Speak Their Culture, Not Their Language


By Andrés Lozano

Just because someone is bilingual, do you have to speak both languages? Well… it depends. Am I your target market or are you more interested in my kids?

Before I came to the United States, I spent the first 24 years of my life in Cali, Colombia. I received a degree in Advertising and Visual Communication and in Marketing and International Business. Needless to say, Spanish is my native language, and when I moved here, I got my start working at a Spanish newspaper.

Just as print has given way to online news, advertisers are now more interested in Millennials than Gen Xers, like myself. If your credit union or community bank is seeking to market to Hispanics, consider that 42% of the 22.7 million Hispanic Americans are Millennials. This represents 27% of all Millennials, a demographic that is mostly (58%) U.S.-born.

My three children are among the 95% of Hispanic Americans under 14 years of age to be born in the United States. They are also among the three-quarters of Hispanic Millennials that are proficient in English.

I have three wonderful children who are not just bilingual, but who speak French as well, thanks to daily foreign language instruction at one of Greenville County’s Select Schools. I do realize, however, the ups and downs of raising children. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the majority of our Hispanic youth, who have been immersed in English-speaking culture since birth, prefer English over Spanish. Quite often, the only time Spanish is spoken is at home, but even that is changing.

I’m not suggesting you abandon Spanish-language marketing campaigns. After all, the estimates are we will reach 41 million Spanish speakers by 2020. However, to think that’s all that is needed to reach the Hispanic Millennial is not a sound marketing strategy. After all, Hispanics are a blend of nationalities and unique dialects, as well.

Instead of thinking bilingual, think bicultural.

As parents, we all want what is best for our children. We want them to have more, to be successful and to grow. How we show unconditional love and support, however, can look different. Instead of looking past mistakes made by mom and dad, we encourage our children to learn from them.

Wherever the bar is set, there is no going backward. If it is something they desire, they are taught that they cannot expect less. About three times a year, my family will visit a college campus. Our children get a firsthand look at the beauty and amenities of each university.

Beyond the tradition of strong family values, I believe Hispanic families value socioeconomic advancement. To appeal to more Hispanic Millennials, your marketing should reflect both Hispanic and American cultures. As opposed to trying to appeal to the native tongue of your demographic’s parents, create something that is altogether more articulate and authentic to today’s young people.

A Critical Moment For Advertising to Hispanics


By Jose Villa,

This year’s Super Bowl ads brought to light the role advertising plays in our cultural discourse. As I discussed in a recent NPR interview on the controversy over Super Bowl ads from Budweiser and 84 Lumber, advertising is both a reflection of our culture and an influencer on the culture.

I am most concerned with advertising’s influence during this incredibly politically polarized time in our country’s history. We as advertisers have an important responsibility to influence the culture, particularly as it relates to Hispanics and how the general population views them.

Many people in this country are justifiably concerned about illegal immigration and the negative impact of low-skilled immigrant workers and cross-border trade with Mexico on jobs. Unfortunately, this concern is widening a chasm in our country and fueling negative views of Hispanics. My intention is not to criticize those who feel this way about Hispanics.

Instead, it’s a call to my fellow Hispanic marketers to take a step back, take the high road, and use this moment to answer a higher call to serve our community and country. We have an opportunity, together with the media and news organizations to shape the narrative and influence the culture in positive ways.

How do we do this? To start, we must make sure that we represent Hispanics in the most authentic way possible, avoiding stereotypes feeding the misconceptions at the heart of the political discourse. This is particularly important in mainstream, or so-called “Total Market” advertising featuring Hispanics. We need to show positive representations of Hispanics in ads.

Not as gardeners, day laborers, or maids. We also have a responsibility to show the contribution Hispanics — particularly immigrant Hispanics — are making to this country. The businesses they are starting, the jobs they are creating, the families they are raising, the products and services they are consuming.

Secondly, we must have a difficult and honest dialogue about assimilation, language and diversity. Few people have been pushing the importance of diversity more than I. I think we’ve pushed diversity and multiculturalism too far. Part of what is underlying the anti-immigrant rhetoric and nationalist sentiment in this country is that we, as advertisers and the media, have pushed and promoted our differences too much.

