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Latinos Spread Their News on the Web

Culture: Feeling ignored by mainstream media, young journalists turn to the Internet. It's a forum to discuss 'who we are,' one writer says.

June 10, 2002|JENNIFER MENA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of Latino twentysomethings in Orange County is putting such tantalizing headlines on the Internet as "Blood and Oranges," "Putting a Brown Face on Orange County" and "Beer Bottles, Blood Money, and Other Cinco de Mayo Party Favors." These are titles of articles posted on a Web site, www.oclatino.net, one of several recently launched news sites aimed at Latinos in Orange County. Its young founders, graduates of local colleges who participated in Latino student groups, said they hope it will be an alternative forum for people, like themselves, who feel ignored by mainstream media.

It is just one example of ethnically oriented "zines" popping up on the Internet, where it is easy to reach a potentially large audience, even without advertisers.

Started in March, the Orange County Latino site has received 4,000 hits without any publicity, said founder Pablo Serrato of Placentia, who attends UC Berkeley. The site resembles latinola.com, which concentrates on Latino happenings in Los Angeles County.

Orange County activist Zeke Hernandez is sending out a Web newsletter he calls "Apples and Oranges con pico de gallo," a reference to the spice used on fruit sold on street corners in Mexico and in U.S. Latino enclaves. Like the spice, he hopes the information will pique people's interest.

Another Internet entry is www.rocketeria.com, a Santa Ana-based Web site that reports on Latin concerts in Orange County and elsewhere. The site was started three years ago but recently was taken down for an overhaul. It is expected back online in a matter of days, organizers said.

These Internet venues show how English-dominant, educated Latinos are trying to express themselves in an increasingly diverse county of more than 2.8 million people that is struggling to differentiate itself from Los Angeles.

"We want to help Latinos forge their own identity and declare their independence from Los Angeles," said Gustavo Arrellano, a 23-year-old Chapman University graduate who writes for oclatino.net.

Another oclatino.net writer, 24-year-old Adriana Alva Sanchez, added: "We are at a pivotal point in California history. Latinos ... are becoming a larger and larger part of the population in Orange County, and there's no forum to discuss who we are."

The appearance of these Web projects interests media watchers such as Jeffrey H. Brody, associate professor of communications at Cal State Fullerton.

Brody said Latinos and other minorities have lost representation as the number of mainstream media outlets have decreased.

Orange County has lost five daily newspapers since 1984, Brody said. The county's population has grown to the size of some Latin American countries. At the same time, the number of Latinos has grown to 30.8% of Orange County's population, according to the 2000 census, up 55% from 1990.

To fill the gap, Serrato called in four fellow Chapman University grads to help him launch a Latino news outlet. The group meets twice a month. It accepts articles from friends and others if the material is considered relevant to Orange County Latinos.

Group members volunteer their time but would like to find advertisers or sponsorship, provided it wouldn't squelch the voice of the writers, Serrato said.

The "Apples and Oranges con pico de gallo" newsletter began about two years ago, when Hernandez decided someone had to publicize community events not listed elsewhere.

Hernandez, president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, e-mails the newsletter of short items about issues in one community that he believes might inspire activism in another.

About 750 people are on his e-mail list, but anyone who wants to receive the newsletter can request it from Hernandez at zekeher@juno.com.

"You don't expect a lot of information in mainstream media," Hernandez said. "Mainstream media may see what I have and then they may pick it up. And that's important too."

The newsletter comes out mostly on Fridays, but Hernandez said he does not maintain a strict schedule.

Cesar Arrendondo, editor and writer for rocketeria.com, said the Web site also reflects the lack of media outlets and businesses that address young Latinos.

"We have our peculiar tastes," Arrendondo said of his readers. "We are Americans with connections to the cultures of our countries. Marketing does not know how to address us. The infrastructure is not there."

rocketeria.com was created to cover alternative international Latino rock, but because the Web site is in Santa Ana, local events also are featured, including concerts at Latin music hotspot JC Fandango in Anaheim.

Among the writers and photographers are students from UC Irvine, Santa Ana College and Cal State Fullerton.

oclatino.net's Serrato said many young Latinos are thrilled to have a place where they can contribute because they are intimidated by mainstream media.

The oclatino.net site changes content monthly. May's edition includes commentary about the commercialism of Cinco de Mayo, a feature about a new organization for those with Indian ancestry and information about laws cracking down on Santa Ana street vendors.

A piece in the April issue, "Putting a Brown Face on Orange County," talked about the barrios orange pickers call home.

"This is a community service," said Serrato. "We're challenging the idea of being a monolithic race, or the orthodoxy of being Latinos. Latinos in Orange County have many identities and we hope we can demonstrate them."

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