La Sopa NYC Faculty Spotlight: George “Urban Jibaro” Torres
Founder, Sofrito For Your Soul and Sofrito Media Group
Co-Founder, Capicu Poetry and Cultural Showcase
“Everything I cook, I cook with love. Love and sofrito, Papi. That’s all you need.”
George Torres found the central metaphor for his creative and professional work in this one proclamation from his Abuela—a community organizer in her own right who started meals, conversations and movements in her egalitarian kitchen. The idea of sofrito—that indispensable base and spice blend for most every dish—carried into his activism and businesses, bringing Latinos together in various online and traditional spaces.
George is an award-winning, bilingual social media/cultural consultant, who in the late 1990’s captured attention on the internet with his personal mission statement of “connecting Latinos to their culture.” His creative vision is the blueprint for Brooklyn-based Sofrito Media Group. He has almost 20 years of experience developing branded projects that appeal to the Latino/ Hispanic segment, including the long-running online blog Sofrito For Your Soul, and the Capicu Poetry & Cultural Showcase, a partnership that develops and produces live cultural events. Most recently, he was part of the co-founding team of the Capicu School of Poetic Arts (#LaSoPANYC), which aims to bring low cost arts education to underserved communities. Having been raised alternately between Bayamón and Brooklyn, George was a living embodiment of the Nuyorican experience, which led his mentor to grant him the nickname “Urban Jibaro,” which remains George’s brand and social media handle to this day.
George’s path to community activism started after becoming a victim of a hate crime in his teens. The incident was dubbed “the Latino Howard Beach” for its unfortunate parallels to the well-publicized death of Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, Queens. In the process of bringing his attackers to justice, George came in contact with Richie Perez, a former member of the Young Lords Party in New York, affiliated with the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights.
It was Perez who took George under his wing and educated him on the struggles of Boricuas both stateside and on the island. The friendship lasted into George’s return to higher education in 1997, when he enrolled into the activist stronghold of SUNY-Old Westbury. There, he worked with campus groups such as Alianza Latina and Phi Iota Alpha, as well as the youth movement MUEVETE.
While at SUNY-Old Westbury, George embraced his grandmother’s model for community activism, starting Sofrito For Your Soul in 1997 as a humble Geocities page. It was an accurate snapshot of his life at the time, serving as a showcase for local poets and spoken word artists, a cultural and business exchange by and for Latinos, and a chronicle of his life as a community organizer. Learning very much on the job, embracing the DYI spirit of the community he serviced, George turned Sofrito For Your Soul into a leading online magazine detailing the evolution of Latino cultural life in the United States, fielding submissions from artists and writers nationally and internationally. The site celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2017, making it one of the longest-running, continuously Latino-centered spaces on the Internet. Through the explosion of social media and online branding, SFYS has maintained its core identity: a community-based resource allowing Latinos everywhere to connect and thrive.
In 2007, three years after the death of his mentor Richie Perez, George partnered with longtime friend and community organizer Juan “Papo” Santiago to create the Capicu Cultural Showcase. In the tradition of the Nuyorican and Black Arts movements, the reading series quickly became a staple in the community, giving voice and platform to artists who might have been left behind by other venues. Starting life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Capicu came to be seen as a necessary counterpoint to the gentrification of a traditional Puerto Rican stronghold. Together, very much in the mold of their respective community mentors, George and Papo began to emerge from behind the screens they had occupied as social media influencers. They would pop up into Bushwick headstart schools to hand out toys for Pa’l Pueblo; they appeared on their own Latino web radio show, called Radio Capicu; and they would use the showcase to stand up—often raising money—for causes they believed in.
Meanwhile, George spent whatever time he had left building Sofrito Media Group into a leading online brand management platform, advising a diverse clientele from community to Fortune 500 boardrooms alike on how to refine their voice for the Latino marketplace and stay true to the communities they serve. His skills as a teacher have been sought out by small businesses, community institutions, high schools, middle schools, and universities all over the nation. His skill as a social media guru has been utilized by community staples such as the Loisaida Center, Project Ñ (enye), and the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. Even as the dominant culture embraces dangerious clichés about the Latino community, Sofrito Media and its founder stay doggedly on task as a resource for the flesh and blood people who live beyond the easy stereotypes. And this spring, that resource will be available to the students of La Sopa.
Even with the decades of social media work under his belt, George has kept in mind the lessons of Mamá and his mentors. Every sofrito starts with meticulous prep work. Ingredients are added at the right time and temperature. And everyone gets a seat at the table. And while he can teach you about metrics and numbers and Twitter followers, at his heart, George is on lifelong mission of service and connection to and for the communities he comes from.
George will be bringing back his social media capstone class to the Spring 2017 cycle of La Sopa. The capstone (date TBD) wraps up the cycle with a social media and marketing primer for artists and writers.
For more information on La SoPA NYC’s Spring 2017 cycle, email firstname.lastname@example.org.