By Geneva Gámez-Vallejo
Creative minds think alike, and that is perhaps the reason why hundreds of young Latinos will gather at the Latino Thought Makers Series next Wednesday, April 13 at Oxnard College. With technology continuing to lead the way for millennials and blooming generations, the panels this year include social media stars and influencers.
The event will be hosted by comedian and award-winning writer-director-author Rick Najera, a San Diego native who moved north in pursuit of his career goals.
“I always seem to be heading north,” said Najera in a recent interview. “My grandparents lived in Barrio Logan before it became what it is today. Back then it was an almost all-white neighborhood, then they moved in and all the whites moved out,” he said in his natural joking state. “I lived in El Cajon and now I live in Los Angeles, who knows why we’re always trying to go north,” he laughed and added that eventually he wants to move back to San Diego.
Najera, who is currently a writer and guest star on the online, Emmy-nominated Hulu show “East Los High,” knows a lot about what it takes to breakthrough and reach success. It wasn’t always easy trying to be anything more than a stereotype latino role in Hollywood films, which is in fact why he decided to write his way into fame.
“I’ve never thought of the success of anything I do. I see a problem and I solve it. I’m a solver,” is how Najera describes many of his accomplishments, with a “let’s do it and see where it takes us” kind of attitude. That kind of gutsy attitude is what took him to Broadway, making his award-winning sketch comedy show “Latinologues” the longest running and only showcase of its kind for Latinos in America. His thirst for success did not stop there though, he continues to carry the same hardworking spirit his family taught him. “We are a hard-working people. My family taught me to work hard, if something doesn’t exist, than you create it,” he said.
So Najera created Latino Thought Makers with others like him in mind and has hosted panels with a wide variety of Latino personalities ranging from his compadre, actor Edward James Olmos, to Esai Morales and Luis Guzmán to name a few. His comedian flair offers the perfect Latino taste to a colorful menu of newcomers who are breaking their way into social media stardom.
These influencers will be taking stage as the panel opens up for what promises to be an engaging discussion on how they became popular on the internet. Ana Flores, founder and CEO of Latina Bloggers Connect and #WeAllGrow Summit, the first largest network of digital Latina influencers in the United States, will share her story and offer tips on how to be effective online. Another guest is Vine sensation Vincent Marcus, who hit the ground running encompassing millions of followers almost immediately with his voice impersonations on the entertainment network channel that even First Lady Michelle Obama has used as a strategy for her healthier lifestyles campaign. Another digital force is David López, also a San Diego native.
Lopez’s Facebook page surpasses 1 million likes and over 6.4 million followers on Vine, where his slapstick humor videos have over 3 billion views. That’s enough following for an average guy who’s not a Hollywood celeb, right? When we asked López why he had turned to youtube to share his videos he said “I wanted to show I could do more than short form content. Although, short form is very fun I wanted to show I could film, act and direct longer than 6 seconds. I don’t know if I created my videos for sharing but I do like that people have that option. Sharing is a great way to get more people to see your videos.”
The 28-year old Oceanside resident has collaborated with numerous national brands like Intel, Pepsi, Jeep and others. He has also played out his character Juan, from his video series Soccer Dads on promotional campaigns for the likes of Taco Bell, Univision’s World Cup and T-Mobile.
What advice would Najera offer someone who’s trying to get into the social media industry? “I normally say that the best thing they could do is actually start. A lot people have asked me ‘how can I get a large following? Etc,” and I ask them if they have started creating content. Most of the time they say ‘no.’ So, people just need to go for it. Find what you are good at. Whether it’s comedy, music, beauty, vlogging, you have to find your niche and go for it. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be creative and original.”
“People say Latinos are the problem, but I think Latinos are the solution,” said Najera of Latinos in America. With elections around the corner and a Presidential candidate who insists on building walls to keep Mexicans out of the country, it is hard to avoid asking the author of “Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood” what he would say to Donald Trump if he had the opportunity to speak with him.
“Honestly, I’ve never wanted to meet the guy. We don’t really have much in common you know? But if there was one thing I could say to him, I guess it would be to learn compassion.”
“We are very compassionate people, we work hard and we like to help others. He needs us,” Najera added.
Aside from being a great opportunity to learn from social media game-changers at the Latino Thought Makers Series, the event and its guests are a revelation that new Latino generations are definitely a positive force to be reckoned with.