How death broke my family and Whatsapp put it back together

Death broke my family once.

It all started when my grandfather had a stroke. He was the pillar holding up my dad’s side of the family. My dad has three brothers and four sisters. One of his sisters has five children. We’re a big family and it was only suitable that grandma and grandpa’s house was our home base. None of us ever called them grandma or grandpa–they were essentially second parents to us. We called my grandmother Mama Alma and my grandfather Papa Luis. We’d shorten the names to Mama and Papa, which translate to mother and father in English. That’s how critical they were–and are–to the fabric of the family.

Orange trees

Orange trees

Every major holiday, birthday, or celebration was held at their house. They had a huge, two-story, red brick house with a balcony where we would sleep on cots under the stars. In the back yard, there was an avocado tree and an orange tree. There were huge turtles we would feed corn tortillas and white rabbits we would feed lettuce.  The house was also haunted, but what special house isn’t?

One of my aunts and one of my uncles had houses behind my grandparents’ house. Another of my uncles had a wife whose family lived down the street. And for symmetry’s sake, another of my aunts had a husband whose family lived down the other side of the street. I could walk into the corner store and say I was so-and-so’s daughter and everyone knew who I was. It felt like everything had been strategically arranged before I was born.

The best breakfast in town

The best breakfast in town

Every morning my grandmother made a big breakfast. Huge bowls were filled with every combination of eggs you could imagine. Beans and fresh tortillas were brought in from the small tortilla factory a few blocks away. Everything was within walking distance and after breakfast my grandfather would sometimes take us to his rancho, where orange trees covered the fields. We would ride in the back of the truck and pick oranges as he strategically passed just under the branches of the trees. We’d arrive back at the main house on the rancho sticky, covered in juice, and smelling like dirt and citrus.

Life was glorious and as far as I was concerned I had the best family in the world. There were tons of kids to play with, aunts and uncles to tell me how special I was, a grandmother to spoil me, and a grandfather who knew everything about everything.

Then he died.

I remember being in my dorm room pressing the snooze button for the third time when my phone rang. It was my mother and it wasn’t a normal time for her to call. I knew before I answered that there would be tears. My mother knows how to keep it together when she needs to and she did that for me during that phone call. I’m an only child, but I’m the oldest of the first generation of cousins living in the United States. It was always understood that I was responsible for telling my younger cousins bad news and sharing my easter egg hunt candy with them.

One by one, I called my cousins to let them know. It was like a procession and I felt like the grim reaper.

I couldn’t go to the funeral and I felt incredibly isolated from my family. I was alone and my family was mourning and there was no one to hug. This is the first time I felt detached from them.

After that, there were slowly fewer holidays, birthdays, and special occasions held at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother eventually moved out, creating an identity crisis for many of us.  It was as if a part of us had been taken away. There was no home base anymore. We still made it work, though. We saw each other and we loved each other. But it wasn’t quite the same.

I was much older now, and while I missed the innocent, fairy tale illusion of my childhood, I could now appreciate the wisdom and company of my older cousins. While I have many cousins, only six are women. (The aunt I mentioned with the five kids?  All five are men.)

I was very close to my cousins and I spent months living in Mexico with the cousin closest to my age, Lety. She was unlike anyone else in our family and she gave us life through her laugh. She taught me about makeup and how to push on the hose with my thumb so the water would shoot out. She taught me about love and, most of all, about loving myself. She inhaled life and was a magnet to everyone around her. She could make you feel special in a room full of people.

When she was 24, she died of cancer.

When someone dies when they’re old, there is sadness. When someone dies at a young age, there is anger and hate. I never want to know what it’s like to lose a child, but I’m certain it changes who you are. A piece of every single one of us died that day. For some of us, it changed who we were a little bit; some for the better and some not. We couldn’t be in the same room without bursting into tears randomly. Everyone was reminded of her just by being around someone else in the family. We were walking reminders that one of us was no longer there. And that slowly started to break us.

We talked less. We visited less. We needed time. We needed space. We had lost our home base and on top of that there was a broken home now. Mexico itself was in a state of disarray. My grandmother was living with my aunt in the United States. We were like ants when you throw water on them: flailing, running around trying to get back to the line.

For a while, it was like this. Everyone would reach out to the person nearest them because that’s as far as our emotions could go. We would still see each other but it was once a year and it started to feel like we couldn’t pick up where we left off as we once could.

