It’s Mother’s Day and I wanted to start with a Medium post from Alexandra Samuel entitled “Kids’ Screen Time is a Feminist Issue.” I have two kids and screen time is of course something that I think all parents think about, unless in my case it’s a Michigan football game or Star Wars, and I tend to let things slide. What this article is talking about is how the worry that we have about children’s screen time is really is about how society views things that makes a mother’s life easier, namely that society doesn’t like it. She goes through a couple of examples. She mentions the guilt with baby formula as well as disposable diapers. Really the overarching point is this anxiety that exists is really about the concern about liberating women from the demands of the home. She makes a really interesting point, at least it was really interesting to me, that the entire feminist movement can sort of be traced to this idea of women moving into the public space, whether that’s by earning the right to vote, working outside of the home, running for public office. This idea of the woman’s place is in the home and the man’s place is outside in the public sphere is really about transgressing that, what the women’s movement is about. Having smartphones, etc. is doing the same thing. Moms can go to a public space, etc. And when the child gets fussy, they can hand over the smart device. They’re still able to eat dinner or just generally be in a public space. The shaming that goes with that, the glares that people give parents when they’re handing over their smartphone, their iPad. Obviously screen time used to be a private thing. Now that’s it's portable, there’s this judging that goes on. Really what the author is that you’re shaming the mother for essentially asserting her needs. She wants to go to this public space. There’s this device that allows her, if her child is acting up, to be in that public space. I found it to be a really fascinating piece that goes back and traces the history, and talks about, and links to a number of different articles for research. You should definitely check it out and read through the rest of the links that she posts. Really good stuff.


Our second piece is from the American Indians in Children in Literature blog. It talks about a comic hero that launched last year. It’s a Native American superhero named Captain Paiute. The writer, Theo Tso, is actually a Paiute himself. He comes from that tribe. The article mentions the reason he did this is because the Native Americans he saw, whether it was in children’s media or just in media in general, played the sidekick or was sort of a mystic that spoke in this ridiculous way. He actually links to a YouTube video that is just unbelievable. If you get a chance, you should definitely check that out. This idea you hear this all the time from creators who’ve created something diverse. It’s a reflection of them. “I’ve wanted to create something that’s a reflection of me, my culture, my background.” And it’s something that echoes over and over again, and research tells us that this is super important for kids to see this and it’s super important for your bottom line as well. You can go back and listen to our old podcasts that talk about this research. One other thing the article talks about, it also mentions the monolithic depictions of Native Americans. They all lived in teepees, etc. He’s making the point that Paiutes didn’t live in teepees. That’s not what happened. They had a distinct farming culture. He wanted to reflect that in the comic that he created. The origin story itself is pretty standard for a superhero, right? Captain Paiute is an orphan. He is raised by his grandfather. He discovers his superpowers when some sulphuric acid spills on him and it heals. The part that is really interesting to me is that you have a Native American superhero living with his grandfather. One of the reasons the creator did that was to use the relationship to talk about Paiute history. If this superhero is learning about history in the comic, the kids and adults who are reading it are learning it as well. That’s interesting and diverse, and it makes it a really great read. You should check out the article. It’s a fascinating piece.


Kabir: Folks, as I like to say, we love to have new vices on the Weekly Spotlight on DIA. This week, we have Deborah Castillero, the founder and CEO for TipiTom Tales. Deborah, thanks so much for coming on.

Deborah: Muchas gracias, Kabir, for having me.

Kabir: It’s great to hear your voice. I’ve gotten a chance to play with the TipiTom app. It’s on the Apple Store, as well as the Android store, correct?

Deborah: That’s right. Absolutely.

Kabir: Tell us a little bit more about what the app is address and how you came to building it out.

