Online Revolution

It has been a particularly busy time for Julio Ricardo Varela and the rest of the writers, journalists and bloggers that comprise Latino Rebels. The rebeldes, as they are known, recently launched a weekly radio program and a web-based series “The Rebel Report” with Flama, Univision’s lifestyle and entertainment website. These media ventures are a new chapter for Latino Rebels, which continues to post their thought-provoking content on, Twitter and Facebook.

Officially launched in May 2011, Latino Rebels is Varela’s baby. Based near Boston, the Harvard graduate maintained a personal blog with original content for several years. Noticing the power of social media, Varela invited a few friends that shared his disposition to become a part of the Latino Rebels platform. Initially the satirical articles were modeled after The Daily Show, and there were virtual pitch meetings where the rebeldes could share story ideas.  As the site grew in popularity, more writers wanted to become involved. Any contributor for Latino Rebels gets paid in some capacity, says Varela.

Latino Rebels is a sharp contrast to corporate-run digital companies, but it’s made an impact on the media landscape. For Varela this blueprint wasn’t that irrational, “[we] just tell good stories and try and engage in our community.”

And the rebeldes thrive. It’s perfectly acceptable for them to praise the retailer J. Crew for selling tropical shot glasses and to criticize CNN anchor Chris Cuomo for using the phrase “anchor babies” on air. “There’s something incredibly gratifying to be able to be in a situation where you are writing and creating and connecting and you don’t really have to answer to anybody,” says Varela.

Social media is a major component of community engagement for Latino Rebels. On Twitter, Latino Rebels has over 26,000 followers, but its impact goes beyond that because it includes many news organizations. Latino Rebels frequently engages in conversation online and retweets stories, that’s something that Varela and the rebeldes “take more pride in.” And its posts on Facebook are required reading for many journalists.

When in September, 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Mexico, Latino Rebels immediately took notice, sharing sites and images from protests worldwide on their website and on social media. They also posted an essay from political activist Meztli Yoalli Rodriguez Aguilera entitled “Enough! We are Tired of Being Afraid.”

This journalistic freedom now extends past the website and social media feeds. Latino Rebels Radio debuted several months ago, with hosts Varela and journalist Sharis Delgaldillo. Producer Christian Henriquez sees the radio program as an extension of the Latino Rebels voice, “We wanted to continue the conversation about some of those stories and that’s our role.” The radio program has brought on diverse guests from Blanca Hernandez, an immigrants rights activist who heckled President Obama, to former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

Latino Rebels appears to have developed a successful formula. For Delgaldillo, Latino Rebels showcases the power of Hispanic voices, “it’s an amazing case study of how Latinos are conquering the digital space with very little resources.” Varela, though, almost has to sit back and laugh that anyone believes there was some lofty business strategy spearheading Latino Rebels. When the site first launched he and the rebeledes operated under the motto, “let’s just be ourselves.” That’s a sentiment that still endures today.

Jessica Montoya Coggins