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Photo by Jack GouldGrowing up in Guatemala City, Sal Rodas saw something he says he'll never forget: a white hand hastily spray-painted on the front door of an apartment down the street from his house. The symbol had been put there by the infamous Mano Blanco, or "White Hand," death squad, which had murdered Rodas' neighbor inside his own home. The man's crime: listening to a radio station deemed "communist" by the military.
Times have changed since the early 1980s. Rodas-who emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager and then served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps-is now a suit-wearing entrepreneur who heads his own Santa Ana-based computer company, Satoru Data Solutions Inc. While the harsh memories of childhood seem increasingly distant, Rodas says they have everything to do with another company he launched last year: Rocketer'a, a Spanish-language Latin rock music website (www.rocketeria.com).
Rodas hopes Rocketer'a will someday become a household name-even in countries as informationchallenged as Guatemala.
"The Internet is the best tool to empower Latinos or anyone else," Rodas explains over lunch at the Memphis Soul Cafe in Costa Mesa. "Normally in Latin America, all the information is synthesized and manipulated by certain people. With the Internet, you have full access to all the information. You don't have to rely on a third party."
Rocketer'a, whose name is a combination of "rock" and "cafeteria," offers up Latin artists ranging from mega-pop stars like Enrique Iglesias and Mana to more local acts, such as Pomona-based punk/alternative band Pastilla. Based in Rodas' Santa Ana office, Rocketer'a is already getting hits from all over the United States, Mexico, Spain and Argentina; Rodas predicts that by next summer, he'll penetrate the rest of Latin America in three languages-Spanish, Portuguese and English.
It won't be easy. At www.rocketeria.com, you'll be greeted by a notice that the site is under construction. Maybe deconstruction: three months ago, Rodas laid off his two full-time employees, online editors Josue Meneses and Cesar Arredondo. He told them he planned to rehire them sometime next year, when he hopes to have tapped new investors. Rodas says downsizing was "the only way to keep Rocketer'a alive long enough to eventually turn a profit."
"We were caught off-guard by some additional expenses last year," Rodas admits. At the moment, he says, Rocketer'a has no employees other than himself. "Three months ago, we began a migration process to convert Rocketer'a into a 100 percent database-driven website," he explained.
According to Rodas, Rocketer'a currently possesses some 12,000 pieces of information-everything from news articles to band interviews to video streams-along with a separate database of about 7,000 photographs. "From now on, the system will work automatically," he said. "We need writers, but not graphic designers or layout artists. We just put in the text, and the program puts it up on the website."
Arredondo, one of Rocketer'a's laid-off editors, now works for La Opinion as a section editor for the LA-based daily newspaper. After Rodas announced Rocketer'a's financial woes, Arredondo says he begged his boss to let him stay onboard-asking only for enough money to pay his rent and buy groceries. "It was the most satisfying job I ever had," he explains, adding that with Rodas' support, Rocketer'a was able to raise thousands of dollars for flood relief in southern Mexico and Guatemala last November.
"If Rocketer'a is able to afford me, I would definitely want to go back," Arredondo continues. "Rocketer'a is the best and most sophisticated rock en espa–ol website in the United States. It's been stalled for some time now, but I'm sure you'll see it come back to life. Once Rocketer'a launches again, it's going to kick ass."
Rodas certainly hopes so. With the money he's saved on production costs, Rodas has begun to develop what he calls "strategic alliances" with other players in the Latin music scene, teaming up with the Anaheim nightclub JC Fandango to host At—mika, a series of concerts featuring cutting-edge Latin artists like Plastilina Mosh, Maldita Vecindad and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
In March, Rocketer'a also joined with former Oingo Boingo bassist and producer John Avila to develop a compilation CD featuring acoustic performances by breakthrough artists from the U.S. and Latin America.
"The future of Rocketer'a is very promising," Rodas says. "Rocketer'a is going to be a household name. That's our goal."