By Cristina Constantini
The father of the theory of assimilation, Robert Park, wrote in 1922 that, “the immigrant must learn quickly, for his livelihood depends on it." Tech entrepeneur Brian Nguah, creator of ImmiLounge.com, thinks that in the digital age, there should be a way for immigrants to 'learn quickly,' online.
Created earlier this year, and still undergoing beta testing, Nguah's website is meant to be, "a Facebook for immigrants only," according to the site's press release. The new site is "designed by immigrants for immigrants to connect them with jobs, health insurance, schools, scholarships, legal representation and much more," according to a press statement. Although ImmiLounge has only a few hundred users to date, creators of the site claim "there is no doubt that it will be the #1 social network helping immigrants achieve the American dream."
The founder, who was born in Kenya, says he realized that life for immigrants was not easy when he came to the U.S. to study at Pennsylvania State University. He thought he could help remedy this problem. "[Nguah] noticed that the life of an immigrant is exceptionally hard and filled with numerous down falls. He then found ImmiLounge which is the missing link - a tool to help people make connections and build a support system to help ease their transition into life in America," the ImmiLounge site boasts.
One problem that Nguah and ImmiLounge may face -- many immigrants don't have access to to the internet. Hispanic immigrants in particular, who comprise the largest portion of those who come to the U.S., lag in internet adoption.
In Pew Center studies from the last three years, Latinos and first generation Latino immigrants substantially lagged in the adoption of broadband technologies at home. Researcher Gretchen Livingston found that about two-thirds of Latino (65%) adults went online in 2010, while more than three-fourths (77%) of white adults did so. The study found that Latinos who were offline were more likely to be from lower income backgrounds, to be less educated, and to not be fluent in English. Of all Latinos, first generation immigrants were most likely not to have Internet access. While 76% of U.S.-born Latinos go online, 43% of those born outside the U.S do the same, according to Pew's 2010 study.
Aaron Smith, head researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project called “Home Broadband 2010" found that English and computer literacy were the two largest barriers to Internet use in general for Latino immigrants.
Increasingly, as job listings, news, apartment classifieds, and healthcare resources are being transferred online, some immigrant activists fear that immigrants, and Latino immigrants in particular, will be left out.
Nonetheless, some in the industry remain optimistic. Latina social media queen and Huffingont Post blogger, Elianne Ramos (who has nearly 15,000 followers and has tweeted almost 87,000 times since she started her account), told The Huffington Post that Latinos are actually far ahead of their non-Latino counterparts in smartphone adoption. This, some argue, may be the key to closing the digital divide for Latinos. Ramos believes that those Latinos with internet access should act as a bridge to to those who still have not adopted such technologies.
"Those of us with access to technology, as opinion leaders, should embrace the chance to use our influence in a way that can helps hape misconceptions about our community and better the economic conditions, educational attainment, political influence, health and civil rights of those Latinos who lack access," she said in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Even with internet access, immigration -- and the expected cultural assimilation and community integration which comes with it -- can be a very difficult experience. According to his site, Nguah hopes that by "facilitating communication and centralizing member information," his ImmiLounge.com will be able to "empower American residents, immigrants, and potential immigrants with the knowledge they need to acheive the American dream."
This story was originally published by the Huffington Post Latino Voices.