?” Sebastien’s story confirms to me that the days of Rep. Steve King (along with the Coulters and Malkins) are extremely limited, and like Popovich said, “the future could be very bright.” Yet that will take even more commitment. Are we ready as a community to continue where Sebastien de la Cruz left off? I think so, because social media has given millions of people the chance to share issues and stories that can literally move up the media landscape and become national issues that form part of our consciousness. That is where the real power lies, and to paraphrase a high-stakes poker player, “Latino Rebels is all in.”

The future is indeed ours. Now let’s keep posting, tweeting, sharing, and commenting on it.

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Before I start, I was really happy to see so many familiar faces and people who made the Forbes’ list of 2013 Social Media Power Users. People like Ted Rubin, Chris Brogan, Ann Handley, Jessica Northey, Aaron Lee, Mari Smith, Calvin Lee, Jeff Bullis, Gary Vaynerchuk, etc. are all amazing people, and I am really happy to see them get listed.

However, the overall list sadly lacks in diversity, and it specifically ignores well-known and established Latino Power Users. Again. It is becoming a common and disturbing trend, one that needs to stop.

The author of the piece, Haydn Shaughnessy, could have clearly dug a little deeper when it comes to “influence.” Yes, he established his criteria through Peek Analytics, with the assumption that this is all about “reach.” (By the way, my Peek is 327.) That is only part of the full picture. Reach only takes you so far. It is the quality of your reach that matters. For example, my company Latino Rebels has become a go-to source for many members of the national media. Our community is highly loyal and highly engaged, and it serves a demographic (bilingual, bicultural young Latinos) that is the new “hot” demo. How do you measure that influence? By a Peek score? Or by people who come to your site and social media networks every day, who want to engage you and want to support you? The real Power User builds lasting relationships, and while many of the 2013 Forbes Power Users listed do follow that course, many others on the list do not. And that is why the list fails, in my opinion.

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So I ask again: where are the Latino Power Users? Does Shaughnessy not know about Latism or Hispanicize? Does he not know about Elianne Ramos (the Latism Reina) or Laura Gómez (the first Latina at Twitter)? These are just two very specific examples of Power Users who have earned the respect, love, and credibility of the Latino digital community. I could also give Shaughnessy about 20-30 names, but I wonder if he even read this opinion piece from the HuffPost that speaks to how Latinos just can no longer be ignored in the social space:

Latinos, who have been recorded as the group with the highest rate of early adopters are continuously embracing technology faster than any other demographic in the United States.

According to a report by Pew Internet and American Life Project, 18 percent of Latinos online are Twitter users, a greater percentage than their counterparts in every other category.

On Facebook, Latinos are also using the social media platform at a higher rate than their counterparts, with 54.2 percent of Latinos online regularly using Facebook, just above non-Latino blacks at 47.7 percent and non-Latino whites at 43 percent, according to marketing company Big Research.

Successful organizations such as United We Dream and Latism have been able to implement positive change within their communities because they not only understand Latinos, they also know how to successfully engage them. To give you an idea of their reach, United We Dream has 4,911 Twitter followers and over 13,000 “Likes” on Facebook, and Latism has over 23,000 Twitter followers and over 150,000 “Likes” on Facebook.

Or did he even read this 2012 report from Nielsen?

Social is another platform where Latinos are especially active and rising in numbers.  During February 2012, Hispanics increased their visits to Social Networks/Blogs by 14 percent compared to February 2011.  Not only are Latinos the fastest growing U.S. ethnic group on Facebook and WordPress.com from a year ago, but also Hispanic adults are 25 percent more likely to follow a brand and 18 percent more likely to follow a celebrity than the general online population.

Do you think that this happens by accident? No. It is because there is a very dynamic and influential group of Latino Power Users who are building real communities each and every day.

I know that many of those 2013 Forbes Power Users understand that the Latino social space is thriving. Last week at Hispanicize in Miami, for example, I ran into one 2013 Power User (and fellow Knick Fan) Ted Rubin, who was at that conference and making serious connections. Because Ted gets it, and he’s nice, too. Latinos are the future of social media, and I won’t accept Shaughnessy’s list for the very simple reason that it only gives you a narrow mainstream view of social media.

Forbes and Shaughnessy failed again by excluding several Latino Power Users on its list. You know why? Because they don’t have a clue about what is really happening in that space, and they have shown no desire to learn more about that space. So they follow the safe choice, because safe is not risky.