This is ironically what underpins the traditional ethnic-specific multicultural marketing of the last 30 years. We have focused on and promoted — either knowingly or not — the fact that many Hispanics are not acculturated (aka assimilated), that they prefer to speak Spanish. Unfortunately, this has created sentiment among non-Hispanics that Hispanic immigrants are not becoming Americans. Nothing can be further from the truth. However, we as advertisers play an important role in this and need to think about the narratives we are generating.

Advertising is a consequential endeavor. We as advertisers and marketers have a powerful opportunity and responsibility to influence culture.

Jose Villa is the founder and president of Sensis, a cross-cultural advertising agency with digital at its core.

Your Editor Asks: Most of us are bilingual. Does that make us BiAmericans, twice as deserving?

The Diaspora Puerto Rican vs. The Isleño


Cultural Relativism and Self-Determination Views

By Eric Medina

diasporaAs a child in Puerto Rico goes to school, interacts with his pals, develops into adulthood and ultimately assumes his place in Puerto Rican society, not much will have changed. All he would have seen would have been Puerto Rico, the island, thus, becoming the center of his universe.

As a Puerto Rican child growing up in Ciales, I remember thinking no other place even existed outside that of my Isla. And if it did, surely it was not remotely as good as Puerto Rico. After all, we weren’t called “Rich Port” for nothing. Laugh all you want, but this once child literally thought that our land being called Puerto Rico meant that we were wealthy beyond all measure. As per my logic, didn’t we have to be extremely rich to bear the name Puerto Rico, “Rico” being the key word? Nothing, therefore, was quite as grand as the land of my fathers. I saw vianda and bacalao at the same level as caviar.

In time, I had a vague idea that there was some sort of a world out there. All the same, still nothing was quite Puerto Rico. I was too busy hearing from family members and friends alike of how great we were to even begin to consider acknowledging other places and cultures, all the while growing up with a sort of idea that we were just superior. This became so casual in my upbringing that Dominicans, some of whom lived in the neighborhood when we first moved to Santurce, were never quite as good as us. They talked, dressed, and acted a little funny, a view I picked up from others and carried over to the United States when I first entered the country as a teen. Thankfully, I would grow to see how wrong I was.

You see, ethnocentrism plays a big role for a person being raised in a particular culture, especially one not so polarized. When we’re ethnocentric, we think and behave as if the whole world revolved around our own culture, making us go as far as wondering what the hell could be wrong with people in England that they drive on the “wrong” side of the car or what would make people from India arrange marriages. After all, “don’t they believe in love like we do“? Ethnocentrism, thus, is defined as the tendency to judge other cultures in terms of our own, ethno meaning “people” and centrism meaning “center.” Us at the center is the ultimate idea and result. It was William Graham Sumner, a leading sociologist, who coined the term, and we live and breathe it every day of our lives in ways of which we may not even be aware.

Cultural relativism, in contrast, rests upon the idea that no culture is better than another (only different). The attitude here is that we look at others in terms of their way of life, putting on a type of lens that allows us to appreciate a particular group or society in the same way that an insider would. Cultural relativism, therefore, stands as the counterpart to ethnocentrism, its critical thinking nemesis, if you will. Under this principle, we see it as perfectly normal for people in England to drive on the left side of a vehicle and respect the views of other countries and governments as to what connects their citizens in matrimony. It’s just what they do.  It’s a view that makes us part of a larger world instead of at its center.

 What Changes for the Puerto Rican who leaves the Island?

A person leaving his homeland to live someplace else goes through a very humbling experience, the first of which is the realization that his culture is only one of many. The Diaspora Puerto Rican, having been exposed to a vast number of different ways of life and cultures once leaving the island, is more likely than the Puerto Rican who stays home to see his culture measured against that of the cultures of his global neighbors. Suddenly, you’re neither as alone nor as special. There are Colombians, Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Italians and Chinese to consider as you look to find peace within a much larger and complex community, one whose dynamics are now international.

