A few thousand people on Twitter can’t be wrong: The best thing about Hurricane Irene was the appearance among them of @ElBloombito, a sardonic, Spanglish-speaking caricature of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his earnest attempts at becoming fluent in Spanish. (This is actually a typical occurrence at pretty much every press conference, but how many people watch mayoral press conferences on a regular basis?)
The Observer reached out to Rachel Figueroa-Levin, the 25-year-old native New Yorker behind the Twitter feed—she put her main feed in El Bloombito’s bio, never expecting either would become viral smashes—to find out who she was where she got this crazy idea.
Like most things on Twitter, it started out as a joke. In an email, she told us, “I live in Inwood with my husband and nine-and-a-half-month-old daughter. I’m a stay-at-home mom and soap maker. We are in the process of buying a co-op in Inwood. (We close early September!) Soap making started as a hobby and turned into a mini business.” What follows is an interview conducted this evening on GChat. (What, you thought we would do a phone interview with an Internet star?)
The Observer: Evening
The Observer: Where to begin. Are you dry? Is the baby O.K.?
Rachel: We are dry and the baby is doing well. Our dog probably suffered the most because his walk schedule is all messed up. The baby actually stood up for the first time yesterday!
The Observer: Wow. Mazel tov. Think it was weather related?
Rachel: Perhaps. My husband and I were spending so much time trying to prepare for the hurricane that maybe she stood up to get some attention.
The Observer: So, tell your probably well-into-five-figures-by-Monday-morning fans how El Bloombito came about.
Rachel: It started late last night as a joke between my Twitter friends and I. After his unfortunate Spanish attempt at that press briefing I started calling him “El Bloombito.” The twitter account was me trying to take that joke a little farther.
I didn’t think it would take off the way it did!
The Observer: Why do you think that is? As my editor put it, you’re way better than “the incredibly un-funny @hurricaneirene twitter.”
Rachel: Am I? I don’t follow that twitter so I don’t know. I’m still in shock that so many people are following an account I created to entertain maybe 15 people.
The Observer: Do you think you touched a nerve? There seems to be a certain amount of ambivalence toward the administration’s response—sure, nobody died, but was it overblown?—or is there something else going on here?
Rachel: I think the Bloomberg administration handled everything very well. It’s much better to prepare too much than to not prepare enough. My grandmother lives in an assisted living home in Sheepshead Bay. She was evacuated and is staying with my mother until the flood waters recede. What if she wasn’t evacuated? She would be in a terrible situation.
All of the city agencies responded amazingly. My dad is the director of the NYPD Photo Unit (Hi, dad!) and has been at headquarters since last night—and won’t be returning home until tomorrow night. The dedication and work ethic of everyone involved is inspiring.
I think El Bloombito struck a nerve because Mayor Bloomberg’s Spanish is… well… laughable. I think that if he really wanted to get a message across to the Latino community he should have stepped aside and had someone who speaks Spanish fluently deliver the message.
The Observer: But isn’t that the thing. Most mayors would never go this far out of their way, would they? I believe the mayor is fairly proud of his Spanish, in fact. To wit: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/04/nyregion/04spanish.html. Is it better to have misspoken than to never have spoken at all?
Rachel: I think it’s great that he wants to speak Spanish. I also think that in a situation like this, he perhaps should have let someone else do the talking. His Spanish is funny. It gave me a laugh—which I needed being stuck in an apartment with a fussy baby.
The Observer: So where does El Bloombito come from?
Rachel: The name just sort of popped into my head. I’m a huge NY1 junkie and I’m a big fan of Inside CIty Hall. I sort of pictured Gerson Borrero saying “El Bloombito” the way he calls Mayor Bloomberg “Miguelito”
The Observer: Are there other inspirations?
Rachel: There are probably tons of other inspirations in my subconscience that I’m not aware of. I was picturing Adam Sandler’s Operaman when I tweeted “No looto el bodega. Esta es Nuevo Yorko!” I was singing it in my head.
The Observer: Yes! That was my boss’ favorite! I think mine was “Los cans del treasho por favor to turn them back overo. Gracias.” Because that was such a funny detail, I remember him telling everyone not to yesterday, and now it’s O.K. Like they really thought of everything this time.
Rachel: And I turned the corner trash can back over.