How these creators of Latinx TikTok fill a void and make history

By Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

One of the biggest sources of anxiety for Alaina Castillo has been the letter R.

Rolling Rs is at the heart of learning Spanish and one of its most difficult trills, especially for those who were not regularly exposed to the language as a child.

It’s a lesson the 21-year-old singer has spent years learning in and out of school. And it’s the one that paid off for Castillo, especially on TikTok, who made an effort to embrace and encourage his Hispanic creators.

The Houston native is part of a thriving Hispanic and Latin designer community that has garnered huge following through videos that succinctly translate cultural traditions and history for young and captive TikTok audiences. One of the main drivers of that growth has been Covid-19, which forced millions of Americans out of work and was confined during the first months of the pandemic.

TikTok has called itself an “economic lifeline for many of its users,” according to a lawsuit filed by the company against President Donald Trump in August 2020 to prevent him from banning the app in the United States. He championed the app as a place where people can learn about “serious topics, including political issues” such as the death of George Floyd and the plight of healthcare workers.

“TikTok is a window to the world around us and beyond, and we’ve seen people from the Latin and Hispanic diaspora connect to the platform through shared stories and experiences,” said Kudzi Chikumbu, Director of the TikTok Creator Community. CNN by email. “Over the past year, people have seen more of their friends and family reflected in the often humorous, educational and entertaining videos from the creators of Latinx and have been inspired to join us.”

Hispanic creator TikTok videos are also being consumed more than ever.

The TikTok hashtags #Latino, #Latina, #Familia, and #Comida, among others, have grown by over 185% since last year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15 each year, according to data shared by TikTok spokesperson Cynthia Dew. The #Latino and #Latina hashtags have garnered more than 62 billion views to date, Dew added.

Millions of those views belong to Castillo, who joined TikTok about a year ago to share original Spanish and English songs, as well as covers.

When she started making music, Castillo thought she would sing in English. That changed after her family encouraged her to write records in Spanish after learning the language in high school, Castillo told CNN.

“There are a lot of different opinions when it comes to Latinx or people like me learning Spanish, so I made it a point to write records that bridge the gap between Spanish speakers and those who want to. learn but never learned, ”she said. noted.

Provide education

Fernanda Cortes never thought she would be talking about Mexican volcanoes on TikTok.

At the start of the pandemic, Cortes found herself scrolling through TikTok for the first time and noticed that there weren’t many videos about historical Latinas that she learned from her mother, he said. she told CNN. Two of these women were María Félix, a Mexican film actress of the 1940s, and Selena Quintanilla Pérez, the “music queen of Tejano” who was killed in 1995 at the age of 23.

“I decided to do my own series in honor of these Latinas and hopefully connect with other young Latinas,” said Cortes, who lives in California.

Some of the women she has featured are LGBTQ + singer Chavela Vargas and Sylvia Rivera, an activist for transgender and LGBTQ + communities who participated in the Stonewall riots of 1969. Clashes between police and protesters outside a New York gay bar , the Stonewall Inn, encouraged a generation of activists to create a civil rights movement.

“If I can help carry on the legacy of the women who have inspired me and hopefully a Latina finds my videos and sees someone she identifies with and who can inspire her too, then this is exactly what I hope to achieve with my series. “Cortés said.

Cortes, who is 22 and from Guadalajara, Mexico, recently launched a series of videos where she discusses different Mexican legends and stories. One concerned the Aztec legends surrounding Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, two volcanoes near Mexico City.

Cortes opened his TikTok account in March 2020 and has since amassed over 500,000 followers and nearly 31 million likes. In almost the same amount of time, Matisse Azul Rainbolt danced in front of around 1.1 million followers and 26 million likes.

Of all the goals Rainbolt, 20, set for herself as a young woman, playing sports was not one of them.

Those goals were to make people smile and share her Hispanic culture and dance, especially baile folklórico, “folk dance” in Spanish, she told CNN via email.