In the spirit of this, I can’t help but go back in time to the rising levels on my puertorriqueñometer when I first entered high school in the Bronx, as a fellow Boricua classmate asked me where I was from on that very first day in homeroom. And how great it felt to know that I was Puerto Rican, as oppose to anything else. Ecuadorians, Colombians, Hondurans, and Peruvians were all right, but I was Puerto Rican! All my new Boricua classmates came over and celebrated the arrival of yet another one of their own. That was quite an overwhelming experience, providing a profound sense of belonging. I was glad to know that I wasn’t the only jibarito who had drifted too far away from home.

But in the irony of such things and as I would soon learn, the diaspora Puerto Rican, in contrast to those on the island, is the one more likely to have to hear, see or be confronted with how Puerto Rico does not quite enjoy the prestige in the community of nations as do its sovereign counterparts. The island being all he sees, the Isleño does not quite have to contend with such feelings of international inadequacy as does the Puerto Rican who lives abroad and sees the pride and splendor of all other cultures as each celebrates a day of independence. Leave it to Univision and Telemundo, by the way, to remind us all of that.

And so you have the Grito de Lares of 1868, which was organized from New York by exiled Ramon Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Velvis, the Young Lords and the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional (FALN), born out of the streets of Chicago, along with the more recent efforts made by the diaspora in the organization of protests in favor of freeing Vieques from the U.S. Navy that makes one think of the passion that the diaspora has brought to Puerto Rico’s liberation struggle, a passion that very likely has a connection with looking at the island from the outside in.

But from an environment in which all that exists is ourselves and negative implications brought about by political subordination may not be immediately recognizable, as would be the case within the island, it might be harder to embrace principles of political independence. Our Isleño just doesn’t quite see what those exposed to other cultures are able to see, is not quite as confronted with the existence of other international groups as is his diaspora brother. From within the island everything would seem to run according to the island’s own standards, as would be expected in any society not known for high levels of polarization. Its citizens would most likely go by what’s immediately seen, not so much by global dynamics. What would prompt one, under this scenario, to adopt such a territorial protective stance as would prompt deeper sentiments of national sovereignty? My gospel here is that national pride becomes more pronounced when nation is a factor.

And more so this late in human history, when societies have long since accommodated themselves as sovereign, nation is not as much a factor from within as it is once you’re out, touching foreign land and having other flags and their respective histories pointed right at you. This is where your ethnocentric views run into a solid wall, in our case not only bringing us to the realization that we are not inherently better than anyone, but instead, and given our subordinate political position within the international community, we’re missing a fundamental achievement of which every other nation has been able to accomplish.

Consider the following: the world is arranged along borders that divide entire cultures, each flag representative of a given culture and its history. Within that structural arrangement, nations are aligned equally (Think of a line in which all nations are positioned at the same level). Within this order, there are variations of wealth, education, political policies, power, influence, etc. But all nations agree that there is a respect that is owed a nation based upon its status as a nation alone.

As such, much happens in the world that is less than perfect. Many violations of ethics, morals, and even plain common sense occur every single day as we turn on the news and grab the headlines. Surely countries make war, invade lands, challenge the political and cultural stances of their neighbors and even make nuclear threats as they will. But one thing that does not occur in contemporary times is any nation stepping into the soil of another and planting its own flag.

We now see freedom as too great a value. Respect for the borders of another country, in every bit as respect for the walls and fence of our neighbor’s home, has perhaps become the greatest principle of all, a virtue largely expanded during the Renaissance period and one that points to the right of humanity to defy any limit on its everlasting path to greatness. Thus, it would seem that to refuse freedom to ourselves would be to reject our very selves. And as much as we Puerto Ricans have tried to mask our subordinate political status in an effort to make it appear as less undignified, the reality of the importance that freedom has around the world keeps staring right at us.

