A Model to Look up to


by Talia Rodriguez

June 02, 2007, I posted my first Facebook photo. I made identity affirming Latina centered student content before it was seen as such. After 16 years on Facebook and another 10 on Instagram I am confident about my relevant perspective on our shifting marketing economy. The Internet economy’s contribution to US GDP grew 22% per year since 2016, in a national economy that grows between 2-3% annually, according to the Wilson Center.

Decades of content for specific media audiences, professionally and personally, was a whirlwind as technologies, our Puerto Rican dialect, my interest areas, and my biliteracy both in Spanish and in technology has made leaps and bounds in capabilities, and form. Now, I have a desire to better understand my place in the community media ecosystem and the larger advertising market.

Community media is defined as media platforms run for the community, about the community and by the community #wepa. Looking back, though seemingly random my calamity of Facebook statuses and growing pains and social/ political thought mean something. Together they reflected the “mood” of parts of my demographic and provide a map of turning trends for one of Americas largest consumer base’s, Latinas. Social media became important over time to economy and my early investment means my voice has a keener business perspective.

n the beginning, there were no “rules” about “appropriate” expressions because the concept was new and fluid. I leaned in and found the outlet for a lifetime of being the “only” “latina”. Joining Facebook as a senior in high school I’ve become a consumer and professional ONLINE. And I know how I want companies to talk to me as a consumer.

A strong community media scene is an indicator of a healthier democratic society, who likewise rely on independence and a participatory nature to exist. I am a part of a larger community of strong Latinas online and therefore I posit community media, can also be social and personal media. Seemingly random profiles of Americans, in a collective chorus, make up our democratic societies voice.

I think of Maria Cruz when I think of women, I aspire to model my media presence around. Maria is relevant, decisive, authentic, humble, firm yet gentle. An excellent mother, to her own children and a role model to community, President of the Hispanic Women’s League in Buffalo New York, elected by her peers, she champions her neighbors’ voices and empowers change.

In her own words when asked if she has a role model? “The average (and I use this world very lightly) woman is my role model! The woman who makes something out of nothing. The woman who sees herself as power. The woman who unapologetically breaks walls down because they understand the importance of clearing paths for those who are still in search of their own power. The women breaking the status quo and showing up for other women. I hope to be this type of role model for future generations.”

How we understand the media that empowers us to serve as role models will continue to shift, as will the technology but what will not shift is the organic collective process in which we, as a community define what is “ours”. Let’s continue to allow ourselves and each other generous space in doing so because our voices are those of experts, we are our own consumer base.

I recognize my immense privilege in having access to both the technology and wiifi to access social media and increase my digital literacy. If you are looking for free wifi check resources like “wifi map”.

Below, please read the rest of Maria’s interview and give due weight to your own voice in honor of hers. #latinaherstory July 2023

1. Who are you and what values were taught in your home? — My name is Maria Cruz, born as Maria Margarita Monte Rivera in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. My mother moved us to Buffalo, NY in 1991. In my home we, specifically the females, were taught the importance of education and making sure we did not depend on a man. It was important for all of us to be kind to everyone we encountered in this world. Above all it was important that within the four walls of the different apartments we moved to (from the Perry projects, to the West Side, to the Jasper Parish projects, back to the West Side, to then back to the Perry projects, to the Jasper Parish and finally back to the West side of Buffalo- were we finally semi settled) that only Spanish be spoken, my mom cooked meals every day and it was not until my parents separated that I saw my mother drive and work outside the home. So, you can say that I had to be a multifaceted woman- managing education, family traditions, learning English outside the home, maneuvering my surroundings while living extremely sheltered and realizing that I was expected to be a housewife and a working woman.

2. What was being a student like & your favorite learning moment growing up? — I loved school! I loved knowing that through education I could discover different aspects of our world. I have always loved Science and Mathematics. I enjoy problem solving and the classroom allowed me to hone in on my skills. Honestly, my favorite learning moment did not really come until my first year at Hamilton College, where I had received a full academic ride right after I attended The Buffalo Seminary High School (I attended there on a Math and Science Scholarship.) During my freshman year my whole world as I knew it was challenged. Everything as I knew it was revolutionized. I grew up idolizing my hair (cut it off for the first time in college), not knowing my own power, unaware of how much action, mobilizing and coming together can impact change. I became the president of the Latino organization on campus called La Vanguardia and unbeknownst to me I became enthralled in politics- it was not till many years later (2023, LOL) that I came to realize how much politics have been a part of my journey to where I am today.

3. Do you see yourself as a leader? If so, why? —This is a heavy question. It took me a long time to see myself as a leader. But, yes, I do see myself as a leader. My first leadership role was as an older sister and then as a mother. When I think of a leader, I believe it is someone who safeguards their team has sustenance and tools to achieve their goals. It goes beyond having vision and passion. It is about sacrifice and the willingness to work a little bit harder to make sure all see the leader in them. I see myself as a leader because it is my goal to help other reach their full potential.

4. How do you define an advocate and an ally? How do you see the future of your advocacy growing? — An advocate is someone who is willing to stand by me when things get ugly! An advocate is driven by intentional activism (action driven) while an ally is a supporter and not necessarily guided by action. In my experience, for the most part, allies support the cause because of someone they know but not for ALL the people affected. I am currently the president of The Hispanic Women’s League| Liga de Mujeres Hispanas which caters to the Latina woman, but I am actively involved in many other causes. My advocacy work is truly to influence decision making and brake systems put in place that affect all underrepresented groups. I am in my second year of a three-year term as the president of this organization- but as insane as it may sound- once my term is done, I plan to submerge myself in deep, loud action and advocate work.

5. Do you have a role model? If yes, who? What type of role model do you hope to be for future generations? — The average (and I use this world very lightly) woman is my role model! The woman who makes something out of nothing. The woman who sees herself as power. The woman who unapologetically breaks walls down because they understand the importance of clearing paths for those who are still in search of their own power. The women breaking the status quo and showing up for other women. I hope to be this type of role model for future generations.

Talia Rodriguez is a bi-racial, bi-cultural, and bi-lingual Latina from Buffalo. Ms. Rodriguez’s mission is to write about Latina’s, who have shaped the face of our city and our region. It is Ms. Rodriguez’s believes that our own people should inspire us and in telling our collective stories, we push our community forward. Ms. Rodriguez is a community advocate and organizer. She is a 5th generation West Sider, a graduate of SUNY Buffalo Law School, and an avid baseball fan. She lives on the West Side with her young son A.J… Ms. Rodriguez sits on the board of several organizations including the Belle Center, where she attended daycare. Ms. Rodriguez loves art, music, food, and her neighbors.

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