The Latin Beat
Guanabee's Cindy Casares covers the news from a unique angle
When, on March 9 of this year, in an article previewing the South by Southwest festivals, New York Times food writer John T. Edge wrote that "When it comes to breakfast tacos ... Austin trumps all other American cities," it's doubtful he anticipated the volcanic response his article would incite. Some first noticed the outcry on Facebook. There, the article was reposted again and again, with commenters jeering and wondering "WTF?" and offering alternatives, thereby igniting smaller flare-ups, including a tangent glorifying the Sonoran hot dogs of Arizona (they're surprisingly good, but they're not breakfast tacos).
Leading the online fray was Austin-based blogger Cindy Casares, and the managing editor of Guanabee.com spared no punches. Her blog post titled "Dear SXSW Hipsters: Don't Follow The NY Times Advice About Breakfast Tacos" offered this snarky response to one of Edge's endorsements:
"The NY Times recommends Tamale House, but anyone who doesn't know the singular for tamales is tamal, shouldn't be cooking yours."
Casares went on to declare that Austin, while creative in its renditions of the revered breakfast food, does not trump other American cities. As a Valley girl from Brownsville, she declared breakfast tacos from the Rio Grande Valley as the truly supreme (with a respectful nod to San Antonio). Casares' "Dear SXSW Hipsters" post, out of the hundreds she's written for Guanabee.com since she began writing in 2007, has received a raft of direct comments and was reposted, tweeted, and regurgitated so many times, Edge appeared on NPR a few weeks later addressing the backlash and sounding somewhat dazed as he backpedaled on his earlier, ill-advised declaration.
The Great Breakfast Taco Debate was evidence of several things: Yeah, we love our breakfast tacos. But more importantly, mediawise, Latinos are online, are vocal, and in many cases, have a perspective that the mainstream media has simply not successfully tapped.
"I shared with [Casares] how much I thought Latino media sucked and how Latinos were not accurately portrayed in the media and how I wanted to create a site that would remedy that," Guanabee.com publisher Daniel Mauser wrote in the online announcement naming Casares managing editor of the site in March 2009. Prior to that, she wrote part-time for Guanabee.com while working as a copywriter for McCann Erickson in New York. The day job was good, but it wasn't exactly stimulating. Like many writers, Casares began blogging as well as commenting on other blogs. That's where Mauser first learned of her.
"I was browsing one of my favorite websites when I noticed a string of comments on one particular article that were some of the wittiest, funniest things that I had read in a long time. ... [S]he was just the person I was looking for," Mauser wrote.
Becoming managing editor of Guanabee.com called for some big changes. While it was a full-time paid gig, it meant a big pay cut from Casares' advertising job. Since she could do the work anywhere, she decided to move to Austin, where she'd received her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Texas. Besides the benefits of being closer to fresh air and family, she believes she's tapped into a loose collection of writers who understand what it means to be Latino in the 21st century, something she did not find in the more cosmopolitan New York or trendsetting California. A fifth-generation Tejana (her uncle is UT professor and Amigoland author Oscar Casares; see "The Town Crier," Aug. 7, 2009), Casares believes that her profile as an educated, tech-savvy, and information-hungry Latina with both feet firmly set in the U.S. is the answer to the question sparked by the current census: What's the U.S. going to look like in the future? "We already know," she said over breakfast recently at Curra's Grill on East Oltorf Street. "We already know because we're already here."
Guanabee.com is promoted as a "daily intelligence for Latinos," covering the gamut from lifestyle and entertainment, gossip, and news, all delivered with a dash of snark and a U.S. Latino slant that is not drenched in sentimentality or awash in stereotypes. With half a million to a million hits a month, according to Casares, it's clear that there is a large audience looking for what she describes as Guanabee's "creative way of covering the same topics everyone else is covering."
Casares starts her day anywhere from 5 to 7am, scanning national and international news sources, going through reader tips, and managing her contributors. She works in tandem with Fidel Martinez, editor of Anyguey (a Guanabee companion site). Casares posts at least two stories a day, with the first going up by 8am.
"We work till about 6 in the evening, with a quick break for lunch," Casares says. "There's an image of bloggers, that we're laughing and high-fiving each other all day, which we are, but we're also furiously typing, trying to get enough stories out to fill the day. We're competing with outlets that have 10 or 20 writers on staff, and we're just three people." (From New York, Marcelo Cunning provides video support and occasionally posts, too.) "The stories we choose are pretty well-thought-out. We have to gauge what the majority of people are interested in reading about and then figure out a unique way to cover that."
Guanabee.com was the first site in the U.S. to identify Maria Belen Chapur as South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's mistress by accessing Argentinean press archives. "We have that advantage over most of the mainstream U.S. press," Casares says. "They no speakie Spanish."
While the pieces on Guanabee.com could be said to lean toward the irreverent, they often bring readers into a discussion of larger issues, as when Guanabee.com posted a photo showing a brown Barbie being sold cheaper than the white Barbie at a Walmart. Racism? The simple mechanics of supply and demand? Or just another day in Gringolandia? Whatever the case, Casares and the Guanabee bunch are watching – with Latino-tinted glasses.