And so it is in the midst of all this that we Puerto Ricans have, for a long time, wanted to have our cake and eat, too. We want international recognition without international accountability, to be perceived as free while deferring to others, to continue to look at Puerto Rico as “patria” while calling for it to become a mere state of someone else’s. It is here that it becomes inherently harder for the Isleño, as a result of not being quite as exposed as the Diaspora Puerto Rican to the clearly set and inflexible boundaries of the international community, to see that a world divided by distinct histories, martyrs, borders and Independence Day celebrations calls for an “either or” commitment on the part of those who would aspire to cement a place at the highest level of international positioning. Thus, a member of a nation, regardless of where he or she might be, remains a member of a nation! And they will never, as much as they might show great diplomacy in their interactions with people coming from regions with a lesser international status, show the degree of respect they would to folks hailing from sister nations.

But the cultural relativist in the Puerto Rican is often better able to see clearly. He is the one who steps into the great beyond, facing the discrimination that plagues those who take part in this grand social stratification system of nations that constitutes the globe. I myself never heard the words, “you don’t even have a flag” while growing up in the carefree environment of Puerto Rico. All I cared about then was whether they were going to serve fried chicken for lunch at my middle School Manuel Cuevas Bacener. I surely became more patriota when arriving here. It made sense. Everyone else around displayed their pride of their own patria.

So there lies the true challenge of the Puerto Rican who wants to see Puerto Rico finally libre. There needs to be a re-education of the masses, one of which won’t likely happen overnight. He would first have to be patient, as he allows himself to see the issue of independence from an angle of those who not only were initially socialized into resisting it but made to grow comfortable with the idea of political subordination to the point of not even seeing political subordination as an existing factor. He would have to expose Puerto Ricans to the reality of all we have been missing in our absence as a nation and expect the learning process to be slow, showing sensitivity to all the cultural and emotional damage that has been done to the Puerto Rican over the years. He would have to be empathetic, visionary, patient, articulate, clear-minded and unyieldingly consistent. But most importantly, he would have to be all these things in such a way as to help him connect the diaspora Puerto Rican with the Isleño, the latter being more prone to ethnocentrism and therefore less likely to visualize us out there as a mere spec in the globe, hungering for the equality that every other society has.

So let us begin to see things as they truly are. Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the United States is morally, ethically and fundamentally wrong. That is the first thing with which Puerto Rico needs to come to terms. Puerto Rico is too great a culture not to be free to grow as it will, to take its chances and reap the rewards as well as learn from its setbacks. Freedom is a dignity owed to all living things. Every person, creature, in fact, every earthly element, gravitates towards freedom. Insofar as this is true, in every struggle that every Puerto Rican faces out there is reflected a universal standard that we keep violating. A Puerto Rican facing an emotional challenge is surely facing a cultural one before all else. He is a member of a society walking on the opposite direction of every other when it comes to a fundamental cultural value. And how long can any society stand as an outcast of such important matters before facing cultural extinction?

A time for heroes in the Puerto Rican community is calling. Is the challenge grand? Yes! Is it a tall order that Puerto Rico will rise to the occasion and claim its rightful place in the community of nations this late in the history of the world? It might very well be. But is it impossible? I say not! As much as it would certainly be a unique moment in history and our culture is bleeding now perhaps more than it ever has, anyone is capable of greatness. And I say why not us? Why can’t the Puerto Rican be that pueblo to achieve what would probably go down as the greatest cultural feat of all time, to overcome a culturally dependent mindset after all these years of political reliance?

Our Tainos gave us the name of Boriken, which means Land of the Valiant Lord. In a world where an understanding of cultural relativism as the greatest measure of cultural respect has become a common international standard, possibly waking us to the still lingering struggles of the unfree, struggles that are made all the more complex by an ethnocentric mindset, let us Puerto Ricans get to work to position ourselves in such a place in the international community as to at least be counted, then onwards to being respected and further on to being revered. But we must first become a nation.

 This essay was first published in report

Eric Medina is a doctoral candidate in public administration at Walden University and has worked as an adjunct professor of sociology at Hostos Community College. He can be reached at  ericmedina@medina.com.

Your Editor Responds:  We have heard you and will pay more attention to Borinquen and its diáspora

Is Acculturation Really Dead?


