On September 20 of 2017, devastation hit Puerto Rico in the form of a lethal hurricane named Maria. The next day, the moment we were able to step outside the confines of our homes and see the destruction that befell our majestic island, we were struck with a force of grief. For just a moment, every one of us felt the same kind of sympathy for the nation we love so much, we were all transported to the same level of humility, and superiority disappeared, along with all forms of communication. For a moment we were in the same spirit, we thought as a unanimous island, we were one person. And some of the unity that rose from the ashes of a hurricane-torn-island was also reflected through PR Strong Wepa.
We all hear from the islanders that were setting foot amid all the destruction, chaos, lack of resources, and lack of power and signal in the island; but we rarely hear from the Puerto Ricans outside of the island, the ones that were dying to receive some type of contact from the people back home, a place they loved so much. William Rivera was one of those people.
That’s when he found and utilized the power of social media. The Instagram account @prstrongwepa rose from the lack of communication coming from the island, even from the news media.
“I wanted to do something to make a quick impact and social media was the best thing I could think of,” said Rivera, who created the page and fundraisers to go along with it.
He had family on Puerto Rican ground, from which he could get some of the information back along with pictures, all to let people in the states know how everyone was doing, how they were struggling, how they needed help, and to bring attention to the islanders.
The name of the account came from the constant sayings of Boston strong, or NY strong. Well, after the devastating hurricane it was undoubtedly PR strong, and no one could say otherwise; and wepa was added for, as Rivera says, a little sazón.
William Rivera, born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, raised partly in New York, and now living in Orlando, practices authenticity and sincerity in every aspect of his life, especially social media. He owns his own marketing company along with his partners and works with a lot of Puerto Rican organizations nationwide to help them develop social media presence, marketing, and content.
When it comes to social media he goes against the grain, challenges the toxic behaviors of social media management, fights off imitation, and creates a sense of unity out of something that can be so damaging.
One could say he found himself with social media. Now that Hurricane Maria is in the past, he has shaped @prstrongwepa to continue making an impact today.
There’s a sense of helplessness, and there’s a sense of ‘oh here we go again’ when a hurricane even threatens to hit Puerto Rico. That sense of helplessness is felt by Puerto Ricans outside of the island, hoping and praying that any outcome would be better than Hurricane Maria. This is a feeling that Rivera knows all too well, but he expresses that he finds great comfort in the fact that when Hurricane Maria hit, he didn’t have the relationship with different nonprofits and charitable organizations from the island like his brand does today. This blesses him with the ability to have an instant impact and mobilize people almost immediately through the relationships he has with IG Community Pages PuertoRicanFlagsUp, TeamPuertoRicoo, Social Activists BBoy Icon CrazyLegzBx, Mi Patria, which is a nonprofit organization based in Aguadilla, P.R., and many other groups, individuals and organizations.
“We didn’t have the network that we have today. Even though there’s always that sense of hopelessness because you’re not there, I feel good about the fact that because of Hurricane Maria, if that ever happened again, instead of it taking us weeks to mobilize, we’re equipped.” says Rivera, “that’s never gonna happen again. For Hurricane Fiona we were mobilizing in advance.”
It is because of this that Rivera wanted to keep, nurture, and continue growing his page after Maria, because unfortunately there’s always going to be another hurricane disaster.
He noticed pages like @tiratepr and @puertoricogram that focus on showing the beauty of P.R. and its beaches. For a moment, he envisioned jumping on that trend and making his own page around what people wanted to see.
“But that wasn’t me,” Rivera revealed, “sometimes you see things on social media and that’s not who they are, just the persona they want to put out for people to believe, and I got caught up in that too, in a community group level type way. And I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to be myself.”
Rivera came from a wooden house in Mayaguez with an outhouse, a tin roof, and a mosquito net, eating café con pan for breakfast. It structured who he is today, and he wouldn’t change it for the world. He goes back to P.R. every year with his kids to his house in Rincon because he didn’t want his kids to miss out on the experience.
“Rincon is no longer home for me, it’s become so much like a downtown anywhere USA,” said Rivera. “It now makes us feel like an outsider, my neighbors all went from being Maria y Gladys to, you know, other people.”
This Puerto Rican social media entrepreneur moved to New York early in life, and was partly raised in this city, so he considers himself what refers to the members or culture of the Puerto Ricans located in or around New York City, a “Nuyorican”, a term that is the host of such rich culture and history.
This term comes with a lot of controversy from some Puerto Rican islanders. They usually challenge a Puerto Rican identity just because someone wasn’t born there. This started happening a lot, and Rivera knew how he felt about this issue: “telling a guy he’s any less Puerto Rican just because he’s half? I’m not gonna allow space for that argument.”
