The digital divide goes beyond broadband access; it is an issue of social infrastructure, a lack of digital literacy, and an uneven distribution of technology. But how does the digital divide manifest in daily life? Our partnership with Calle 24 exemplifies how a lack of internet access and understanding can perpetuate inequity and hinder community development.
Calle 24 is a nonprofit advocacy organization for San Francisco’s Latino Cultural District. It is the first cultural district in the nation to operate as an independent nonprofit and serves as a citywide model for other cultural districts and advocacy groups.
Several businesses in SF’s Latino Cultural District have been around for generations. One of the foundational businesses of the distinct, Roosevelt Tamale Parlor, has been a staple in the neighborhood since the 1920s. Today, many of these businesses are facing new hardships due to gentrification and displacement. As developers come in and drive prices up, thousands of Latino people have been displaced from their homes and communities. The usual patrons and employees of many small businesses can no longer afford to live in the area. As a result, small businesses are struggling to connect with a new generation of customers.
Nearly 70 of the Latino Cultural District’s businesses are owned by people over the age of 55 — many of whom have little experience with technology. Gone are the days of traditional customer rapport and mom & pop transactions. In the digital age, small business owners face a world of online ordering, social media marketing, Yelp reviews, Google ads, Venmo, etc. “The oldest businesses in our community are struggling to maintain a sort of relevancy with the new technology,” reflects Gabriella Lozano, Calle 24’s business liaison. “Most of them don’t have a Facebook account. They don’t do promotions. They don’t understand email or can’t access it. They are simply scared of a computer.”
The vitality of the Latino Cultural District small businesses plays a crucial role in warding off gentrification, advocating for affordable housing, and sustaining its cultural heritage. Yet without access to or understanding of technology, many of these businesses are in decline. CTN hopes to play a small role in Calle 24’s greater mission by helping their senior business owners adapt to the digital world. The internet is not a luxury reserved for those with deep pockets. It is a necessity that must be distributed and utilized equitably.
“Latinos have been in San Francisco since the beginning,” says John Mendoza of Calle 24. “In this new age of gentrification, we want to turn tides by using the law and policies to preserve our presence in the area. We want to create a foundation where generations of Latinos can still come back and their history and story is preserved.”
We are inspired by Calle 24’s advocacy work for the vitality and visibility of the Latino community. As CTN strives to create a more digitally inclusive society, we are always looking for community-minded organizations to partner with in closing the digital divide.