About This Episode
Today’s episode is brought to you from the 2019 Hispanics in Philanthropy conference in Washington D.C. We were excited to record our first interview live on location. Vanessa is chatting with Paola Ramos, a change-maker who uses media and digital outlets, both English and Spanish language, to spotlight the voices of young Latinos, to break down stereotypes and mobilize the community towards civic engagement.
In this dialogue, Paola shares interesting insights that contribute to our conversations this season about celebrity and influencers. She asserts that the true influencers are everyday people. This perspective helps us consider where the opportunity is for nonprofits to create an essential emotional connection with their audience, one by one, in order to propel change. We usually don’t think of the individual supporter as an influencer and what that looks like for the collective. How can organizations tell their stories in a way that highlights how much power there is in the individual, to help accelerate progress? What would that outcome look like?
About Paola Ramos
Paola is the host of VICE’s “Latin-X”, a weekly contributor for a Telemundo and an Emerson Collective Fellow. She was recently on the road as part of the Inside Out/Vote Project, an initiative that crisscrossed the country with a photo booth truck and used art to mobilize people to the polls. She was the former Deputy Director of Hispanic Media for Hillary Clinton and a political appointee during the Obama administration, serving in Vice President Biden’s office, as well as in President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Paola received her masters in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and her BA from Barnard College/Columbia University.
In her words
“I was so jaded from my time in politics. I had spent so many years here in DC, in the Obama Administration and during the Hillary campaign. It was amazing work, but the one thing we weren’t doing well is really communicating with the communities that mattered and thinking outside of the box of what strategies and stories we were not thinking about. That was my number one reason to go into this field.”
“Another big point for me is rethinking what it means to be a celebrity and an influencer. it’s not the type of people that we traditionally think of. It’s not necessarily the folks in Hollywood, not necessarily the super elite. It’s the most ordinary people. Those are the real influencers. If people want to create change, we need to identify those young, more hidden influencers. That’s a lot of the work that I’m trying to do.”
“I always try to find different people and different voices that are outside of the box, who are breaking down stereotypes. Then there are the issues. It’s not just about immigration. Immigration is an incredibly important issue, but what are young Latinos thinking about everyday when they wake up? The other day I did a story on young teenage Latinas. The suicide rates within that demographic of teenagers is extremely high. So what’s going on in their minds? They are the influencers. There are people, young Latinas, that are doing research on that. They have the answer.”
“I don’t know how many private companies right now are willing to take risks, but I think that’s a question a lot of industry, media, private sector, public sector- everyone is trying to figure out ‘Do we have a responsibility to take a stance or not?’ A lot of people are trying to figure out what that answer is.”
“I use my social media as arm and as a weapon to get answers and sound bites- to get a really good pulse of what people are thinking about. For those who are in the intersection of social justice and media, who use social media to really take advantage of what folks are seeing online and bring them into the conversation as they’re putting together policy proposals, or campaigns. I always find that it’s very useful to tap into the followers who aren’t ever in those rooms and conversations. People are hungry to be part of this.”
Vanessa Wakeman: Welcome to the Social Change Diaries, the show that looks behind the curtain at everything you want to know about the social justice and nonprofit landscape. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman.
Vanessa Wakeman: Today’s podcast is brought to you from the Hispanics in Philanthropy conference in Washington D.C. and I am chatting with Paola Ramos, the host of Latin X on Vice. Paola is a weekly contributor for a Telemundo and an Emerson collective fellow. Throughout these platforms, Paola uses media and digital outlets, both English and Spanish language, to spotlight the voices of young Latinos, breaks down stereotypes and mobilizes the community towards civic engagement.
Vanessa Wakeman: She was recently on the road as part of the inside out vote project an initiative that crisscrossed the country with a photo booth truck and used art to mobilize people to the polls. Paola was the former Deputy Director of Hispanic Media for Hillary Clinton, and also a political appointee during the Obama administration serving in Vice President Biden’s office, as well as in President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. Paola received her masters in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and her BA from Barnard College, Columbia University.
Vanessa Wakeman: Paola, welcome to the Social Change Diaries. This is the very first live broadcast that we’ve done. So I’m really excited to have you, a professional, on with us.
Paola Ramos: Thank you for having me. I’m super excited.
Vanessa Wakeman: So this season, we’ve been talking about celebrity and influence, and really tried to think about what the role of influencers, and celebrities, and just the idea of celebrity fits into the landscape of social change and social justice. One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is I feel like you’ve been using your voice in really powerful ways, have been trying to get stories out, but really creating narratives that have people think about the implications of some of the decisions and things that are happening right now. I just wanted to talk to you about what made you decide to tell the stories that you do in the way that you are telling?