Deborah: Sure. Thank you so much for the opportunity. As a Latina who has worked in the Hispanic market my entire career, I have come to realize through reading a lot of information and a lot of reports about this 30 million word gap that I’m sure lots of people have also heard about. Essentially, what that is about is that average low income children hear 30 million fewer than his or her higher income peers by the time he or she is just 3 years old which is really disturbing, right? Hispanic children essentially are the least likely group out of any group to attend preschool. This is a market that’s growing. It’s the largest and most rapidly growing segment of the US population.  1 in 4 of children are Hispanic and according to Hart and the research of Hart & Risley, they wrote a report called “The Early Catastrophe.” For years, I’ve worked in the Hispanic market and I was completely unaware of this crisis. Because of my background and this newfound knowledge base, I decided to venture into this space to try address this very serious problem.

Kabir: When you say your background, what was your background prior to starting this?

Deborah: I have always worked in the Hispanic market. My background is mainly in entertainment and media. I worked for Sony Music for ten years and I am essentially the pioneer behind Sony Music’s Latino crossover strategy. So many years ago, I had this vision about looking at Sony’s Hispanic repertoire and thinking of strategies to crossover those artists. It started with Ricky Martin. I actually produced and wrote his first single, and then we signed Marc Anthony. And then we signed JLo. I was one of her Latin publicists for several years, and then we signed Shakira. Then after that, I went into film. I worked with Mel Gibson on The Passion of the Christ. I worked with Disney. I worked with MGM. And then I had the amazing privilege and honor of working for the chairman of V-Me Media which is essentially public television en Español. I worked for Mario Baez who I have great respect for. And one of the tasks he assigned to me was work on a white paper about the Latino education crisis. And here I am calling myself an expert and yet I was completely unaware of this very serious problem. In that white paper, what we were really looking at was newfound research on the astounding effectiveness of what is a dual language pedagogy versus bilingual education? In the past, it’s been combined in the same setting. What you’re seeing all around the country is schools converting to a dual language methodology where the kids one day, everything is in English, the next day everything is in Spanish and then vice versa. It really levels the playing field for kids who are predominantly Spanish-language dominant to really excel and shine on those days where it’s in Spanish and then vice versa for other kids. It’s really a shame because in many cases we look at Hispanic kids who are Spanish-language dominant as if that is a deficiency versus asset.

Kabir: This is really fascinating. So I’ve experienced an immersion setting where everything is in Spanish and it sounds like this is almost like a hybrid of English dominant and immersions. It’s like you said, one day, like Monday is in English and Tuesday everything is in Spanish, and then Wednesday it goes back to English, like that? Is that how it works?

Deborah: Yeah. In a school setting, they’re either doing a 90/10 model, especially in the early years. For example, I visited Escuela Bilingüe Internacional in Oakland. They have a preschool. In the early years it’s 90% in Spanish and 10% in English. As they progress through the process, I think starting in middle school, it flips to a 50/50 model. But the really are looking for an immersive experiment. And it was so awesome because I actually had lunch with seven 4-year-olds who had just been in the program one year. We had lunch and these kids, none of them were Hispanic. They were speaking to me in fluent Spanish. I speak Spanish fluently. I’m Latina, first generation. And I was simply amazed because I led the conversation in Spanish and they just jumped in. Their Spanish was almost perfect at 4 years old! Kids really have the greatest propensity to acquire a second language.

Kabir: For sure. So getting back to your story. You discovered this gap, this 30-million word gap...

Deborah: No, I didn’t discover it. There’s been lots of research by very prestigious researchers who have—but I became enlightened about the 30-million and wanted to—we’re not the end all solution. What I want to do is be part of parent’s toolkit to help stimulate language learning through a dual language pedagogy.

Kabir: Sure. What was the timeline… you came across this 30-million word gap. Was there an epiphany of hey we need to develop an app? Or did you look for different avenues of how do we overcome this problem? 