One of Rainbolt’s most popular videos since launching her TikTok in April 2020 features her dancing in dresses from different parts of Mexico, including Jalisco, Yucatán, and Veracruz.

In other videos, Rainbolt, whose grandparents are from Chihuahua, Mexico, performs famous folk choreographies like “El Huizache.

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that so many people support Mexican culture. I remember many times in elementary, middle and high school where I was laughed at for doing folklore or wearing the traditional dresses when I danced. The TikTok community has had an incredibly positive response to my videos, which makes me and other Hispanics feel loved and welcomed, ”she said.

A perfect union

At the heart of why Hispanics are drawn to TikTok is the importance the online community places on individual identity and direct social interaction, said Alcides Velasquez, assistant professor in the department of studies in communication from the University of Kansas.

The Hispanic community tends to focus its social media interest on apps that enable the creation and consumption of visual content, like TikTok, said Velasquez, whose research includes social media and political activism and participation of Latinos in the United States.

“These types of apps and the content that is shared through them have become an increasingly important part of how members of different social groups realize their identities,” Velasquez said via email.

One of the ways TikTok has helped Hispanics express their identity is through specially designed stickers like a crown, hot pepper, and avocado that creators can place on their videos, the company said. This year, TikTok also launched a live video series featuring creators from Latinx celebrating themes such as “La Comida” to “La Cultura Pop,” the company said.

One hashtag that TikTok has supported for the past two years, and that captures the heart of Hispanic culture, is #FamiliaLatina, or Latin family.

The importance of family and its influence on social media habits cannot be understated, Velasquez said.

“When it comes to how Latinos learn about Latino culture, family remains the most important source,” he added.

Among Hispanic TikTok users, 24-year-old Gipsy Rodríguez really understands how important family is.

Rodríguez maintains the TikTok moda2000 account, which is named after the dress store owned and operated by Rodríguez and his family in Anaheim, California. The company is perhaps best known for selling quinceañera-embellished dresses worn in a coming-of-age ritual in some Hispanic cultures that marks a girl’s entry into womanhood.

The centuries-old tradition of the quinceañera began as a ceremony to introduce girls to society on their 15th birthday and signaled that they were prepared for marriage.

“Due to social media, quinceañera celebrations have become more popular that now, more than ever girls decide to throw a party and go beyond,” Rodríguez said. “It was not an easy process [or] trip, but it’s been rewarding because every day we walk into work, we get to light up someone’s face, make their dreams come true, and most importantly, make memories with their family while celebrating their culture.

Money moves

After losing his job in early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, one of Jesús Morales’s friends introduced him to TikTok and a community that would eventually change his life.

On August 24, 2020, Morales took $ 100 and donated it to a local street vendor after being inspired by TikTok user Viridiana Serrano, who made her name through videos of her giving away money to hawkers.

Morales, 24, is the creator of juixxe, a TikTok account launched in early 2020 where he shares videos of himself meeting vendors in Southern California. It has an audience of 1.3 million followers and has since raised more than $ 130,000 which it has distributed to sellers thanks to the generosity of TikTok users, he told CNN via email.

This support also came from TikTok itself.

Morales, whose family is from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, was included in the company’s second cohort of Latinx TikTok Trailblazers – a group of creators dubbed “the next generation of leaders in digital entertainment Latinx, named by the community for their creativity, passion, and genuine spirit, ”the company said in a press release last month.

TikTok has also partnered with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation through #CreciendoconTikTok, a $ 150,000 grant fund aimed at raising 30 Latinx small businesses across the United States, the company said.

The positive response to his videos and the generosity of the TikTok community came as a total surprise, Morales said.

“Street vendors have often been overlooked, but these videos highlight some of their stories and struggles,” he said.

In one of Morales’ most watched videos, he can be seen giving a salesperson $ 20,000 in cash.

The salesman named Jesús “was recorded as being harassed by a bunch of guys late at night” and it broke Morales’ heart, he said.

“I think the watching community can identify or connect to these providers in a certain way,” Morales said. “The online community is extremely powerful and their support really shows the strength of unity within a community.”

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