Then there was Whatsapp.

When this app came out it was really popular in Mexico. Communicating between countries had always been a problem so we all jumped on board when we realized we could text each other. A family group was made and slowly every aunt, uncle, and cousin was added. We would say good morning and good night. We would post memes about it being Monday. We would post pictures of ourselves, our children, and our pets. This may not sound like a lot but for us it was like a reunion on our phones every day.

There was finally a place to share our happiness and our lives with the people we still cared about but hadn’t known how to reach out to after we healed from the past.

The other day my aunt had a small surgery. Her son notified the group and we all sent her our goodwill and wishes. He sent a picture of her right before the surgery to reassure us she was fine and in good spirits. Most of my family is Catholic and one of my cousins suggested a prayer chain. Half an hour later we had an updated picture of my semi-sedated aunt out of surgery and ready for dinner.

The support and community felt through this seemingly simple group text brought me back to my grandparents’ house. It was like we were sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by bowls of food, avocados from the tree in the backyard, children running around, and the family together. It was like we had found our home base again.


Have you checked your “Other” Facebook messages?

I feel like Facebook is turning into that awkward cousin that never outgrew the awkward and now has more body hair, so it isn’t even cute awkward anymore.

That being said, I haven’t jumped on the “I’m too cool for Facebook” bandwagon and I don’t plan on it.

But some days I’m just surprised by little things I find to dislike about it.

Like when you send people you may not actually know or who you haven’t friended yet a message. I’m a journalist so let’s pretend I’m not just stalking random people and sending them messages.

This past week I was actually trying to contact sources through Facebook messages because that’s all I had to go on.

Sometimes people are quick to get back to you because they are so connected. But you don’t always hear back and you’re left wondering why.

  • Are they just really busy and haven’t gotten to it?
  • Do they not care to respond to me?
  • Did they take too long to respond and now they feel it would be weird to?
  • Did I creep them out? (psh, of course not.)
  • Did Facebook not send my message?

Or maybe…it was sent to their “other” Facebook messages so they haven’t seen it.

Yes, if you haven’t seen it yet, there is a section under messages for messages from people who aren’t your friends.

I had missed a lot of things. Messages from readers thanking us on coverage. Messages from old friends. A lot of spam, yes. But some messages were really touching and I’m sorry I missed them.

I debated answering people. Some messages were from 2008.

I’m idealistic about the internet. I feel that social media gives us the opportunity to connect more with more people. I don’t think these connections are lessened. This may be because I’m a sharer and writer by nature. It’s probably best that I write you a really long email than stand , fidgeting in front of you for 30 minutes and never manage to spit out what I’m trying to say.

But finding this made wonder what other things were being lost in the abyss of the Internet.

Some people will be quick to call for Facebook’s end because this is another thing we’re not pleased about. But it’s a learning experience for developers just as using Facebook is a learning experience for users. In my opinion, it would be unrealistic to expect a platform to give me something so great without it costing me anything at all.

Facebook is free, and according to Mark it will always be free. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about how it works and play around with it a bit to really reap all of it’s benefits.

Time and time again, I hear people say they don’t use a certain website or social media platform or app because it isn’t easy and they don’t have the time to sit and figure it out. Well then don’t expect any of the benefits.

I’m not saying Facebook is this social media king, because it isn’t. We don’t know what will happen to it next year or in five years or 10. But right now it is the best way for me to talk to my family members living in other countries. It’s a search engine when Google is giving me way too much information. It’s a tool for finding entertainment and sharing content.

It’s not perfect. But neither are the developers that built it and neither am I and neither are you.

So I hope this bit helps if you’re still on The Facebook.


What do you think about homeless people working for advertising agencies as wifi hotspots during SXSW?

This might sound like a joke at first but when you think about it, it’s a pretty good idea.

I saw this photo while browsing Instagram the other day and I had to take a second look.

It reads:

I’m Dusty, a 4G hotspot
SMS HH Dusty to 25827 for access

What a concept!

Homeless Hotspots is a charitable initiative by Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York that attempts to modernize the Street Newspaper model employed to support homeless populations, per their website.

Basically, they are trying to digitialize the paper boy by having him chant Wifi! instead of Extra!

BBH is a British advertising agency. You remember the “Axe Effect” commercials or the “Keep Walking” for Johnnie Walker commercials? Well that’s them.