Paola Ramos: Yeah, so I think it was … The number one reason is because I think I was so jaded from my time in politics. Had spent so many years here in DC in the Obama Administration and the Hillary campaign; and it was amazing work, but the one thing I thought that we weren’t doing well is really communicating with the communities that mattered and thinking outside of the box of what strategies and what stories were we not thinking about. So that was my number one reason to go into this field. Then I think to your point about influencers, celebrities, I think another big point for me was to rethink what it means to be a celebrity and an influencer.
Paola Ramos: And it’s not the type of people that we traditionally think of. It’s not necessarily the folks in Hollywood, not necessarily the super elite. I actually think it’s the most ordinary people. Those are the real influencers. If people want to make change, it’s like, we need to identify those young, more hidden influencers. And to me, that’s a lot of the work that I’m trying to do. Who are they?
Vanessa Wakeman: And when you’re thinking about the stories that you want to tell, what are you thinking about? What , I guess makes you gravitate to a story and want to put it through the Lens of the Latina X experience?
Paola Ramos: Yeah, number one that to show to people that Latinos don’t all look the same. We don’t speak the same, we’re not the same, right? So I always try and find different people and different voices that are outside of the box and are breaking down stereotypes within our community. So that’s always the number one thing. Then also the issues, right? It’s not just about immigration. Immigration is an incredibly important issue, but what are young Latinos thinking about everyday when they wake up? The other day I did a story on young Latinas, young teenage Latinas and the suicide rates that are within that demographic of teenagers is extremely high for Latinas. So what’s going on in their minds?
Paola Ramos: And again, they are the influencers. There’s people, young Latinas, that are doing research on this. They have the answer. So it’s just whatever gets us to rethink what it means to be Latino, that’s what I’m driven towards.
Vanessa Wakeman: Let’s talk a little bit about politics. So 2020, yes. We don’t want to think about it because we’ve all been fatigued by [inaudible 00:04:39]. Right. We haven’t stopped talking about it, but what do you think of the opportunities to bring more Latino voices forward? Then what should, I guess, people of color in general be thinking about as we’re preparing? So we have a hugely populated Democratic market an interesting … What do you think we should be thinking about?
Paola Ramos: Well first I think for communities of color, just for us to internalize that no one’s going to win the White House without us. That’s the number one thing. So for us to internalize the power that we have, I think regardless of the candidate, Latinos just became the largest minority voting block. I don’t think we understand the power, know what that means. So I think that is our homework first. Our vote matters, so we got to use it.
Paola Ramos: And again, use that as a leverage point. These candidates need to seek our vote, and that doesn’t mean as it usually is the case with Latinos. They’ll come knock on our doors three weeks before an election. No, those conversations need to start now, and I think that’s what we’re starting to see within this crowded candidate pool. People are starting to talk about issues that we weren’t talking about in 2016. So I think it’s good, and I think it’s just to understand that power and to be very thoughtful about who we’re deciding to back, but understanding that we have to be involved. We have got to be organized because they can’t win, and then we also-
Vanessa Wakeman: We don’t win.
Paola Ramos: We don’t win. Exactly.
Vanessa Wakeman: Do you feel like millennials understand more clearly the power of our voices and our vote more than maybe other generations? I feel like the millennials that I work with or come in contact with, they have a greater sense of self around their power and what impact they can make. Do you think that they understand from a political arena what the power of the collective is to create change? Do you see it different from other generations?
Paola Ramos: I think we’re starting to understand that now. I think one of my biggest disappointments in 2016 just in generally is our numbers aren’t never amazing. The millennial voting rate is never incredible. I do think now we’re starting to see a difference and people are more unapologetically themselves. Yes, we’re out in the streets. Yes, we’re at marches, we’re protesting, but that’s not enough if you don’t go vote. So I think there’s still a gap that we have to figure out from how do you turn all this energy into voting in November? I don’t know if we’ve figured that out. I don’t know. Even Gen Z generation is very … Like the Parkland Movement, I think that generation is going to be very interesting to watch to see how they’re …
Vanessa Wakeman: Let’s talk about celebrities for a moment. I feel like when there are big social justice issues, you see some celebrities jumping. We’ve had natural disasters, Puerto Rico per se, of a lot of celebrities who came and threw their weight behind fundraising and trying to create change. Do you think that celebrities have a responsibility beyond the normal citizen to participate?
Paola Ramos: I do. I mean I think when you have millions of followers, particularly if your person of color … Actually no. White celebrities, more than anyone. When you have that platform to not be thoughtful about how you’re going to leverage it and influence people and help us think the right way. I think it is responsibility.
Vanessa Wakeman: What about people who don’t really understand? It’s just because we’ve also seen people being negligent and they’re just jumping in and causing more harm. I guess we were here at a philanthropy conference. Should we be trying to create more partnerships between organizations on the front lines? How do we have people responsibly enter these conversations if you have any …
Paola Ramos: Like celebrities?
