Interviewer’s Note: I’ve done a lot of interviews with individual entrepreneurs and businesses on the Pluggio Blog, but today we’ve got a special treat: I recently interviewed Dr. Jody Aguis Vallejo, Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern California, where she focuses on studying entrepreneurship in Latino communities. I asked her about trends in that world, as well as the role that social media is playing in that booming part of the private sector.
Hello Dr. Vallejo! I’m very happy to welcome you to the Pluggio Blog. So normally on our blog we talk about small business owners, entrepreneurs, etc; but this is going to be something different. Tell me about your work.
I study the ways in which immigrants and their descendants integrate socially and economically into American society. The foci of my recent research examines middle-class Mexican Americans (see: Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class. 2012. Stanford University Press) and professional Latino entrepreneurs.
What inspired you to study this?
One of the main reasons why I’m inspired to study middle-class and professional Latinos is that the current portrayal of Latinos in the media and by politicians does not accurately reflect the diversity of experiences within the Latino population.
What’s the portrayal, and what’s the reality, and how are you changing that?
Pundits and politicians have a tendency to portray Latinos as unauthorized, poor, uneducated, and likely to remain poor and uneducated over the generations. The majority of social research on Latinos also ignores the middle-class and professional populations. I want to help change the narrative of what it means to be Latino in the U.S. by shedding light on middle-class Latinos’ social mobility pathways and experiences as members of the American middle class.
What kinds of businesses are Latino entrepreneurs creating in America today?
Latino entrepreneurs are creating all types of businesses at different economic levels and in different sectors of the economy. Latinos are starting business in retail, entertainment, manufacturing, and professional services that target the Latino market and they are also starting businesses targeted at the general market.
Are there any special/unique challenges they face?
Latino entrepreneurs, especially start-ups, often lack access to capital and credit to start their businesses. Many want to apply for federal-backed SBA loans but they are unable to qualify. This was particularly difficulty during the Great Recession when the credit markets were tight.
What is their approach to Twitter/social marketing? Is there a common cultural approach you see to this? For instance, I’ve read studies that suggest African Americans are major users of Twitter; yet one of my Hispanic friend tells me that he doesn’t think his community uses the internet very much I’m curious how Latinos use it and if there is a difference to their approach from how other cultures use it.
Research shows that Latinos definitely use social networking sites and that usage is higher among the native-born, and many Latino entrepreneurs that I have spoken to use Twitter and Facebook to market their businesses. Twitter allows Latino business owners to connect with others like them, to obtain resources, to stay on top of cutting-edge marketing techniques, and to create a community of people interested in similar issues. I’m not sure whether and to what extent the Latino approach is different from other racial/ethnic groups but I do know that there a lot of middle-class Latinos on Twitter and that there is a large presence of Latino entrepreneurs. Sometimes Latino tweeters will include Spanish in their tweet or write tweets in Spanglish (a mixture of Spanish and English), but this is not ubiquitous. The Latino presence on Twitter seems to grow every day and there is a sizable contingent of Latinos on Twitter creating innovative social movements through social media. One example is the path breaking group @LATISM (Latinos in Social Media) an online movement to bring various types of resources to Latinos. Look out for tweets with #LATISM and check out their blog—it is awesome: http://blog.latism.org/
What do you use your Twitter account for? Are you sharing news articles about your work, finding like-minded scholars, etc?
I use Twitter for a variety of different reasons. First, I use Twitter to promote my research. I tweet about research ideas, links to newspaper articles, blogs, or websites that cite my research, and I tweet articles that are relevant to the topics I study.
Second, I tweet immigration-related issues and topics to my USC students.
Third, Twitter allows me to connect with scholars studying similar topics.
Fourth, I use Twitter to connect with journalists and bloggers examining Latino issues. Journalists and bloggers provide nuance to my research topics and I love reading their stories about Latinos. Some of my favorite Latino journalists and bloggers on Twitter are: @RussContreras; @vato; @GustavoArellano; @utsdaguilera; @Maria_Hinojosa, @CNNValencia, @latinointx, @wiselatinaclub, @MiguelACorona
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