This is the story about how relatability, culture and humor amassed a large online following.
When Ana Saia graduated from the University of Las Vegas with a degree in Journalism last December, in typical grad fashion she posted her photos from the ceremony in her cap and gown on Instagram. Like most graduates, she thanked all those who helped her along her journey, from her parents support and encouragement to her peers in school reminding her to take breaks.
The one difference between her and most students is that Saia had already amassed millions of followers across social media and had been a popular figure on the app for years. Juggling studies and a growing fanbase on the internet has been a true tightrope walk for the redheaded Latina and social media comedienne, who just crossed the 3.1 million followers mark on TikTok, the popular video app where she shares comedic bits of her life and experiences.
Most of her content delves into the humor of daily life, from relationships, work, and most importantly for her, Latinidad. Known online as ‘la peliroja’ (redhead) some of her most popular videos deal with her Mexican-American life, and the struggles of speaking Spanish. Some of the videos feature her mother, who often pokes fun at her points of view in a way some more traditional Latina mothers might [as of writing, I can confirm my own mother does this to me as well, it’s all love].
One of her most popular videos titled “Telling my Mexican mom her salsa isn’t spicy” is Saia introducing her plan to tell her mother her salsa isn’t really spicy, although it actually is. She tells her mother, in Spanish, that her salsa tastes different, and her mom responds “porque?” to which Saia says, “no es tan picosa”, or “it’s not that spicy” to which her mother reacts in an energized rebuttal to that claim. The comments are a mix of agreement or saying things like, “*me just waiting for the chancla* XDD.”
The ‘no sabo’ term has been one that Saia uses to describe the type of Latina she is, one that isn’t necessarily proficient in Spanish, but a term that nonetheless has been taken back by her and her fans as well as other huge Latino communities online as a term of endearment. She knows that Latinos are not a monolith, they are diverse as is the levels of language proficiency.
The term ‘no sabo’ originally grew out of negative connotations against bicultural Latinos who weren’t seen as ‘true to the identity’ due to not having a proficiency in the Spanish language nor a mastery of the cultural norms. ‘No sabo’ is an incorrect way of saying ‘I don’t know’. While it seems people who collectively coined the term did it out of a need to shame or gatekeep the culture, online creators like Saia try to be welcoming to all and redefine that term as one of acceptance and to shine a light on the communities who love their culture despite not having a mastery on the language.
Saia’s natural comedic timing and editing is one of the reasons her popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic, along with the connection to other Latinos who understood her point of view, and saw in her a bit of themselves and their Latino families. As of writing the #nosabokid hashtag on TikTok is up to 490.4M views, and out of the first 24 results Saia’s face can be seen is in 6 of the preview thumbnails. Out of those 24, 18 are different individual accounts, the rest are from Saia’s.
Continue reading to hear from Saia herself the story of how she became a social media darling, what the world of content creation is like, and what it means to have cultivated a community of like-minded but diverse Latinos online.
To start off, I wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about what was going on in your life before you got into the social media side of things. What were your goals then? What were you up to at the time?
Well, at the time, I was a junior in college, and I was studying to be a producer at a local news station, so I was pursuing a degree in journalism, production, and all that kind of stuff. So as part of our production team at the university, we did a lot of social media takeovers. So that was when I kind of got my first taste of sharing more than what other people were sharing if that makes sense. And I liked it at the same time.
But at the time, I really just wanted to be a producer. I was learning under local producers and everything. And to me, that was, like, my realistic goal at the time. So when all of it just happened, I was like, “okay, this is more fun, less stressful, and I’ll get a lot better pay.”
And doing the production side of it in school, how has that attributed to helping in what you do now?
It’s helped, I’m not going to lie. It kind of gives you perspective into the behind the scenes of situations. Because part of my degree actually was the study of social media. So I feel like, unlike a lot of other influencers that I know, I got a real foundation course of how YouTube works, how TikTok works, like, all the algorithms, and getting a really strong understanding of what that can mean to a brand and what that can mean to people like me.
So I’m very thankful for my university for having such a strong foundation to give me in order to get to where I am. And I did it in a way that was just unreal and very fast, I want to say. I think a lot of it has to go to those classes that I took.