Vanessa Wakeman: Yeah.
Paola Ramos: I mean I think as much as we have homework to do, they have a lot of homework to do as well. They need to inform themselves. There are so many people in groups that would help them make those thoughtful decisions, tell them what events to go to, tell them how to frame issues for people, how to post things, all that. So I think there’s not enough outlets and opportunities for them to get informed. And I think I you are starting to see some of that. I think. There’s a lot of Latinas got super involved when [inaudible] came out, and they did amazing work with Ai-Jen Poo and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. That’s a great model of how the Hollywood world can work with a grassroots organization like the National Domestic Workers and inform people. So I think yeah, we have examples of partnerships that work.
Vanessa Wakeman: What about private sector? So in any of the stories or the environments that you’ve gone to, have you seen any places where private sector has taken, not responsibility, but has connected themselves to the issues of particular communities that you found to be powerful? Or do you think there’s work to be done?
Paola Ramos: Honestly, it hasn’t been my focus. I feel like I don’t have a good enough answer for that because I haven’t … That’s something good for me to look into. I don’t know how much private companies right now are willing to take risks, but I think that’s a question that a lot of industry, media, private sector, public sector, everyone’s trying to figure out like, “Do we have a responsibility to take a stance or not? And I think that’s what you’re seeing. A lot of people are trying to figure out what that answer is.
Vanessa Wakeman: One of the things that came up when I was preparing for my panel, I was having a conversation and someone mentioned to me how Latinos feel invisible. So when we talk about people of color, within that bucket, Latinos feel fairly invisible. How do you think as a collective, people of color can work together so that the voices feel heard? What do you think is causing that invisibility? Are those people feeling silenced? How do we change that?
Paola Ramos: Yeah, I mean I think in every community there’s different layers. The lighter …. Like my skin is super light within Latinos. The lighter your skin is, the easier it is for you to be seen. I’ve heard countless stories of Afro-Latinas that … And I’ve seen it, friends of mine that were too scared to claim their Latinidad because they thought that Latinos would see them as black, and we have a lot of work to do to make make it an inclusive community. I think that’s a point where we are at right now. Same thing with indigenous folks that they traditionally have always felt invisible.
Paola Ramos: I literally was in the Midwest two weeks ago. I spent a lot of time there talking to Latinos, again, light-skinned Latinos, brown skin, Afro-Latinos. The number one thing everyone would tell me is, “In the Midwest we feel completely invisible. People have this idea that there are no Latinos in the Midwest, that we don’t exist, that the Midwest is just this white place.” And it’s not true, and they’re doing incredible, incredible things in music, art, organizing. So I again, I think it’s a matter of when we’re traveling to these places and we’re looking for these stories or doing work, we have to just look three times. What are we not seeing?
Vanessa Wakeman: What stories do you think still need to be told around Latino experience, and then what external resources do you think will help to elevate maybe some of those stores?
Paola Ramos: Yeah, I mean I think for all the media outlets, I think there should, be from the leadership, there should be … Everyone should be focusing on not doing these token Latino stories, but having it be part of their mainstream programming, which I think is still not the case. Communities of color, our stories should be mainstream, they should never be … We shouldn’t have to click three times to find our stories, which is what happens right now. So that number one, it has to come from the leadership. It has to go from investors that as they’re making these, as they’re putting money in places, that should always be a requirement. The leadership should look like us. There should be black people, Latinos, API’s. It should look like what our generation looks like.
Paola Ramos: There’s so many stories that we’re telling, but I think people always say, “Oh, you’re always talking about Latino stuff. Latino this, Latino that.” I’m like, “I’ll never get sick of talking about it because you haven’t heard it enough. So it’s not just one or two or three stories. We have to keep telling these stories until it becomes normal, until this becomes part of just philanthropists instead of Hispanics in philanthropy. All philanthropists should be here. White Philanthropists should be, you know?
Vanessa Wakeman: Yes, so one of the initiatives we’re working with at my company, some of the work we do is around public relations. And we’ve been really bothered. I personally have been really bothered by the way that stories are shaped around people of color. It’s just thinking about the story of the Central Clark Five, which was a horrible story then. But then looking back and seeing how the media played such a huge role, and how those young men were, those boys at the time, were positioned. So we’re trying to think about when issues do occur in communities, when there is tragedy, how do we help those families or individuals to be able to have their their stories told well? Accurate portrayals and representation of who they are, versus the one sided story.
Paola Ramos: Have you seen When They See Us yet?
Vanessa Wakeman: I’m scared. I’ve watched the first four minutes and I had to … I was just like … It was too much for me, but I know that, that exists. I mean we see it all the time how someone is killed and we talking about, “Oh, they had a joint in their pocket, as opposed to the nature of the individual in the crime that was committed against them.” As a journalist, how do you think we can approach making sure that people of color are portrayed in the full length and the full dimensionality of who they are individually, as opposed to these one sided?