Deborah: What’s interesting about becoming aware of a problem like this and then how it circled back to me on a personal level. When I had an epiphany, it was not only a professional, insightful epiphany, but it was also very much a personal epiphany because a) I was raised by a Spanish-language-dominant mom, low income. We lived in low income housing. Single mom. She worked three jobs. But she was very pro-education. She worked for the Department of Education as a secretary, so she had a lot of friends who had PhDs. I was around a lot of really smart people. But out of financial need, like a lot of immigrant parents, they send their children back to the homeland. At 7 years old, my mom put me on a plane by myself and sent me to Panama to spend the summer with grandmother. I remember being completely terrified when I got to the airport. There was a group of people who were speaking very loudly and very enthusiastically and it literally was like Chinese to me I didn’t understand anything and I remember feeling very, very scared. Well three months later, because of my age and because of that immersion, I came back completely bilingual, and also fell in love with the culture. While my mom felt guilty about sending me, it really set the stage for what I would end up doing in my career. It all came back full circle, something I hadn’t even really thought about. I really have a heart for my audience. I know what it’s like to be thrust in an environment where you don’t speak the language. 

Getting back to your question… with my experience, the white paper, my personal experience and also working non-profits, I set out on this journey really for 2.5 years. I was really focused on creating a bilingual video series. This came out of a television network platform. And then I realized I wasn’t going to get to the support of Univision or Telemundo. It just wasn’t on their radar at that particular time. I think the conversation may be changing soon. I’m hopeful anyway. So last year, I decided to pivot and not focus on becoming a producer of a show, and instead ventured into the app development space. Now I have a new title when I know nothing about developing apps. I ventured in, I launched, I an MVP, my minimum viable product.

Kabir: That launched last May, correct?

Deborah: Yes.

Kabir: Talk a little bit about the app. I know there are gamelets within it. What are those games and how did you set it up to have both English and Spanish within it?

Deborah: Right. I had produced a 1-minute animated demo for the networks and then decided to incorporate that and looked at what the curriculum objectives required of preschoolers are. Learning their letters, colors, numbers, and shapes. And so it’s a very simple app. But what you see in English is mirrored in Spanish. There’s six activities to participate in. One is the video. One is a mini dictionary in English and Spanish to learn your letters, colors, numbers, and shapes. There’s a puzzle activity to help kids work on their fine motor skills. There’s match the color which is one of the favorites of our users where kids can grab fruits and match them up with the right color box. There’s a memory game as well. Again, we’re making it fun and interactive but also ensuring that they’re learning some vocabulary in context.

Kabir: Right. Yeah, my son is 3. When I showed it to him, he immediately recognized the curriculum. He picked up right away on the memory I think memory and painting seems to be his two favorite that he really enjoys. I definitely recognize that you have brought in that preschool curriculum. You mention that this came out of the idea of originally being a TV series. So you created a set of characters, basically a world that these characters live in. Who are these characters? It sounds like there’s a little bit of your personal experience within some of the characters.

Deborah: They’re my second familia for sure. You have Tipi whose Spanish-language dominant and she’s Chilena. Then you have Tom who is more like me who is a gringo-Latino who’s connected to his culture, who speaks both languages, and he’s helping his cousin learn in the process. And I had that exact same experience with my cousin Caito. He was there every day to torture me and fight with me, but also to teach me Spanish. Then I had such a special relationship with my grandmother, so a lot of Latino kids are home with their grandparents, and they play a very important role in early childhood education for Hispanic children. Abuela Fina is actually named after my mom. All these characters are very aspirational. She has an organic garden. She’s all about healthy eating. That’s really important to me with the high incident to obesity amongst Spanish kids, I wanted to talk about healthy eating. Then you’ve got Abuelo Panco who’s named after my deceased uncle, God rest his soul. He’s a Gepetto-like genius. He has a workshop down in the basement. He actually built Tom a talking tablet. And then their best friend, Chico. I wanted to make sure that we represented dark-skinned Latinos, so he’s half Dominican. Then we have Cha Cha Cha is very special to me because she represents this indigenous tribe that exists today called the Kuna Indians. The life off the coast of Panama. Then there are the mascots. Coquí the Frog to represent Puerto Rico and Paco el Perro to represent México.

Kabir: When we talk about Tipi and Tom. I know you mentioned Tom is sort of like you in that you are gringa-Latina. Is it all New York based, the setting?

Deborah: That’s kind of like our secret sauce. You’ll have to see when we release the new version of the app.

