I’ll admit: when our group decided to do a quick goofy story about really insane Twitter reactions to the news that one of the winning Powerball tickets came from Puerto Rico, there was nothing out of the ordinary. We had done these types of stories for years, and quite frankly, we had been doing less and less of these types of because they were getting stale. In fact, I had just spoken to a few new contributors about how the 2015 focus for Latino Rebels would be to publish longer opinion pieces, since there are very few outlets consistently featuring new Latino voices.
Yet yesterday morning, it all started when one of our El Paso Rebeldes messaged me on Facebook with this, “Just a few moments ago, Lisa Sanchez from the KLAQ Morning Show (radio personality, on Twitter), says that Puerto Rico shouldn’t count because it’s not a state ~ because someone there reportedly won the Texas lottery last night.”
Here we go again.
After that, it wrote itself, since if El Paso talk radio were talking and getting a bit ignorant about it, you certainly knew that Twitter would be. And they were. Within 10 minutes of the initial Facebook message, we had checked Twitter and yup, it was Marc Anthony all over again. About 15 minutes after that, the piece was done, even though Sanchez never replied to this tweet:
@KLAQLisa you know that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, right? They have every right to but Powerball tickets, just like everyone else.
— Latino Rebels (@latinorebels) February 12, 2015
SIDENOTE: Sanchez’s account is no longer showing up on Twitter. No one knows why, but I suspect that it might have to do with this, the current 36-hours traffic for the Powerball post as of 5:16pmET today:
I don’t think many —from Sanchez to all the Twitter profiles who were tweeting the typical ignorance about the island— expected that Puerto Ricans, one of the most active per capita countries on Twitter, would come out in full force. But apparently, that’s what happened. Once Puerto Ricans caught on to what was being said, it was shared and tweeted. Consider this:
- 87% of all the traffic to the post came from social media.
- The post has received over 550 comments in just 24 hours, with this one being the most popular (785 likes on Facebook): Hey, when I was deployed to go to Iraq, I was stationed with the 266th Ord Company in Aguadilla, and those soldiers accepted us Mainland soldiers like we were one of their own. They acted like true professionals. So you know what, I’m happy for the winner from PR. If they can fight the same wars they can win the same Power ball jackpots. Congratulations winner.
- The response to the ignorant tweets was so intense that we received emails from a few of the Twitter profiles who had deleted their tweets but then asked us to take their comments down, because phrases like “how is Puerto Rico f*cking eligible for the Powerball” were taken “out of context.” They were genuinely apologetic and said they learned something they never knew before about Puerto Rico. We did delete a few of the tweets, but even so, we easily found others that were just as ignorant.
- Once the story went viral, it revealed a deeper issue about how sick and tired Puerto Ricans online have gotten about the clueless misperceptions from fellow U.S. citizens. That issue has led to more online conversations (both civil ones and truly nasty ones). Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that many Americans are a bit more educated about Puerto Ricans today. It didn’t hurt to use one genius Marc Anthony meme (whoever created it is a rock star) that so aptly sums up decades of explanations and explanations that glaze the minds of Americans. Imagine what would happen if online Puerto Ricans could react with such intensity when it comes to calling more attention to its colonial status? A Powerball winner can easily unite Puerto Ricans on the island and the mainland. If that can happen, why can’t other real issues be addressed with a more unified voice?
This silly story was the perfect storm of so many issues: culture, identity, colonialism, history and oh yeah, the Powerball drawing. The hope here is that this post forced the conversation so that more Americans dedicate real attention to Puerto Rico and its people in a way that goes beyond ignorant tweets. I know that sounds silly, but when one ridiculous story basically gets more traffic in one day than what this entire page got in 2011, you tend to believe that the topic truly matters, and you just hope this new energy can lead to real dialogue.
¡Viva Puerto Rico!
And yes, I am 100% certain that the person who won the Powerball is not my primo.
PS Special thanks to NBC News, Buzzfeed and Puerto Rico en Serio for being some of the first to hat-tip us. El Nuevo Día basically lifted our story, so we want to thank all those groups who did the right thing, unlike Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper. Now back to the serious moments.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on several outlets, including MSNBC, CBS, NPR, Univision and The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.