Perhaps working a nine to five feels like enough for most people. Unfortunately for George Torres and his sleep schedule, the community building he does during his spare time is where his passion is rooted. While many people contribute to their communities by volunteering or participating in events, Torres does so predominantly by using social media. The 42-year-old or “29 years-old with 13 years experience” started by using his online presence for the Latinos in New York City and has since expanded to projects nationwide. Known in the Twitterverse as the Urban Jibaro, Torres uses his social media presence as a soundboard for Latinos. “I’m basically a mashed up version of the new Puerto Rican,” says Torres, who joins his traditional Puerto Rican roots while embracing the advantage of new technology.
Torres went back to school at the State University of New York at Old Westbury after deciding not to stay in a career as a chef. As a student in a web technology class in 1997, he was assigned to start a website on a geocities platform. He used the project to share his poetry, spreading the word to his peers to check out the site—handing out a URL that looked as long as today’s 140-character tweet. Soon enough visitors to the site were asking if he could post their poetry and the Greek organizations on campus wanted him to promote their open mic events on the site. Seeing the following he garnered, just by sharing poetry, inspired Torres to start a site that would be like a Yahoo for Latino news.
After college he remained living in Long Island with his wife, though his soul was still tied to his native Brooklyn. Working a full-time job in telecommunications, the social media savvy graduate continued his labor of love to a blog dedicated to sharing Latino news.
The root of creativity starts with sofrito, a puree of vegetables used to add flavor to Puerto Rican food. Torres says, “Mami’s cocina is the first place we get to see creativity at its finest.” So he chose to name his website Sofrito For Your Soul, an ode to the close-knit relationship between food and his culture. Sofrito For Your Soul promotes events and highlights strides that Latinos have made for the advancement of their cultural communities. The site also occasionally features personal anecdotes. A recent post written by Torres shared his daddy-daughter date with his college age daughter. He has also poured his Pan American soul into the content he’s shared on the site since its beginning. If you visit the site throughout recent weeks, you’d find the latest on Hispanicize, one of Torres’ national projects.
Hispanicize is an annual conference held in Miami for Latino creative professionals. Torres humbly remembers receiving the Positive Impact Award last year, the first ever awarded at the event. The award was in recognition of Latino leadership in the community, and was started by the wife of Luis Pagan, the man who introduced Torres to Hispanicize from its inception. “Every year that’s gone by I’ve actually grown with the conference,” said Torres of his newest role as a chairperson for the Positive Impact Awards, which will be handed to 20 recipients this year. The requirements for receiving the award are broad: pre-teens and up who have made some sort of impact in the Latino community. If recipients don’t recall their predecessor George Torres, it’s probably because they know him as the Urban Jibaro.
The nickname that has branded him is the very definition of what he does. Take for example the “por tu familia” campaign, his most recent passion project, which sheds light on common health issues prominent in Latinos, like diabetes. By using his online activism to open up the discussion, the campaign is cultivating relationships that will support resources for healthier living in communities that may lack them.
Torres continues to keep the cultural conversations alive through the Twitter chats he hosts and his site, Sofrito For Your Soul. On any given day of the week, his timeline is flooded with hash tags related to a social media conversation he’s moderating, making it easier for anyone to jump into the discussion.