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MARIA TERESA PETERSON... Latino Cultural Ambassadors
May 30, 2008 by Mable Yee
As Executive Director Voto Latino.org, Maria Teresa Peterson has learned a lot about how young Latinos are using New media technologies to communicate, share and network with one another. Her organization is one of the leading sites that targets young Latinos under age 30 to educate, encourage and help them register to vote. Started a few years ago as a non-profit that aired Public Service Announcements (PSA) over the air, it has developed into a big powerhouse organization.

She's heard many stories about how Latinos and Latinas have turned to the Internet, text messaging and other media and mobile technologies to connect and engage with other young people who share the same issues. While there seems to be a myth out there in the media that Latinos aren't using technologies at the same rates as other groups, she's seen statistics that show that Latinos are using text messaging at incredibly high rates, that Latino/Latina bloggers represent one of the highest populations and that they are turning to these new technologies to help them make decisions. Voto Latino has also launched one of the first text-messaging voter registration campaigns in American history, where young Latinos could register to vote by sending a text message from their mobile phone. On Election Day 2006, those participating received Get-Out-The Vote text message reminders and it helped to increase Latino participation in the polls by 9%.

By listening to their members they've initiated creative and innovative ways to capture interest and drive more member sign ups and involvement. They've gone out and recruited Latino artists who help to promote voter registration and encourage voter turnout. A new program they're piloting is to work with local DJs and celebrities to promote voting through programs that encourage the young Latino population to get involved. They are also employing Google ads, Facebook, and viral marketing on websites to reach out to their powerful constituents.

Maria Teresa shared that the young Latinos are what they term the "cultural ambassadors" in their households. That means in many households where parents may not be as familiar with English or the commercial products to purchase, they will turn to their children who will dictate what products and services to choose or that are deemed "cool". So their children may state that they have to have high speed DSL or cable modem access so they can conduct research online to complete their homework at home. Parents would then ask which brand and where they can find the products. Their buying and consumer influence covers all categories of products including food, electronics, clothing, cars, services, etc. That's why many savvy consumer brands are courting the Latino youth as a key influencer for making household buying decisions and recommendations.

In terms of voting, Maria Teresa also says that there are many missed opportunities to engage the Latino communities. She said that many candidates, consultants and organizations assume that the Latinos are consuming their media in Spanish only outlets. Citing a recent poll conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, over 79% of all American Latino eligible voters consumed electoral news in English. Additionally, over 50,000 young Latinos turn 18 every month and 93% of them are eligible to vote. So reaching out to this segment of the population requires targeted marketing and savvy outreach with specific messages. She also said that some of the biggest issues Latinas are concerned about include Health i.e. Obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease, sex education for women and AIDS information, Education and Immigration issues.

She said the issues facing young Latinos are different from the ones that their parents dealt with when they first emigrated from their native countries. Our future will depend heavily upon how we reach out and engage this next generation of Latino voters who will heavily influence the future outcome of our nation. Thank you Maria Teresa for the incredibly important and creative work your organization is performing to engage the young Latino voters. Mable

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