This issue allows for young Puerto Ricans born in the U.S. to be victims of a lack of sense of belonging from both Puerto Rico and the U.S.
“When I started seeing that I was like ‘how do I counter that?’” Rivera expressed, “I started gearing content to unify that.”
So, he created a strong bond between ALL Puerto Ricans through his account, he united Puerto Ricans in the island and outside of the island in a way I’ve never seen before. And with that came such a diverse pursuit of followers.
In fact, he is currently working on a project with high profile celebrities to target this issue, one multiple people keep asking to be a part of.
However, this is not the only thing that Rivera goes against the crowd to challenge; there’s an unspoken toxicity and mental health decay that comes with the usage of social media, and Rivera continuously attacks this with kindness videos.
Rivera revealed that there are a lot of unspoken rules in the world of social media managing, advertising, and marketing. One that has a lot to do with demographics and algorithms, which is why people kept reaching out to Rivera with questions and critiques like ‘why do you continue doing that, it’s not helping your page”.
But he focuses on the fact that someone has to challenge and advertise mental health awareness. And he is doing so in a way that is making an impact beyond belief, proven by a heart-touching DM that expressed appreciation for a posted video that encouraged a stop to self-harm.
“If somebody said, ‘hey listen you could get 100,000 followers today, all organic, all from your demographic, all legit, not some B.S. AI-created, or you could save someone, or have an impact like you did, and get a message like that from one person,’ I’d pick that person over 100,000 followers any day,” Rivera said.
Even with social media, Rivera stays true to himself. He refuses to chase big brands just to have that in his portfolio; he has to identify with their mission.
When asked what his mission was with his account, he said that one thing they’ve seen that social media lacks is unity — “it’s always competitive.” So that’s what he sought to change.
When an event brought together social media influencers in P.R., he noticed all they do is compete. “They don’t collaborate. Instead of utilizing each other and working together as a team to get their goal across, there’s always that competitiveness. ‘I don’t wanna do anything with him because he’s got 100,000 followers and I’m at 498,000’ There was a lot of that competitive attitude”
There was a unification process with social media influencers during the hurricane that Rivera strives for, as it proved that unity is possible. He reached out to other people with similar goals and similar concerns with a goal for people to donate to the island. He created a chat with the biggest guys and drafted a quick DM saying, ‘I’m so sorry to jump in your DM’s, but I really want to do something to help our people in P.R., and this is my idea.’
“I never knew that that would inspire so much movement,” Rivera said, because within days there wasn’t enough room on the original Instagram group for all the people wanting to help, and it had to be moved to WhatsApp for group communication purposes. This proves the need to get rid of such competitive behavior in social media.
“Some of the things that drives that type behavior is wanting to have the most likes on a post, the most views on a reel, the most followers on social media” Rivera expressed, “the mantra of ‘I want to grow, I want to have more likes, I want to have more followers, I want to be reposted.’ I lived through a series of stages while kind of fighting that also, that urge to be bigger than the next person. Suddenly you’re looking at other Boricuas and you say, ‘I’m competing with them.’”
His philosophy is to stop that unhealthy competition by raising awareness for the unity of Puerto Ricans. That’s why he is, with the help of his partner David Aviles from PuertoRicanFlagsUp, helping promote the 116th Street Festival in Spanish Harlem, NYC, which has become the largest Puerto Rican street festival in the country; as well as many other Puerto Rican parades and festivals nationwide including the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC.
The National Puerto Rican Day Parade has been part of our community for so many years, and it’s such a big part of the Nuyorican culture. Rivera explained that we now live in a digital world and these large Puerto Rican events do not get the promotion on social media they deserve.
“No one’s thinking about a Puerto Rican parade or festival when it’s January or March, but if you build your base and communicate and keep your followers engaged, they’re not just gonna remember you during the parade time, but in December and all throughout the year,” Rivera believes.
When asked what he would want the public to know about this year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade, he responded with this year’s theme, showcasing and honoring “la música, cultura y alegria in our people.” Because we need to remember and embrace the love for our island.
William Rivera, along with his partners David Aviles & David Pagan, will have or directly support three parade floats at the parade, along with major social media personalities participating with them, such as BeatrizCookinnVibez, Juss_InTimeHD, AshleyAnnel, Koda Steven, Dean Huertas, Señor Edison, Alexia del Valle, Carlos Calderon, and many more major surprises.
While there are some taboos in social media that major accounts try to stay away from, Rivera faces them head on, embracing authenticity, with a goal to create unity and identity between the people of Puerto Rico.
Rivera leaves you with these words: “That’s what I want people to know, being on social media can be a real bad addiction and it can take you to a real bad place when you’re consumed with what you want your image to be, don’t ever allow social media to drive who you are.”