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Rosario Dawson: From Cesar Chavez to Twitter

Abrima Erwiah and Rosario Dawson at SXSW. Erwiah and Dawson are the co-creators of Studio189, a platform to promote African and African-inspired content. Dawson appeared at the conference to speak on engaging millennials. Our interview with her airs this week.

Rosario Dawson was one of many celebrities in attendance at SXSW in Austin, Texas, this week. The actress, who has appeared in movies like Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" and the comic-inspired film "Sin City," appeared on a panel entitled "What Would Cesar Chavez Tweet?", a perfect tie in for her to share how best to mobilize and engage Latinos in the digital space, while also promoting her new movie.

Dawson is playing labor leader Dolores Huerta in an upcoming biopic that chronicles the life of the late civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez. Dawson says the movie brought back memories of her own family's involvement in unions as she was growing up.

"My great-grandmother worked in the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, I came from people who were inspired by Cesar," Dawson says. "To look at it, to look at what they were doing, they were poor people helping poor people, passing on messages, just literally person-to-person. 'Psst, pass it on, march on Friday.' Pre-twitter."

Dawson was here in Austin not just to promote her new film, but also to talk about a project she's working on with her longtime friend and business partner, Abrima Erwiah. The project is called Studio 189, and it's an e-commerce platform that the duo has launched that curates the traditional artisan work of African artists and sells those products online to consumers.

Even though Africa is often overlooked as a place where entrepreneurship and innovation can really thrive, Dawson sees great growth potential, "When you have the median age in Africa being 18.6 and sub-Saharan Africa is expected to have two-thirds of the youth of the world by 2100, you are really looking at a very active, very present, very engaged community and it's really exciting to be working and partnering with folks who are really into it."

Rosario Dawson isn't new to advocating for underserved communities. She is a co-founder of Voto Latino, a 10-year old organization whose mission is to empower Latino Millennials and increase their engagement on a number of social and economic issues. Since its inception, Voto Latino has registered nearly a quarter of a million voters, and according to Dawson, they achieved an important first in the digital space.

"We were the first ones to use texting, to get people to register to vote," Dawson says. "Latino millennials are a very high number, and they really need a pathway, to being in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math education], to being able to have jobs and careers that other people aren't [targeting] them for. They are being talked to as only consumers -- and really they are innovators."

This level of advocacy is important to the actress, who points out that social media is an important way to reach and mobilize a very important demographic.

"Social media is in many ways the frontier for activism for people of color especially since they over-index on social media, especially Latinos," Dawson says. "They are the first ones to take on new technology from everything from 3-D televisions to new types of cell phones... They might not have computers but they have cell phones and they use [them] for everything."

Voto Latino is launching a movement they are calling #TrendURVoice as a way to further engage Latino Millennials around issues ranging from immigration to marriage equality to student loan debt. It's not lost on Dawson that the power of social media to help mobilize extends beyond American youth, "Through social media we are able to reach every corner of the earth just about.

"When you look at the uprising in Egypt you see proof positive about how that works. We are seeing it all around the world and it's the thing that gets kids walking out of class or mobilizing around the world."

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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