Kabir: I think it’s interesting, like you said, that Tom’s based on you, but at the same time, Tipi’s experience is that everything is English-centric is like vice versa of your experience when you went over that summer to Panama.

Deborah: Absolutely.

Kabir: I almost want to go down to the grandfather’s workshop and check out what he’s building. This is really great stuff. 

Deborah: That’s what we’re trying to do really is to create an affinity for this world that will allow two things; allow Latino kids to see themselves in a really authentic way where we’re celebrating that they do speak Spanish and were celebrating by recognizing their culture and doing it in a way that’s very positive. For non-Latino kids, it’s a wonderful experience to experience culture. I’m working with Jill Cozza-Turner who’s an Emmy-award winning scriptwriter. One of the things that she said to me was, “What I love about TipiTom is that you’re going to be able to give my kids a cultural experience that they probably won’t ever really have. Let’s say they’re visiting a Latino neighborhood. I love that. And imagine the kind of experiences you can give kids who have aspirations to visit certain neighborhoods and see certain things.” That’s what we want to do. Empower kids. Make it fun and entertaining while also recognizing the real importance of the education piece. This is not full entertainment play. We really want to live in that edu-tainment space.

Kabir: For sure. I think that comes through very well, even on the MVP that you build. One thing you touched on is this idea of children being able to see themselves in the media they consume. It’s so critical. It’s one of the things that DIA is focused on throughout children’s media. It’s this idea that children naturally have an affinity when they see themselves and experience reflected in the media they consume. Like you said, it’s not a case where we’re othering these kids or characters. This is a part of them and we’re celebrating of who they are and what their culture is.

You launched a year ago. What has been the reaction? How have you gone out to get feedback and plan your product roadmap so to speak?

Deborah: We’ve done a lot of user testing with 3, 4, and 5-year-olds. We’ve spoken to a lot of parents. There have been some UX, user experience design issues that we’re addressing right now. We’re definitely going to make some great improvements to the update. Basically, what I’ve heard from parents and kids all along is that they really enjoy the experience. They’re having fun with it. Not just Latino kids. I’ll give you a perfect example of a little girl. Her name is Aiya. Her parents are from Japan. They have only been in the country maybe 6 months. Aiya is learning English while she’s learning Japanese. She was having a moment and I was like “Aiya, come here, I want to show you my app.” So I gave it to her and she watched the video and she’s laughing. The video’s mainly in Spanish. She’s really enjoying that experience. Then she went into the painting game and spent an hour in the painting part of the app. When her mom wanted to take the iPad away, she wasn’t so pleased. What I get from kids is that they enjoy it. The parents are saying that they’re learning. The parents are specifically looking for something that helps kids to learn Spanish and English. But their biggest complaint is where are the other videos, and when can I see more of TipiTom? Kids are experiencing this world and saying, “Well I want to play with the other characters too.” That’s something that we’re working on.

I’m very excited to share with you and your audience that we essentially got the attention of American Greetings Entertainment. And so we’re doing a content licensing deal with that company to integrate Care Bears into the next version of our TipiTom which is amazing because small start-up like mine to be recognized by a big company like that speaks validation.

Kabir: That’s absolutely fantastic. Congratulations on that. What’s the timeline for both to integrate the Care Bears piece and generally your next version of the app?

Deborah: We hope to deliver the next version of TipiTom in the first quarter of 2017 in time for Care Bears’ 35th anniversary. To get there like every star-up, we have to raise money. For any potential investors out there, any angels? We’ve got great traction. We just got accepted into Unreasonable’s Early Education Accelerator that’s taking place in Denver in June. We are in partnership with Facebook because we got accepted into the Facebook Start Program and are working on a web-based version for their free basics platform. We’ve got some amazing partnerships. I’m very excited about that. Certainly, I couldn’t have done any of this without the amazing team I’ve been working with, so I want to just give a shout out to the Jill Cozza. To Dr. Dias and Dr. Lynda Espinosa who are experts in what is bilingual and dual language education. My app developers in Costa Rica, Happy Dog Games. Two animators who are stellar, incredible, creative team of animators. I’ve gotten a lot of love and support. I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been. And you too, Kabir, for inviting me to the show!

