Culture, not language, key to targeting Hispanics

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    Everywhere you go, brands, media outlets, TV shows and politicians are targeting the much coveted Latino market.

    A Nielsen report published this week describes the power of the Hispanic consumer:

    “The Hispanic community in the United States is large and growing, and businesses must make strides to understand and engage these consumers,” said Susan Whiting, vice chair, Nielsen.

    On Wednesday, President Barack Obama launched his campaign to bolster voter registration and volunteerism in the Hispanic community. The launch coincides with the first round of Spanish-language television and radio ads focusing on education and economy – two key issues for us. Great initiative. Mediocre delivery. In Spanish? Really?

    The debate over which language to use to reach the Hispanic market was promient at last week’s Hispanicize 2012 conference, a showcase of the Hispanic social media and marketing elite.

    Hispanics over-index on all things technology and social. My kids Javier and Isabella exemplify this trend.

    Read more: The highlights of Hispanicize 2012.

    While the Hispanic population has evolved, the Hispanic perspective has not. Because of that, what matters most is that the message is relevant to our culture. The digital Hispanic consumer – VOXXI’s target audience – is affluent, educated, acculturated and consumes media mainly in English.

    As Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said “The Latino agenda is the American agenda.”

    Reaching the Hispanic market requires an understanding about cultural relevance and finding content that truly resonates with us as Hispanics and as Americans. It also requires an understanding that we are also part of the general market and that many of us grew up living in two worlds – English and Spanish.

    Bilingualism has been an asset throughout my career. Last month, The New York Times published a commentary “Why bilinguals are smarter,” and there are a number of recent studies to support the idea. But it is harder to teach my kids Spanish.

    If it’s a challenge for me as a parent, it is certainly a challenge for those who market to Latinos.

    As a second generation Hispanic, I am more of a hybrid and can’t be nicely packaged or confined into one marketing category. I consume media mostly in English, I speak, skype and Facebook with my mom and relatives in Spanish and, yes, I do follow the ‘Farándula’ because I like a good ‘chisme,’ and celebrity gossip. The bottom line is that the majority of my personal and business conversations are in English. The same goes for much of the Hispanic market.

    The challenge as second generation Latinos is preserving our heritage. My 6-year-old and 3-year-old are sounding more ‘gringo’ than ever. At the same time, they love dancing to Shakira and they can have “farina” for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch everyday. It’s our Latino values, principles and culture that we pass on to the next generation.

    There is more to “being Latino” than language. I love that both my children’s abuelas play integral roles in my children’s lives and they continue to speak to them in Spanish while my kids answer in English with some Spanish phrases. They love watching “El Chavo” with their grandma. But the main language in our house is English.

    I think my parents had it easier. As immigrants from the Dominican Republic, they were very adamant that their American-born children learn English. Although we grew up watching Telemundo – I can still recall my first telenovela “Leonela” – my parents stressed the importance of English to get access to a better education and better opportunities. In essence, it was my ticket out of the ghetto. At the end of the day, my parents wanted what every immigrant wants for their children: for the new generation to do better than the one before.

    When I was growing up in Washington Heights, New York, an area with the largest population of Dominicans outside of Dominican Republic, I didn’t know that I was Hispanic or what that really meant. I was living in an enclave.

    I think it was when Ricky Martin performed ‘La copa de la vida’ at the 1999 Grammy Awards – that pivotal moment in history – that changed everything. All of a sudden, it was cool to be Latino and it was something to be proud of. I knew that the Latino musical and cultural revolution hit the U.S. mainstream market. We had arrived.

    I also remember reading the first issue of Latina magazine and seeing myself reflected in those pages. I began reading Gabriel García Márquez, Isabelle Allende, Pablo Neruda, and about Trujillo’s regime in the Dominican Republic because I became intrigued about my history and these literary greats expose me to this.

    It’s a big responsibility to carry on the Latino tradition and culture, like the Irish, Italian or Jewish community have done for decades. As we grow as a community, we acculturate, we evolve. Its essential for our existence.

    Business and politicians need to understand and engage Hispanics by delivering culturally relevant messages that resonate with us. This year, being an election year, it is more important than ever to flex our muscle and let our Latino voices be heard – regardless of language.

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