All of which makes data released in December by the Census Bureau especially pointed. Since 2000, the face of American suburbs has begun to experience a sea change; as the New York Timesreported Dec. 14, "More than a third of all 13.3 million new suburbanites were Hispanic, compared with 2.5 million blacks and 2 million Asians. In all, whites accounted for a fifth of suburban growth." And, more broadly speaking, "immigrant populations rose more than 60% in places where immigrants made up fewer than 5% of the population in 2000." The suburbs are not what they were.
Over the course of the decade, different communities have responded differently to this growth; some have undertaken efforts to discourage minority groups from taking root, while others have made efforts to make newcomers feel more welcome. In either case, these American communities are being changed, of course, but something bigger is changing; the idea of suburbia is changing.
Just as the "white flight" of the 1950s and '60s changed not only the composition of our cities but also the idea of what an American city ought to be, so, too, will diversification change the meaning of "the suburbs" in our culture. When we speak of the the suburbs, the assumptions and associations we take for granted may no longer apply. The stereotype of white-bread, cookie-cutter communities where everyone shares the same tastes, same clubs, same backgrounds and same ambitions loses validity every day. Really, none of this should be a tremendous surprise to anyone who follows the Hispanic market. We have all been observing the growth and spread of the Latinos community.
The bigger surprise may be that this is a case in which marketers represented an ideal in their communications before it became a reality. For years, automakers, packaged goods brands and restaurant chains have been selling the suburban component of the American dream to Latinos. TV, in particular, has relied on showing Latinos enjoying a version of America that until now did not seem like anyone's reality. It seems that now, finally, we may be catching up. The question becomes, what is the next aspirational ideal for immigrants and minorities in the U.S.?
It may be that smart marketers will have to dig a little deeper and find those aspirations within the Latino community that do not simply mirror what the general market wants. If Latinos have access (at least in theory) to everything the general market has access to, the community now has the opportunity to begin to imagine a future for itself that may shape America in ways we cannot imagine today.
The marketers who are really going to win with this audience are those who are willing to invest in understanding where the Hispanic market sees itself going. Those that don't will be left behind. And whatever that vision may be, the one thing we can count on is that, based on the drive, size and power of the Latino population in the U.S., it will almost certainly become a reality.