Kabir: No problem on that! We love having folks like you on. Like you said, start-ups are difficult world. You need all the support you can get. It takes an entire team to make that happen. I know you guys are in the process of raising money right now. Are you in the process of hiring or should people go to your website and reach out to you if they’re interested in becoming part of the team?

Deborah: Most definitely. We’re absolutely growing our team. I’ve been interviewing app developers who have strong expertise in UX, and also in the children’s and who are passionate about our mission which is really critical. Those are the kind of people that we’re looking for. I have an amazing advisory committee of stellar individuals. There’s always room on that committee for anyone who wants to get involved. We’re looking for UX designers. We’re also for opportunities to do user testing at preschools. By all means, and you can reach me,

Kabir: Great. One this I wanted to ask you is when you go out and user test this, especially with Latino families, do you sense a hunger for more of this?

Deborah: Yes. What’s really exciting to see is that for our end users, the 3, 4, and 5-year-olds, understanding the app. what’s happening in the video, and then going in and playing all three levels and laughing and being engaged and enjoying themselves. And then with Hispanics in particular. There are a couple things going on. There are Hispanic parents that fully recognize that their children need to learn English. There are also Latinos out there who want their kids to learn Spanish. They might not be bilingual themselves or they are bilingual and they want their kids to learn Spanish. So there’s a whole retro acculturation thing going on. You recognize this being that you have family abroad, it’s like being connected to the language is what allows you to be connected to the culture in a really intimate and authentic way. And also recognizing that we’re living in a global economy, and knowing a second language is really important. The issue at hand, particularly in the United States, is that we introduce a second language in middle school which is just far too late. All the science indicates that the brain, you have a far greater aptitude before the age of 7. It’s confusing that we still are implementing this archaic strategy when we should start early. Certainly, there are a lot of cities that are getting more and more aggressive about how to enhance cognitive development and they know that that’s going to happen through a second language. I think it’s an interesting time. I feel like now more than ever, the US is more open, especially in the bigger cities. I’m based right now in Stamford, CT and I can tell you that when I walk down the street in Stamford, it’s like a mini New York. I hear people speaking Spanish, Russian, Hindi, and English in a small city like this. I think with the influx of people from China and people from Indian and people from Russia, we’re really starting to see a change, a real pivot in the United States. And hopefully we just continue to be more open to other people’s cultures and language preferences, and stop perceiving them as a deficiency and see them as an asset.

Kabir: Yeah. I think, absolutely, that’s really well said. Especially that last bit about the language being an asset and not a deficiency is something that we have to start changing minds on. This is fantastic. I can sort of see the future of where you guys envision yourself, but where is TipiTom in a year? You guys are looking to launch with American Greetings. Is there additional licensing that you see that path or is it also expanding out from the App Store?

Deborah: Right. We want to take our existing content and scale it in a way that allows us to reproduce everything in a second language. Looking at English and Mandarin. Looking at English and Russia. These critical needs languages. And really partnering on their free basics platform because, imagine, there are so many people out there. The majority of people outside of the United States are on a 2G network with cell phones from 15 years ago with a really teeny screen. The majority of those people who are in rural areas are looking to the internet for a learning experience and we want to be able to provide them, their families, and kids with the opportunity to learn English in addition to support their native language. I think that’s a very exciting opportunity for us to collaborate with Facebook. And then looking at producing a video series that could be bundled and hopefully packaged to VOD platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Then we’re certainly looking at a licensing model. We’re looking at kids with Tipi and Tom, step aside Dora, there’s a new player in town! That’s our 5-year plan, multiple languages and looking at other platforms and merchandising. 

Kabir: That makes sense. That’s fantastic. Deborah, let’s definitely stay in touch. We’d love to have you on again and see where things stand. 

Deborah: Thank you so much for this opportunity. I think what you guys are doing is fantastic, important, and dear to my heart. Congratulations on all your hard work.

Kabir: Thank you!