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Latina Moms Find Advice, Community In 'MamiVerse'

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Today, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we decided to check in on a new Web community for Latina moms. It's called Mamiverse and it offers tips on everything from finance to fashion to schools to health. It features a roster of prominent Latina journalists, writers and entrepreneurs, as well as less prominent moms who are just trying to keep it all together.

Rene Alegria is the founder and CEO of Mamiverse Media. He's with us from NPR's New York bureau. Also with us, Monica Olivera. She's a featured columnist for the education section of the site. She's a mother of two and she's with us from member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. And Alisa Valdes is a novelist. Probably her best known work is "The Dirty Girls Social Club." At Mamiverse she writes an advice column geared toward single mothers of sons. She's the mother of a 10-year-old son and she joins us from her home in Belen, New Mexico.

Welcome to you all. I'm so glad to speak with all of you.

MONICA OLIVERA: Thank you for having us.

ALISA VALDES: Thank you.

RENE ALEGRIA: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Rene, I've got to go right there. You know, I have to go right there. You are a guy.


MARTIN: And you don't have any kids.

ALEGRIA: And I don't have any kids. No.

MARTIN: So what do you...

ALEGRIA: But I do have a Latina mom, so I think I do have some insight here.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, what gave you the idea?

ALEGRIA: Well, you know, I think ultimately, there was a need in the marketplace for a site, a hub that addressed the needs of Latina moms. I have worked with smart and savvy Latina writers and journalists and executives of all media for years now and if there's one thing that I know of them is that they were all looking for something that addressed their needs as moms.

And there wasn't anything, so I began to think, what can I do? Who do I know that can actually contribute to something like that? And just, lo and behold, I have a roster of individuals that are exactly that - smart, savvy Latina moms that could speak their minds, that could weave their issues and experiences and problems in a way that would help the community. And so Mamiverse was born.

MARTIN: And you can't help but notice that the site is in English.


MARTIN: Tell me about that decision.

ALEGRIA: Well, you know, English is the language of the Web, really. When I really crunched the data, I saw that 82 percent of Latina moms preferred English online, and this endeavor is really for the acculturated U.S. Hispanic. And that's to say that, you know, this is not the recently arrived immigrant. This is not the Spanish dominant mom, of course.

And with that, we have a certain angle as to how we represent ourselves. These are moms and daughters and women, frankly, who have the American experience down pat. They just actually want to experience their own cultural sensitivity in how they raise their children.

MARTIN: Rene, I'm going to put you on the spot. Give me an example of perhaps the kind of column that might appear in Mamiverse that you just might not see in one of the general audience parenting magazines that a lot of us are used to seeing.

ALEGRIA: So much of the content on actually, because it originates from Latina moms in America, specifically captures their own experience. We might have a column that touts the pride of being a Latina in America.

One particular column that really was incredibly popular was by a producer at CNN, Rose Arce, who wrote about being in her child's playground and constantly being mistaken as the nanny. And with those experiences, people can relate, can understand, can be horrified, can learn. And through that, you know, we've cultivated a rather loyal readership.

MARTIN: Monica, you are a featured education writer for the site. You write for School Mami, the site's education section. You actually have your own website, MamiMaestra.

Can you give us an example, though? Actually you're home schooling. Can you give us an example of the kind of column that you might write that might speak to your audience that you might not see somewhere else in kind of a mainstream general audience parenting publication?

OLIVERA: Sure. Sometimes what I wind up doing is discussing different ways that you can enhance their education. I might be talking about lesson plans like specifically for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Recently I wrote about preschool and how the number of Latinos who are enrolling their children in preschool have actually gone down, and that's not really unusual, given that a lot of Latino families really rely on their family for childcare. And if it's not really time for them to go into school yet, they may decide well, we're just going to go ahead and keep them home until it's ready for them to start kindergarten. And there's just issues like that, you know, ways we can help or I can help spread the word to talk about ways to help prepare their children for school.

MARTIN: Alisa, how did you come up with the idea for or how did you all together come up with the idea for your column?

VALDES: Well, when Rene and I started talking about having me participate as a columnist or writer for Mamiverse, I was kind of in the middle of getting ready to know and become involved with a man for the first time in five years since my divorce. And I have, like you said, a 10-year-old son, and to suddenly have a man in our lives who is watching how my son behaves and thinks, and to have someone kind of gently saying to me, you know, I think he could really use a male influence in his life. You know, and I was raised as, you know, my parents were hippies and I'm a product of the '70s. And this whole idea that a mom couldn't raise a son to be a real man was very distasteful and offensive to me at first. But the more I talked to my boyfriend, who I call the Cowboy in the Kong(ph), because he's a literal cowboy; he manages a 10,000-acre ranch in the middle of New Mexico, is very stoic, is nothing like me at all.