“Our hope is to create a modern version of this successful model, offering homeless individuals an opportunity to sell a digital service instead of a material commodity. SxSW Interactive attendees can pay what they like to access 4G networks carried by our homeless collaborators. This service is intended to deliver on the demand for better transit connectivity during the conference,” explained on

They say all payments for access go directly to the person selling you the access through paypal accounts.

While it looks like the project was created with SXSW in mind, homeless hotspots have crept up in other areas.

If you visit the site you can see photos, maps and even find out more about these individuals who are the “hotspots.”

Meet Clarence.

Clarence is from New Orleans, LA. He prefers the term “houseless” to “homeless.” He originally lost his house in Katrina and has had financial trouble since. He considers himself a good guy and tries to be a good friend to people.

So you help Clarence out and he gives you some decent wifi, sounds like a win-win right?

Not everyone thinks so.

Tim Carmody, Wired, writes, “This is my worry: the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future, so long as it can score a point or two about digital disruption of old media paradigms.”

John Mitchell, Read Write Web, critizices the wording of the shirts the homeless are given to wear, “The shirt doesn’t say, ‘I have a 4G hotspot.’ It says, ‘I am a 4G hotspot.'”

He has a point. But are we really going to get into a fight over semantics in an otherwise seemingly legitimate campaign to bring awareness to the homeless while bridging the gap between the digital divide?


But I think it is a good thing. If we didn’t questions things, we would lose a lot of the reasons improvements end up being made.

So if you happen to see one of these guys around, take a minute and talk to them. Let us know what you think and they think about the project.

Technology, Travel

Kony 2012: Invisible Children video. Some say cause others conspiracy.

If you have so much as signed in to Twitter today, you recognize the name Kony.

This movement has gone viral on so many platforms, you’re overwhelmed with it before you even know what it is.

Kony 2012 is a documentary film running rapid online in hopes of raising support and awareness for the arrest of Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.

The video explains how Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has reportedly kidnapped up to 30,000 children and forced them to act as an army in order to maintain his power. The film was made by a campaign group known as Invisible Children, started by filmmaker Jason Russell.

The video tells the abysmal story of children in Uganda fearing for their lives. It explains how young girls are being forced into becoming sex slaves. Out of fear of being killed, young boys deform the faces of their victims to send a message that Kony is still in power.

So why is it all over your news feed?

To quote the organization behind this campaign, “KONY 2012 is a film and campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”

This group is harnessing the power of sharing to demand the world’s attention focus on these tragic and ongoing events.

They have planned an event in April called “Cover the Night” where people will, quite literally, paint the town in Kony 2012 propaganda. Much like your social media feeds are being dominated by this new trend, so will your streets.

The power of social media is truly astonishing. I never thought Twitter could make me feel this humble or leave me with such a great sense of community worldwide. I truly hope that by next week we are all sick of hearing about this and the news has turned to focus on his capture.

WordPress is being ridiculous: Here is the link to the video.

On the other side of the spectrum we have The Daily What. A popular tumblr blog that writes, “The organization behind Kony 2012 — Invisible Children Inc. — is an extremely shady nonprofit that has been called ‘misleading,’ ‘naive,’ and ‘dangerous’ by a Yale political science professor, and has been accused by Foreign Affairs of ‘manipulat[ing] facts for strategic purposes.'”

I did some research and found that is published by the Council on Foreign Affairs which is a nonprofit think tank founded in 1921 with it’s headquarters in D.C. While they appear to be influential and blog regularly for CNN, they have also been accused of conspiracy theorizing.


Would you work 60 hours a week for $2 an hour? Foxconn employees speak

A week ago, Apple announced that the Fair Labor Association would conduct special voluntary audits of Foxconn’s Chinese assembly factories at Apple’s request, according to Apple Insider.

This week ABC aired part of a video where a reporter was granted unrestricted access to Foxconn. There has been focus on the number of employee suicides and claims of overwork at the facility. The full video isn’t available yet but the 30 minute episode leaves you feeling dismayed and full of questions that Siri probably can’t answer this time around.

The Nightline episode shows the iPhone is basically handmade by employees in an efficient assembly line. Workers agree to live in dorm style rooms with up to seven coworkers. Their work day is roughly 12 hours and some have moved away from their homes and families just for a chance to work.

But they still pay for their own food and board. ABC reports it is about $0.70 per meal and $17.50 a month for the “spacious” dorm. Wages were apparently $1.78 an hour and new workers were required to go through three days of training and “team building” exercises before starting work.