Paola Ramos: I mean I think, yeah, storytelling is part of it, but I think it starts when we’re really young, when we’re younger. I think for people to want to see young black boys and see that to decriminalize that image that people have with them. So I really think, and I was in a classroom a couple of months ago when it was young Latino kids, and black kids, and all these kids were together and they didn’t … There was no prejudice, there was no assumption.
Paola Ramos: So I think it starts really, really, really, really young. So to me it’s education. And you can use different strategies to do that. You can do so much, but for me it’s like, well you need to educate people when they’re really young to start having this image of young black boys as who they are, as humans, and not criminals, which is what then we’re all prone to think because of the media. That doesn’t answer you question. It’s our job as journalists ,and activists, and everyone’s job to get them outside of that box and to put them in another narrative where exemplifies that exemplifies them as human beings. We can do that all day, but for me, my biggest takeaway from these travels is it’s kids.
Vanessa Wakeman: It’s kids?
Paola Ramos: Yeah.
Vanessa Wakeman: And thinking about kids, how do we get more images and stories of girls and women that are not showing them as the one dimension, the [inaudible 00:00:15:54]. I think there’s so much diversity and amazingness magic in our girls, in our women, and we don’t get to see that as often as we should. So I’m so excited and grateful that you are out there being your wonderful, amazing, fabulous self and just showing people that you can be who you are. What do you think the next step is around how we get more women’s voices?
Paola Ramos: I think the good thing is, we’re seeing they’re the ones that are mobilized right now. You cannot win elections without black women. I love this. This is the best interview.
Vanessa Wakeman: This is live people.
Paola Ramos: This is amazing. There’s literally a war happening behind us. It’s amazing.
Vanessa Wakeman: I know you have to catch a plane. I guess my last question is, if you could give any takeaways to our listeners who are all in the social change, social justice space? What should they be thinking about talking about over the next few months as we’re gearing up I guess for this 2020 election?
Paola Ramos: I mean I would actually love to talk to them. Again, I think they just to be super confident about the work that they’re doing, and I see this time and time again and I feel it all the time. We feel insecure, we feel like we don’t have the right answers, or we’re always scared to shine light on herself, but just to be extremely confident about the work that they’re doing within those spaces. To me, I use my social media as arm and as a weapon to to get answers, and get sound bites, and get a really good pulse of what people are really thinking about.
Paola Ramos: So for those that are in the intersection of social justice, and media, and use social media to really take advantage of what folks are seeing online and bring them into the conversation always as they’re putting together policy proposals, or they’re putting together campaigns and organizing. I always find that it’s very useful to tap into the followers that aren’t ever in those rooms and conversations. People are hungry to be part of this.
Vanessa Wakeman: That is very true. I feel like there’s some energy around people wanting to do things and be involved. I want to let you catch your plane. I thank you so much for taking some time to chat with me and for joining us on the Social Change Diaries.
Paola Ramos: No, thank you. I really, really appreciate you.
Vanessa Wakeman: Beautiful.
Vanessa Wakeman: Paola had to run off to catch her flight, so our conversation was brief, but I think that it certainly was a good conversation and she had a lot of interesting comments that contributed to our conversation about celebrity and influence, but also about millennials and just politically what’s happening around the country. But one particular comment that she made really stood out for me, and that was that the true influencers are everyday people, and I really agree with that comment.
Vanessa Wakeman: When she said it, it made me think about non-profits and where the opportunity is for organizations to create that emotional connection with their audience one by one. So often, I don’t think that we have thought about this idea of the individual supporter as an influencer and what that looks like for the collective. And I’m wondering if there are ways that organizations can tell their stories that highlight just how influential and just how much power there is in the individual, and helping to accelerate progress, and what the outcome of that looks like.
Vanessa Wakeman: So just again, I thought that was a really great comment and just something for organizations to think about. The campaign that highlights the influence of the individual, and thinking about that for myself as a supporter, I almost feel like if one of the organizations that I support were to create that connection to me, how much more engaged I would potentially be because I feel like I can do more or that they’ve convinced me that what I am doing has just that much more impact.
Vanessa Wakeman: So I think there’s a lot of power in that statement. If there are any organizations who are listening who have taken that approach with their audiences, I would love to hear from you. Maybe we can have a couple on the show to talk about what they’ve done and share some ideas and thoughts and progress with our audience. I think that could be a great conversation. So as always, I’d like to thank everyone for tuning in. If you loved or enjoyed today’s show, I ask that you please share it with your network. If you have a moment, please leave us a review on iTunes and look forward to chatting with you again next week.