And the more I started to follow his advice I realized he was really right about a lot of things that I wasn't consciously doing wrong, but that I think a lot of moms, and especially single moms, might be doing that could not be the best thing for their kids in general, but for their sons in particular.

MARTIN: To let folks know, your column is titled, "A Cowboy's Guide to Raising Boys for Single Moms." Give us an example of some of the advice.

VALDES: Sure. Well, this week my column is about letting your son get hurt. When I first met the cowboy, you know, he started commenting about how flinty and kind of afraid of getting hurt my child was. I realized that I'm overly protective of my kid and I don't want him to get hurt because it's just the two of us and, you know, he's a dependent little person and my whole life was geared around protecting him and keeping him healthy. But I was giving him all these inadvertent cues about, you know, falling down, getting hurt, don't get in fights. And the cowboy kind of told me, you know, it's okay to have a scraped knee. It's okay to let him get hurt.

And so as I mom I had to step outside of that mom/girl world and kind of try thinking more like a dad or like a boy and just - not only let him get hurt, but if he gets scraped and he's not badly hurt, almost give him a high five, which is not natural for me at all.

MARTIN: Like I'm having a moment here too, because I feel like you've been spying on me in me and my conversations with my husband.


MARTIN: Because he'll be like, yeah.



MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're talking about Mamiverse. It's the new website for Latina moms. Our guests are parenting columnist Alisa Valdes, she's also a best-selling novelist; education columnist Monica Olivera; and the site founder Rene Alegria.

Rene, I'm not trying to hurt anybody's feelings here but, you know, parenting magazines very often do follow kind of certain lines. Are there times when you look at them and think that's just isn't going to work for a lot of the families that I know?

ALEGRIA: Absolutely. In fact, you know, so much as to why Mamiverse does work and does hit a chord, is because so many of the Latina moms that contribute to the site have never had an opportunity to write for the mainstream general market parenting websites or magazines or infrastructure, frankly. So, you know, there are nuances that we see within the construct of our Latino families. And the moms that contribute capture that.

MARTIN: Well, I can even see food, for example.

ALEGRIA: Well, food...


MARTIN: You know, so many of those magazines and, of course, we read them too, don't we moms?



MARTIN: I mean don't we read the so-called mainstream magazines? A lot of it's about carrots. You know, get your kid to eat carrots. How do you get your kids to eat carrots? And the dishes are just not ones that we serve, right? That they're perhaps, what is it, Monica, do you want to speak to that?

OLIVERA: Sure. Yeah. A lot of times maybe we have a completely different diet that we serve at home, it's not traditional dishes or it may be traditional dishes. So we have to get creative. But the good thing about, you know, if you're a Latina mom you have almost more dishes to choose from in order to kind of sneak things into your children.

MARTIN: Alisa, what about you? Are there also ways in which you're sort of looking at other offerings and thinking okay, that's fine for you but that just doesn't work for me?

VALDES: I think there's a knee-jerk reaction a lot in the mainstream culture to expect difference in otherness.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

VALDES: And I know that we are setting ourselves apart as a Latina site. But in a way I think for me at least, and for my readers, it's more of just a general sense of a perceived ethnicity than it's an actual difference, which is why I think the site is actually relevant to the entire public, even though it is a so-called Latina site. But...

MARTIN: But what about though, Alisa? Speak on that, because that is a question that one might have, which is why do you feel a need to set I don't want to put this and I don't want this to sound like overly confrontational...

VALDES: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: But to set yourself apart in this kind of site. I mean why not write for any other parenting magazine site?

VALDES: You know, I think a lot of times, you know, you're saying why set yourselves apart, well, you know, a lot of times it's not a choice. We're just kind of set apart, so whether we want to be or not. So I think it's a useful thing on the one hand to come together or out of perceive - but see at the same time, I don't think there are any expectations on the website of extreme deference. This is the site for, you know, the vast majority of Latinos in the United States are born here. And, you know, the Pew Center for Hispanic Research shows that by the second generation, English is the language that people are using and yet the media continues to conflate all kinds of things like immigrant and Latino and so-called the illegal.

All those words are used interchangeably in the mainstream media all the time. So in the past 10 years I've seen this widespread perception, you know, that we're all somehow foreign-born and the culture is genetic rather than learned. And what I love about Mamiverse is that Rene is standing up and saying look, we're Americans. We're here. This is who we are and this is, you know, a site where you can come and actually be your true self and not what everyone expects you to be.