We’ve been hearing the death knell for acculturation for the past several years now in the Hispanic marketing world. A large percentage of Fortune 1000 companies, however, still use acculturation as a point of reference for segmentation so as a research company we still see acculturation models regularly.

However, a call with an ad agency last week made us do a double take and question, is acculturation really dead? We were discussing a research strategy and mentioned segmenting by acculturation for research purposes and we were stopped dead in our tracks by the statement, “Let me stop you there. All Hispanics are bicultural. All Hispanics speak English. Acculturation is an outdated concept.” We’ve had discussions about the merits of certain models with agencies in the past, but to proclaim that acculturation is completely dead, all Hispanics are bicultural and all Hispanics speak English made us take a closer look at this concept since it seems to have reached critical mass.

What Is Acculturation?

Before we dive into the question of acculturation being relevant or not, let’s quickly discuss what acculturation is. In short, acculturation is a way of segmenting U.S. Hispanics, Asians and other immigrants beyond language usage. There are many acculturation models but at the crux of each of them are the following components:

  • Home language
  • Media usage
  • Affinity to home culture
  • Years in the United States

Answers to the questions are run through an algorithm and respondents are typically segmented into the following three groups:

  • Acculturated
  • Bicultural
  • Non-Acculturated

The overarching idea is that as an individual spends more time in the United States, the more acculturated they become, moving up the acculturation spectrum.

Acculturation Is Dated?

The main arguments against usage of an acculturation model is that it is dated as it was primarily used during the Hispanic immigration boom of the ’90s and is no longer applicable as current Hispanic population growth is being driven by U.S. births. Furthermore, the algorithm assumes a linear progression through the acculturation spectrum and does not account for retro-acculturation and non-linear adoption of home culture beliefs and practices.

Digging deeper into the point of immigration we see some truth to this idea if we look at the following chart outlining the sources of Hispanic population:

The ’80s and ’90s reflect the large influx of Hispanic immigration and the ’00s reflect the boom in U.S. Hispanic births and a slowing in immigration. The ’10s so far are showing a similar path. However, stepping back and looking at the hard numbers, immigration still accounted for 6.5 million new Hispanics in the ’00’s, over 40% of the Hispanic population growth.

Record Number of Immigrants in U.S.

While the acculturation model may be dated for most U.S.-born Hispanics, it is very much applicable to the 6.5 million Hispanic immigrants that came in the ’00s and the 1.4 million Hispanics who have so far immigrated in the ’10s.

Looking beyond U.S. Hispanics, there were a record 42.2 million immigrants living in the U.S. in 2014, making up 13.2% of the nation’s population. This represents a fourfold increase since 1960, when only 9.7 million immigrants lived in the U.S., accounting for just 5.4% of the total U.S. population. Furthermore, there has been a dramatic shift in the region of origin among the immigrant population residing in the U.S. since the passage of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act. The percentage of immigrants from Europe and Canada dropped to 13.6% of the total, while Mexican immigration increased to 27.7%, Asians jumped to 26.4% and other Latin Americans stood at 23.9% with 8.3% born in other regions.

Asians are currently driving immigration in the U.S. and the foundational elements of the acculturation model are still valuable to brands and companies looking to understand the foreign-born vs. U.S.-born Asian population as this is a group that many companies are looking to as a growth segment.

Dual Model Approach

There have been several models proposed to replace the acculturation model that all have valuable elements applicable to the growing U.S.-born Hispanic and Asian populations. However, the fundamental aspects of the acculturation model (years in the States, affinity to home culture, and language) provide valuable segmentation insights to marketers trying to appeal to the growing foreign-born population. New segmentation models may provide unique insights into the more culturally fluid U.S.-born population but that doesn’t bar marketers from using the more traditional acculturation model for foreign-born populations. As Asian immigration continues to increase, the acculturation model will likely see a renaissance in usage as it falls out of favor for Hispanic marketers.

This story was first published in Media Post

The Editor Opines. I claim part- ownership of the term retro-acculturation. When I was publisher of Vista Magazine, we struggled to convince Hispanic advertising agencies of the time that a lot of Hispanic young were retutning to their roots after a youth immersion in the Anglo culture.

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