In discussing social-media websites like Facebook and Twitter, some are guilty of looking the gift horse in the mouth, complaining that ever-expanding online communities are huge time-sucks that take people away from physical interaction. Others, however, believe social media can be a catalyst for social change, an important tool in uniting and empowering like-minded people. The Social Media Masquerade at Gil Gallery Thursday night highlighted the positive effects of this staple of the Digital Age on young Latinos.
The event celebrated the group Latinos in Social Media (LATISM), a nationwide non-profit organization which has launched five new chapters in the last three months, including one in Charlotte. The nonpartisan group, dedicated to advancing the social, civic and economic status of the Latino community, has a strong online presence, with about 90,000 Facebook members and 10 million hashtag impressions daily on Twitter.
Brian Cockman, director of LATISM Charlotte, describes himself as “a 100% gringo who is somewhat of a Latin-phile.” He first got involved with LATISM by browsing through Twitter. “Every Thursday night at 9 p.m. there's a LATISM party on Twitter, and it's people discussing education, health, and other issues affecting Latinos," Cockman said. "I just started joining the party, at first as a voyeur." A little more than a year ago, LATISM national's communications chair Elian Ramos contacted Cockman and asked if he would be interested in starting a Charlotte chapter. Cockman was thrilled: "I said, 'most definitely!'"
Edwin Gil, the artist whose gallery hosted the launch, learned about LATISM through Cockman. Gil said the group seemed like a “great way to promote Latin culture through social media," so he decided to mix LATISM with an art exhibit. The party proved successful, with more than 100 mask-wearing attendees mingling among Gil's colorful conceptual paintings. “These relationships were formed through Twitter. Until tonight I had never met any of these people in person," said Cockman. “One of the main things that we wanted to do here in Charlotte was to take all of these online conversations and turn it into off-line community action.”
Halfway through the night Cockman, along with Rafael Rodriguez, co-director of LATISM Charlotte, spoke more in-depth to the crowd about the group's goals. “Technology has changed the way we communicate,” said Rodriguez. “Now we have the power to tell our own stories, not only for ourselves. Social media is here to stay, to open up communication channels.”
Cockman stressed the importance of community on LATISM. “You don't have to be a Latino to be part of Latinos in Social Media," he said. "You just have to be willing to support your fellow brothers and sisters, no matter where they come from or what kind of accent they have.”