Minority Web Sites Flourishing but Groups Recognize Need for More High-Tech Skills

Article excerpt

When Roland Martin started college in 1987, he was already proficient on a computer keyboard. Lots of other black students in his classes, he says, were not. In fact, "There were a large number of African-Americans who had never used a computer in their life," says Martin, news director for a Texas radio station. "They had no idea their white counterparts were way ahead."

The discrepancy made an impression on Martin. Several years later he's using his position at a popular Fort Worth-Dallas radio station to bring computer literacy to the station's mostly black audience. The station recently launched its own page on the World Wide Web, as a way, Martin says, to educate listeners about the Internet.

"African-Americans cannot afford to sit back and allow this technology to blow by them and then play catch-up in 10 years," he says. "I don't want to see us left behind." Over the past few years, minority voices in the United States have expressed concern that their community's on-ramps to the information superhighway might be blocked. Though studies have shown race to be an insignificant factor in determining who is computer literate, people with low incomes and education levels are also less likely to have mastered mouses, modems and the like. But Latino and black groups are paving new routes and cultural-specific sites on the Net are thriving. Nonprofit groups such as LatinoNet and businesses such as Black Enterprise magazine have made it a priority to educate their constituencies about computer technology. Nevertheless, "equal" access to the World Wide Web and all its resources remains a concern. "The Latino population in the United States will have limited access to the information superhighway," wrote LatinoNet's Armando Valdez in an editorial last year. "The majority of Latinos don't have the skills and training needed to participate in a work force required by the new information economy." LatinoNet, based in San Francisco, has provided technical training and an online information service to Latino nonprofit organizations since 1994. "We are in a serious problem in America," adds George Cisneros of DCCI, an Internet service provider based in San Antonio. "There is a technology gap in America that is comparable to the literacy gap that we experienced in the '50s and '60s." DCCI, Cisneros says, attempts to take the fear out of the interface. For new users, the company (whose subscriber base is 35 percent Hispanic) custom-creates "bookmarks," or automatic links to sites a customer expres ses interest in. And users who find things online that reflect their experiences and interests will be more apt to come back. "If people go out there and they don't find anything that meets their taste, then, it's like, `Well, this isn't for me,' " says Lavonne Luquis, president of LatinoLink. Luquis and her partner, Max Ramirez, both former journalists, created their San Francisco-based Web site in late 1994. The site features, among other things, chat rooms, a job bank and the syndicated columns of Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia Gonzales. (A current selection in the commentary section: "The Madness of the Macarena.") The text is mostly English, with some articles in Spanish. …


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