I sure hope that one day Shaughnessy actually starts engaging the Latino Power Users more and more. He might learn a thing or two.

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I have gotten a couple of queries as to why my name is no longer listed as a nominee for the 2013 SXSWi Revolucionario Awards, to be held later this month in Austin. The reason is a simple one: I was nominated in The Mobilizer category, the same one as Latino Rebels, the media company I founded in 2011. Since the Rebels and their off-the-charts success have been a testament to the amazing group of individuals who make the brand one of the best and most dynamic ones in the Latino space today, I felt pretty strongly that the brand should be recognized in the final judging process and not me. This nomination is for all the Rebeldes, you know who you are. For those who have been there from the very beginning and for those who have joined us recently, you are an amazing familia. There is no other team I would want to be with. You are the best in the Latino space, hands down.

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Even though I am withdrawing my name for consideration, I will say that on a personal note, I am extremely grateful and thankful to all those in my own networks, the immediate networks of all the 30+ Rebeldes, our visitors to LatinoRebels.com, and ALL the brands’ social media channels (from Twitter to Facebook to Tumblr to YouTube to Instagram to Pinterest to G+ to Klout to EA) for helping me to amass close to 1,700 likes during the nomination process. Combine this with what the likes that the Rebels got and what my new friend-in-rebeldía Charle García received, and we were very proud to have gotten over 6,000 likes across the Revolucionario platforms (Facebook and their web site). We are also happy that we helped to increase awareness and recognition to the Revolucionario Award organizers. They are a great group of people who are really creating something special that has already become a SXSWi fixture.

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On behalf of all the Rebeldes, I want to thank you all for your amazing support. Now it’s time for the Comandantes to decide the winners. I will be rooting for the Rebeldes. Of course.

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This is what happens in life. People come in and out of it. Some of those people stay longer with you. And some of those people drift away, for whatever the reason. Yet you can never deny that some people who enter your life and then eventually leave it, still leave a lasting impact on you and make you a better person.

Such is the case of Louis Pagan. Louis was a friend. He died over the weekend at 41 years old. I am still in shock.

I got to know Louis in early 2009 via Twitter, when Twitter was cool. It was an exciting time for social media, especially for Latinos who were started to play in the space. From my interactions with him and with a small group of people who would eventually achieve great things, I saw a loving and giving person. Louis was the best. Louis was New York. Louis was an hermano.

The first time I met Louis in real life (I had already known him for months online), it was over a cup of coffee on a sunny spring East Side day in a Manhattan Starbucks. He shared with me his idea of creating an organization called Latinos in Social Media and even asked me if he thought the name LATISM resonated. No brainer, I told Louis, where do I sign up?

What Louis and others accomplished that year was phenomenal. LATISM was special, and it still is. Although I missed the first LATISM conference in New York, I was honored when Louis asked me to come down from Boston and speak at a LISTA conference later that year. The conference will always be one of the best ones I have ever spoken at because it was at a time when social media was still trying to figure itself out. It felt like the future, and it just proved to me that Louis was a visionary. It was also the first time I got to meet dear friends like Ana Roca Castro, Lili Gil, and Claudia Goffman. I also met the fabuloso Eduardo Gonzalez Loumiet there as well (who passed on the pics in this post to me). All these people are like family to me, and that was all Louis who made that happen.

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That night I also got to meet Louis’ wife, and I could instantly see a very loving and beautiful couple that cared for each other and their family. It pains me to think how she is feeling now, and I have no doubt that the Latino social media community will do all it can to help Louis’ family. It is the least we can do, for all that Louis did for us.

Even though that was the last time I ever saw Louis in person because we chose different paths (we still connected online), I will never forget those times. They were simpler, less complicated, full of promise and potential. Louis had a sparkle in his eye, and a passion that few can ever match.

Yes, he sparked a movement. A real authentic movement that is bigger than all of us. Without Louis’ idea, LATISM would never be here. Imagine that. I can’t.

Peace to you, hermano.

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It’s funny, but Louis’ last tweet says, “Beat that!” He was never one to brag about what he did or how many lives he touched, but yeah, “Beat that!” is perfect. Don’t think I can ever “Beat that!”, but with Louis as an inspiration, I will try as hard as I can. ABRAZOS, Louis.

 

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