I think a lot of people are just trying to go viral and they forget that a lot of the times you need to put real meaning and real truth behind it to show that part of you that people will resonate with and will continue to see your work.
So how did you first get into posting your own content, and how did that kind of leapfrog into what you have now?
It’s like I said, I first started with little social media takeovers for others within the university’s channels and groups, so I got a taste of it then. And then I was like, “you know what? “Let’s just have fun. Let’s just see what I can do.” So I just started posting every so often. There wasn’t a strict schedule, I didn’t even mean for it to happen. I was really curious on what would work and how it could amplify in those types of platforms.
So when I posted my first viral video that got over like 300k views about me talking about a bad grade, I got on a Spanish test, I was like, “well, this is fun!” because it really clicked in my head, “nobody knows that about me.” Every time I talk to somebody, it’s one of the first things I say, because when you have a conversation with me, it just pops in, my culture. It’s a huge part of me. So I was like, “you know what? Let’s keep this going. This is fun. I’m helping people at the same time.”
Was that the one video where you realized this could lead to more in terms of instead of just simply posting funny videos, it could lead to getting a bigger audience and actually becoming a job, if anything?
Yeah, I think the first video that really took off like that actually was when I was trying to get my mom mad at me. I was trying to piss her off. That video, which was my first million hit, and it got over, I think, 3 million. And I was like, “yep, it’s just being authentic.” And the more I did it, once I got my first brand deal, I was like, “oh, okay, maybe we can do some more because I’m having fun. People are having fun as well, so might as well just keep going.”
So what has been the most fascinating thing about becoming a popular, influential figure online? And what has been the most daunting or scary thing about that, too?
Well, the most fascinating thing is how fast you can really touch people’s lives. I work through a screen. So every so often when I’m out and I meet people who follow me or support my videos or, like, watching them, it’s amazing sometimes that connection that I get within sometimes 30 seconds. So to me, that’s the best part of it.
But the also scary part is dealing with hate comments, dealing with controversies, trying to navigate who you are as a person versus what you’re putting online. Because sometimes those tend to mix. And it’s very important to have self-awareness, I think, and be empathetic towards whatever you’re putting out there as well because I think a lot of people are just trying to go viral and they forget that a lot of the times you need to put real meaning and real truth behind it to show that part of you that people will resonate with and will continue to see your work.
What do you appreciate the most about this audience that you have built? You can switch up what you’re doing, but they’re still there supporting you.
God, I’m so thankful for them. I really am, because I see the people who are constantly commenting or supporting, sharing, doing all that. I can see them. I don’t individually know them personally, but I see it through the support, I try to not even touch the hate comments. They do it. I’m like, “y’all don’t even waste your time.” Sometimes if it gets too heated, I delete it. I’m like, “it’s not worth it. We don’t need that kind of negativity here. That’s not the point.”
So I’m very thankful because they try to defend me as much as they can sometimes. And I’m like, “don’t worry about it. Thank you. But it’s okay. I don’t need you to do it. It’s okay. I can take a hit sometimes.”
And going off of switching genres, can you touch on your more recent stuff like you’ve done singing and the cosplay stuff, and how people have reacted to that?
A lot of people, especially recently, think I’m only one personality trait because of how much I am involved with my culture and there’s a lot of parts to go into that, of course. But like I said, I love singing, I love dressing up, I love painting, doing all these different things. So it’s also about showing those sides of me so people can get a better picture than just the 30 seconds I give them.
That’s why I also started on YouTube, I started making more long form content and that’s been doing very well. And I see people saying, “oh, I love how we get to see this side of you!” And I’m like, “yeah, because I want you to see this side of me.” There’s so much that goes into it and being Hispanic and being able to share that part of me is what gets a lot of views sometimes. But I just as much love the other parts of me as much as my Hispanic part. And I mean, sometimes it takes over, sometimes the other takes over. It’s a balancing game, but it’s just whatever I feel like creating at the end of the day.
And if people like it, they like it. If they don’t, then you don’t got to stay.
Your mom seemed to be a very crucial component to bounce off that and generate the humor of your initial videos. I was wondering what the reaction of her has been to your success in this world and how she first became part of your videos?