OLIVERA: And can I add something to...

MARTIN: Sure. Monica?

OLIVERA: I just wanted to say, you know, on the flip side of that, coming from my perspective, I am English dominant also as well; I'm fourth generation. There is a new kind of phenomenon going on in Latinos in America, where they are actually starting to actively seek out their roots, their culture. It's a phenomenon known as retro-acculturation. And for me for example, you know, I had settled into a very Anglo English-only lifestyle. And it wasn't until I had children that I suddenly, you know, (unintelligible) to start raising them bi-culturally and to actively teach them about the culture and possibly the language. So...

MARTIN: How come? How come?

OLIVERA: How come? You know, I...

MARTIN: Well, I mean, I think just as a question of education, I think most Americans would want their children to speak a second language if that's possible. I mean that's (technical difficulty).

But tell me for you, what you were talking about, this - an embracing of roots that perhaps were not front and center. Tell me why you think that's important.

OLIVERA: Well...

MARTIN: Or why do you think that's going on?

OLIVERA: For several reasons. I think for me, you know, I grew up in a very culturally rich environment. I grew up in Dallas. And I have a large family. I have a large extended family. And I did spend a lot of time doing cultural events or participating in cultural traditions. And once I moved away from that, you know, I almost never practiced it and so you kind forget about it. But once you have kids, oh my gosh, then you suddenly remember all the great experiences you had when you were a kid and you think boy, how I wish my own children could have this.

And it might be a little more difficult to do that depending on where you live. I do think that for many Latina moms who may be further removed and more Americanized do want to reach out and kind of reach back and grab a hold of their culture and pass it on to their children.

MARTIN: Rene, I was going to ask you as we conclude, to talk about some of the questions and issues that you think you might undertake as you go forward. Some of the things that occurred to me from our conversation is what about people who, as you probably know, you know, we have a very diverse cast of guests on this program. And one of our columnists, Ruben Navarrette, a nationally-known syndicated columnist, one of the things I'm struck by is that I mean his family is also many generations in the United States and without fail when he writes something about immigration that some readers don't care for, inevitably he gets mail saying go back to Mexico.

ALEGRIA: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Why don't you people go back to Mexico?


MARTIN: That sort of business. So one of the things I'm curious about is do you envision taking on questions like giving people tools, giving parents tools to address, you know, taunts, for example, that speak to immigration status?


MARTIN: Or perhaps differences within and among the Latino community? For example, you know, in the black community, as you know, there's this whole rich discussion around whether people who are more affluent and successful and what do they owe to those who are less. And so I'm interested in do you think you'll be undertaking some of those kinds of questions in Mamiverse.

ALEGRIA: Sure. Absolutely. Look, Mamiverse primarily exists to empower and aspire - to communicate, you know, the positive role models that are within our community. I mean to add to what Alisa said earlier, you know, if you were to look at mainstream media you would think that most Hispanics in this country were undocumented drug runners, and that's just not the case.

And when it comes to Latina moms, say, who contribute to Mamiverse, you know, so much of the content in Mamiverse is about a self person, this is how I live my life, this is how I do things. And through that there's an evolving sense of created wisdom amongst all the women who write and read the site. So, you know, we're creating a kind of a positive cauldron of what I definitely want the rest of America to be in on, something that I know to be true, that the Latino mom, hence the Latino family, is something dynamic and optimistic about what tomorrow brings and optimistic about what their contribution to the country is, and is not really down on themselves the way so many of say, the politicians or whatnot, or the mainstream media think us to be.

So by capturing that, you know, one, we help dole out just practical knowledge, like education or style or health or investment and money information. But also, we instill a sense of pride with whoever is reading the site. Whatever your Latino experience is, and it is diverse. We don't pretend to represent every Latino in the country, but if you can find one morsel of yourself or your mom or an aunt or a daughter in our site, then the contributors to our site are doing their job.

MARTIN: Rene Alegria is the founder and CEO of Mamiverse Media. He joined us from NPR's bureau in New York. Monica Olivera is an education writer for Mamiverse. She's a mother of two. She joined us from member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. And novelist Alisa Valdes writes a parenting advice column for Mamiverse. She's the mother of a 10-year-old son, and she joined us from her home in Belen, New Mexico. Thank you all so much for joining us and congratulations on the site.

ALEGRIA: Thank you, Michel.

OLIVERA: Thank you.

ALEGRIA: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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