Written by George Ramirez //
At this point in my life, I find myself using social media instinctively. Whenever there’s a free moment, I get on Facebook. If I’m bored, I’ll check my Instagram. Frankly, when I want to let the world know I have a free moment or that I’m bored, I tweet it to my followers.
I might be on one extreme of social media obsession, but I know my constant ability to be connected to the rest of the world isn’t the exception. Having taught high school for two years, I see that the younger people get, the more they are connected through social media. But even my grandmother has a Facebook account, so we are all connected through the digital world. Most importantly, I see the ways social media can affect anyone’s life–the way they construct reality, the way they view other people, and most importantly, the way people develop an identity of themselves within a larger group.
After learning I could study Latinxs like myself, I combined my obsession with memes, tweeting, and online sharing with my passion for academia to study the ways Latinxs portray Latinidad–a pan-ethnic “Latino-ness”–through social media. Latinxs are the number one consumers of media compared to any other ethnic group in the United States. Historically, media has not portrayed Latinxs accurately or extensively, but social media has allowed many minority groups to unite, organize, and voice the political opinions and values of their communities, which have been silenced by colonization and imperialism.
Whenever I scroll through Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr posts, I confront a representation of Latinx culture that is in dire need of examination. I believe that’s because social media gives anyone–you, me, the person sitting across from you–the ability to create and share representations of Latino culture that aren’t guided by formal institutions in the way traditional media is.
Researching the performance of Latinxs through social media allows for me to critically engage with the variety of portrayals of Latinx culture in the digital world. Studying these virtual spaces has allowed for me to inform other scholars of the multiplicity of perspectives and identities Latinxs have. Throughout history, media has portrayed Latinxs solely through the use of stereotypes, but social media has shown and continues to show people that Latinxs are queer, disabled, black, white, educated, and ready to call anyone out on what is expected as “acceptable” in the world. These virtual spaces have allowed many people to understand themselves more fully, and I believe in their potential to help other Latinxs empower themselves.
An academic approach to studying this form of cultural production helps shift the paradigm of dominant portrayals and understandings of what it means to be Latinx. As an American studies Ph.D. student, interdisciplinary methodology has guided my research in helping the scholarly world understand not only the content that my community has produced, but also why it’s so important to their acculturation process as historically marginalized people in the United States. There’s a reason Latinxs are tied to their phones and computer screens; we are able to see more holistic representations of ourselves in order to understand the diversity within our communities. Social media allows us to make sense of and build our identity, and my work helps validate the lived experiences of Latinxs, which traditional media has constantly reminded us is solely based around issues of immigration and citizenship.
Latinx media studies is one of many outlets in which people address racial injustices. The study of content production, analysis, reception, and effects tells people of the benefits and problematic elements behind the media we consume. However, it lets us know that there is no way to talk about racial inequities without talking about people who identify as femmes, queer, disabled, Muslim, and many other markers that may not be considered within Latinx culture. Racial injustices don’t stand alone, and my work strives to address the ways in which gender, sexuality, and ability are central to the conversations scholars have around race.
Racial justice and liberation can only be achieved when we have an understanding that one can’t disregard one aspect of their identify for the sake of another. Being Latinx means being black. Being Latinx means being educated. Being Latinx means being lesbian. Other identities are not mutually exclusive, and the critical study of mass communication media helps create bodies of knowledge that address the incomplete histories of traditional outlets, helping to move toward a more equitable and just understanding of the vast identities incorporated within Latinidad. Academia serves as one of the many ways in which people can use their voices and resources to achieve liberation across all fronts. I work alongside my community to make sure that their posts, shares, and tweets are understood more thoroughly in the fight against injustice.
George N. Ramírez is an Ecuadorian Ph.D. student in American Studies at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. When he’s not tagging you in memes about Latinx aunts, you can find him dancing bachata, singing along to Bruce Springsteen, and talking about how the Bronx is the best place in the world. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.