I like to say that we’re just one and the same, a lot of the time. I get a lot of my personality from her. So when I started making videos and everything, her and my dad were both very supportive. You do what you’re doing because they just wanted me to graduate college. That was the only thing they wanted from me. As long as I was doing that, and doing something important or something that wasn’t weird online, they could care less.
So she was very happy because she’s the reason I love my heritage, she’s the reason I know Spanish, the reason I have such a strong connection to family and all that other very important stuff. So her love and appreciation and just giving me the thumbs up, it’s all I needed to just be like, okay, we’re going to keep going.
So I was wondering, touching on that whole idea of Latinidad and the community aspect of it. What do you think your popularity and the things you talk about in that space says about how others feel about those same situations and the ability to connect on all these shared experiences through your videos?
I think the reason they all do so well is because being a part of the Latino community in and of itself, we are the biggest minority in the nation. We’re so diverse, so everybody has their own spin on things, everybody has their own experience, but at the same time, we all know those little things that are like, “oh, yeah, vapor rub, best thing ever, heals everything.”
It’s the small things that you don’t even think about sometimes. You’re like, “I don’t know how to say this word right in Spanish because I grew up listening to it and I didn’t know how to speak it that well.” So there’s so many people that have different experiences with the language, music, culture, traditions, and being able to share that and people wanting to learn or wanting to laugh about it through trauma sometimes it’s almost like we’re all healing together. Which to me, the little girl that felt like I had to prove my Latinidad as a kid feels heard now, which I want for other people, regardless of how you look or how you speak Spanish dialects, it doesn’t matter. And I think that’s the more important part.
And going off of that, there’s the ‘no sabo’ term, that has been seen as derogatory. But now with people like you in online spaces, it’s opening up that conversation to why these terms need to stop being negative. So I was wondering how you feel about that aspect being part of your image and how people connect with you about it?
I try to use the no sabo term in a positive light because I know how negative it can be for others and how people can feel intimidated to learn Spanish because of it. So I feel like if, as a community of ‘no sabo kids’, if we just own it sometimes and we say, yeah, we don’t know everything, but that’s kind of the brilliance of it. We want to. And the only way to learn is to make those mistakes.
So having that community with me and having my back, in a way, to be like, “Yeah, she’s still learning. Yeah, she messed up translating a song from English to Spanish, but that’s part of it.” And that’s why, of course, I could go back and look it up and see the correct way to say it, of course. But sometimes I don’t because I also want people to know I make mistakes. I’m not very fluent. I know I can hold a conversation, but not very well, like my mom. So I think when we all come together and we’re just owning that we’re learning, that we’re trying, that we don’t want to shy away from our culture just because we don’t know it that well, that’s not going to stop us.
What advice do you have to other people that want to build online communities, either for entertainment or informational things?
The advice I always give people is to just be authentic with yourself. If you have something that you are truly passionate about, whether it’s cooking, makeup, music, art, whatever it is, as long as it comes from a place of passion and a place of healing, people are going to want to lean into that and support you and support whatever it is you make. Because they see the passion, they see the creativity and the overall uniqueness that you bring to those types of genres that you’re making.
And then all of a sudden, before you know it, you’re making this community that’s part of your brand on accident. So that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I could give to anybody who wants to start online, because it’s a roller coaster. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it plateaus, but at the end of the day, if you’re doing something that makes you happy, then you’re going to be okay.
And one last question. What would you like to leave readers with, either any type of advice or what you have coming up next?
I mean, coming up, it’s just the beginning. I’m trying to dive more into other media outlets, like different types of magazines and hopefully premieres and music even. I’m trying to get something going with this one music producer, we’ll see what comes of it. But everything that I do is going to definitely have heart and passion and Latinidad 100% driving me because that’s what got me here and that’s what raised me. So I’m not going to let that go.
If you are Latino or if you feel like you want to be stronger to your culture, that’s all you need. It’s that sense of family, Latinidad, that is a superpower. It’s not something that you should be afraid of. Go research. Go learn. Do whatever you want. Talk to your parents. Talk to your family. They are there for you. They are going to be the ones that will support you.
Spanish Photo Caption: Ana Saia es una popular creadora bilingüe en las redes sociales con 3,1 millones de seguidores en TikTok. Su humor y comedia orientada a los latinos han demostrado ser un tema popular en la aplicación. Photo Credit: TikTok / @saianana