All that being said, the video shows an assemblage of people huddled outside of Foxconn squirming in hopes of landing a job.

The video definitely leaves you wanting more. You can watch it here.

Does this change your mind about your smart phone or is it all fair in love and technology?


Will Google let Beyonce’s baby create a Google+ profile?

I’m online a lot.

Forget tattoos. The day they figure out how to hook people up to computers I will be the first in line.

That being said, there are some things about the “online” that really grind my gears.

Like most, I am a Google groupie. Those random moments when I don’t have wifi or battery life I live in fear that someone will ask me something really intriguing that I don’t know and I won’t be able to Google it!

Awkward attachments aside, Google can be weird sometimes.

In my endeavor to create a Google+ page for the Victoria Advocate, I was reprimanded and banished for violating the Google Name Policy.

Indications of membership in professional, educational, societal or religious entities, such as “Dr.”, “Rev.” or “Professor” are not allowed in the first or last name fields.

Google doesn’t care about your decade of schooling. Your real friends will know you are a doctor and if they don’t, they’re not your real friends.

Avoid unusual or unnecessary characters in your name. Violation examplex: John246 , XxxXShelleyXxxX, J@SON W@T$ON, ‘Rachel Smith/.

This rule I whole-heartedly encourage. It is a little discouraging that Google has to play mom though. You know when you have that shirt on that you know you grew out of three years ago and your mother divisively asks you what sort of image you are trying to create with that outfit? This rule is that mom question forcing you to reconsider your potentially terribly embarrassing life decisions.

Your profile and name must represent you as an individual. Violation examples: Jones Family, Jeremy & Mel Mason, Vegas the Dog, Brooklyn Bagels.

Okay, okay, maybe I spoke too soon. It looks like Google is just trying to avoid the ever persistent fetus books or pet pages that appear on Facebook. As much as I love my dog, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need a Facebook page. I can barely keep him off Twitter.

Needless to say, Google gave me the boot because they didn’t believe I was really Ms. Victoria Advocate. Which makes me wonder if Blue Ivy has to put up with these sort of regulations?



Is your iPhone ratting you out?

So is anyone else being forced to recognize their obsessive behavior because of the new iMessages?

Thought so.

What creeper suggested this feature?

...arg. what are you thinking and not telling me???

It’s bad enough I have random and irrational anxiety over whether people dislike me or not. Now I can watch myself be rejected in real time!

Read 11:00 GIVE UP AT THIS

Thank God I don’t have Siri or my phone would also vocally mock me.

That's incredibly rude, Siri.

There are just waaaaay too many situations in which being able to see people writing a response is excruciating.

There’s that really gorgeous boy who is just too cool to even consider thinking about features on an iPhone. How un-minimalistic.

Or when you miss a call from your mom and she texts:

Are you itchy? Your cousin got bit by a dog and didn't tell anyone.

What the frick is going on mom?!

And then you just see those three little bastards.


And not just the abuse but what about when I send a message. I don’t need you to know I opened and closed that text six times before I finally decided what to write.

 Hello, my name is Jessica and I am a victim of first world problems.

Any who…

I’m considering demolishing the iMessage.

I will begin by banning them from my phone. Will you join me?


Twitter and telepathy

This morning I had a nice Twitter conversation with one of our readers.

He thought we could have compared boot fest to a different festival instead of Austin City Limits in a recent editorial.

He had great ideas, but if you don’t use Twitter, how would we know? Telepathy was the only thing I could think of.



Fortunately, we have another answer besides telepathy, although that would be really cool.

We discussed his ideas and I invited him to our editorial board meetings. Everyone can attend these. They are every Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Advocate.

We also have a live broadcast of our news meetings at 10 a.m. every week day. We usually have in attendance Chris Cobler, Becky Cooper local editor, Robert Zavala multimedia editor, Todd Krainin photo/video editor and myself, interactivity editor.

You can chat with us and suggest story ideas, talk about what you saw in the paper, ask us questions or even tell us how you’re liking the weather.

I’ve always been interested in the news and I love reading newspapers. I felt that I could contribute and that I wanted to contribute so I majored in journalism.

You don’t have to major in journalism to contribute to your paper.

Next Monday, Oct. 24th, at 5:30 p.m. we will have a community session on how to contribute to the newspaper through our website. We hope you can make it.

Here is a guide to the many ways you can voice your opinion.