Earlier in the week, sixty-five Latina bloggers, sponsored by Latinos in Social Media (LATISM), attended a briefing at the White House. I was fortunate to be part of this dynamic group of women. Key issues covered included: jobs and the economy, education, and health care.
The group was initially greeted by the top Latina in the White House, Cecilia Muñoz, who heads the Domestic Policy Council. She was followed by Julie Chavez Rodriguez of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Alejandra Ceja, of the Department of Education, Lisa Pino of the Department of Agriculture, and Marissa Duswalt, who works with the First Lady in the Let's Move! Initiative.
Image Credit: Rachel Matos, Latina Bloggers Connect
Overall, this briefing provided the White House with a captive audience of Latinas who are very engaged in social media to talk up the administration's achievements that pertian to the community. As expected, the White House stayed on script. However, there were a few key things worth noting.
Notably absent from the briefing agenda was any mention of immigration. The Obama White House has been perceived as being tougher on immigration than previous administrations. To put things in perspective, in fiscal 2011, the Obama administration deported nearly 400,000 people. This has caused a foster care crisis in many of the states, where U.S. born children are left without mothers and fathers.
One bloguera who attended, Maegan Ortiz of VivirLatino, asked Muñoz about the deportations and how she would respond to critics who have questioned her promoting the Obama deportation policies. Muñoz didn't depart from her usual talking points about finding partners to work with in Congress to pass immigration reform and how there are few administrative tools to use to alleviate the deportations. In essence, blaming Congress continued to be the default answer for why certain things were not being done or accomplished quickly enough. After answering Ortiz's question, Muñoz quickly left the room.
But beyond omissions, the White House did talk about some of its key accomplishments that are of interest to the Latino community. How many more Latinos will gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act was addressed. The work being done at the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was covered. Private sector job growth was discussed. Improvements to the FAFSA (Free Federal Application for Student Aid) application were explained by Alejandra Ceja. And Lisa Pino and Marissa Duswalt addressed food policy and efforts to combat childhood obesity, which has become an epidemic in the Latino community.
In many ways, this briefing was an extension of the White House Community Action summits that have been taking place across the country to engage Latinos. These community summits came out of the White House Hispanic Policy Conference that occurred in July 2011. The goal of the White House is to host a total of 21 community action summits by the end of July 2012. The Obama White House realizes how important it is to connect with this growing segment of the population, and connecting with Latina bloggers is certianly a good way to generate dialogue as women in the community are often the more effective communicators and reach family members throughout their work in and outside of the home.
It was also productive for the White House to hear a series of questions, complaints, and issues from the women so that the administration can specifically address what's going on outside of the Washington Beltway. When a line of about 20 of the blogueras addressed the administration panel, notes were being jotted down and referrals to other information sources were being made.
Finally, in closing Ana Roca-Castro, one of the co-founders of LATISM, told the White House representatives that the bloggers were an avenue for maintaining communication and engagement but that they were not titeres (puppets). And that's the key -- bloggers work hard to generate content, build audiences and communities, and gain credibility. When they decide to bring a message to their readers, it's because they truly want to amplify an issue, cause, or product for better or worse. And with that, the White House would be wise to continue engaging bloggers from all segments of the population because people are still turning to independent media makers for perspective and analysis.
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