Okhaloma State University Track Tori Ortiz often says discovering Track & Field in elementary school changed her life. The young Illinois native grew up to become a three-time Upper Eight Conference champion and broke seven school records during her senior year at Batavia High School. After two years at Illinois State University, she decided to start anew … in Oklahoma.
“When I came to Oklahoma, I had never been away from anything. I was born and raised in Illinois for 20 years of my life. And I just packed up my car and my cat. And I drove to Oklahoma, and it forced me to grow,” Ortiz told me in a unique interview last month.
I had the honor of getting to know Tori through the Tercera Cultura series, which took me into the Metaverse for the first time, where I virtually met Tori. We sat side-by-side, or our avatars did, in a world created to represent Latine culture.
Ortiz is a third-generation Puerto Rican and embraces the honor and responsibilities that come with being a Latina in Oklahoma, in Track & Field, in tech, you name it. With the rise of NIL, Ortiz has been able to carry her culture with her to places and virtual worlds that didn’t exist a year ago, let alone in the times of her grandparents.
Family is at the core of everything she does, including joining up with Meta to bring underrepresented communities and voices into immersive media spaces. Heck, had it not been for Tori, I’m not sure I would have willingly explored the Metaverse. What do I know about tech? I’m a former athlete turned writer.
Therein lies the power of compelling storytelling and community building. Although intimidated to enter the Metaverse, I was drawn to Tori’s story. I too, am a third-generation Puerto Rican in Oklahoma.
Learning new and immersive technology was intimidating, but I persisted for the culture. We can all agree that the tech industry is booming, but women in tech are unsurprisingly underrepresented at the moment. A 2020 study showed that of the 28% of women in tech, Latinas accounted for only 2% of all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs.
The same study found that Black women and Latinas, who majored in computer science or engineering, are less likely to be hired into a tech role than their white counterparts. Additionally, 66% of women report that there is no clear path forward for them in their careers at their current companies.
“People look at tech companies and say, ‘I don’t code.’ But there is a whole plethora of opportunities that don’t require a tech background,” Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce Andréa Schiller told Forbes last year. “Sharing that narrative is essential to getting more Latinas into the industry.”
Enter the Metaverse Cultural Series or MCS. The MCS launched in 2022 “with a primary goal of creating more accessible entry points into the future of tech for communities that have been historically excluded.”
Ortiz, the first Latina with a NIL partnership with Meta, is part of a group of influencers being called into the Metaverse to not only increase representation but to open the door for others from their communities to instruct how the metaverse is constructed.
“I think when you storytell, you listen. And I think with the metaverse and all these worlds. You can literally put your stories to life into image,” Ortiz told me. “And that's amazing because who would have thought technology would have just grown this big and given so many people so many different opportunities,” she added.
Tori isn’t shy in saying she wants to be one of the top NIL athletes, “ I love to work to be the best of the best. So when it comes to NIL, I want to be one of the top-ranked people,” she told me. In addition to Meta, Ortiz joined the Gatorade team alongside UConn Basketball player Paige Bueckers and Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders.
Being a top NIL athlete is serious work. With those goals comes great responsibility to herself, her family, her college, and now her sponsors. Therefore, Ortiz focuses on competence, time management, and preparation on the track and with her sponsors.
“You have to be competent in order to work with these brands and know your worth and know what you're capable of doing. And another thing too is time management skills because when you work with these brands, you have deliverables you need to produce. And you need to make sure you're on time and … even when it comes to these amazing meetings and stuff like that, I always try and make sure I make sure my technology is working the night before,” Ortiz told me.
Taking the time to practice and troubleshoot is what gives Ortiz the confidence to do what is asked, even in spaces where she is the first or the only.
“This world is very cruel, and when it comes to being a part of the Latino community, especially as an athlete, we're not really recognized,” Ortiz reflected.
I felt that deeply.
But the MCS is different, Ortiz says. She has been interviewed and conversed with other Latine influencers and creators. “This whole Metaverse Cultural Series, it's been amazing. I sometimes feel like I don't even have the words to describe how much it really means to me,” she said.
Meta is actively building an alternate world and, through the MCS Series, is not simply inviting diverse voices and creators to the table. The Metaverse is a place where we can literally build a virtual world inspired by our wildest dreams.
“I think it's going to allow people to grow comfortableness within themselves and, hopefully, learn to just immerse worlds and cultures, and that would be huge,” Ortiz said.