Jesse teaching social media to a group of about 30 Invited by my friend Jesse Luna, I attended the CAUSE2012 Social Media conference in Santa Maria this past weekend. It was a day-long event focused on Latinos and social media, sponsored by LATISM.
Compared to the usual social media conferences I attend, this was at a very basic level - "Why use Twitter?" "Is it more important to have a Facebook page or a website?" - that sort of thing.
The irony is that I probably learned more at this conference than I did at bigger, more well-established social media conferences I have attended.
The opening speaker, Giovanni Rodriguez, did a great job of summing up the feeling of the event in a blog post here.
The audience was at least 90 percent Latino and the difference was that most of them were very actively involved in community organizing, activism and volunteerism. The depth of knowledge and experience they had gave the event a sense of urgency and gravity I have rarely seen elsewhere.
During a break, I turned to the woman next to me, a community organizer, and asked what her town's greatest need is. I was humbled to hear her answer: "Food. The first and greatest need is always food."
I thought: here I am using twitter to talk about celebrities and YouTube videos, and this woman is trying to find ways to feed people in her town. Every single day.
I also learned something about bravery while I was there. A student stood up to ask a question during our Skype call with Juan Sepulveda from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
She stood up in front of an audience and in front of a representative of the federal government and told him she was an undocumented student. An "illegal," as so many people say.
I know that the audience and Juan were sympathetic to her situation, but it still takes huge guts to stand up in public at her age - maybe 19 or 20 - and say something that could lead to the loss of everything she has ever known. But she had a question and a concern for the White House, and she wanted to be represented, so she took that risk. I don't know if I have ever, in my life, been as brave.
It was a little out of my comfort zone to attend a conference focused on Latinos. I'm not Latina, even though I like to turn up the Vicente Fernandez and pretend sometimes. But in the end, I'm so glad I went. I got to see another side of social media and how people are using it to make real, positive change. I was warmly welcomed and felt like I walked away with a better understanding of people with whom I share my community every day.