Nowhere Land

The process of moving from one country to another, from one culture to another, is full of unmet expectations and surprises. When I moved to the U.S. from Spain seven years ago, it didn't take long before I got my first reality check. I was facing all kinds of challenges here and was in need of a shot of courage, so I set out to find one of my oldest friends, John McClane. Confident he would be waiting for me at Blockbuster, I looked forward to a much-needed reunion. But to my great disappointment, "La Jungla de Cristal" was nowhere to be found. I felt empty inside. Even when I finally found out about "Die Hard," it wasn't the same. This did not sound like the John McClane I knew from home.

But a short crisis and 20 calling cards later, I was finally ready to accept my new reality. "La Jungla..." was now "Die Hard." Something I thought I knew intimately turned out to have another face, another personality altogether. Oh, well.

My first year flew by, and before I knew it I was on a plane back home to Spain, my head full of stories from my brand new reality and a peanut butter jar in my luggage. When I met my friends, I felt like Cristobal Colón returning from the Americas.

Again, after my second year in the U.S., I ventured back to Spain. But this trip was much different. This time I felt something I had never felt before. I noticed it at the movies with my brother, on Christmas Day. The previews started their usual, "In a world...."' or "There was a time...," but now the dubbing just didn't sit right with me. When the movie actually started, things got even worse. It was when I heard those Hobbits speaking in Spanish that I got my second big reality check. I realized I was slowly detaching from home, and I started hyperventilating.

I decided then and there that I had to put this overwhelming realization to a test.

During the usual afternoon "horchata" with my friends, I started talking about my problems renting an apartment in New York City and the American drama associated with having a low credit score. They didn't get it. They just could not understand. In that moment, I felt like my own country was naturally rejecting me as a body rejects an organ. The test was positive; as Walter tells Donny in "The Big Lebowski," "I was out of my element."

Leaving Spain with confusion that wasn't there when I arrived, I took a flight back to my pocket-sized studio in the U.S. and, surprisingly, it felt good to be "home."

So the question poses itself, "Where am I from now?"

I know I'm definitely from Spain when I play "fútbol" and my friend Diego from Argentina gets in my face and yells, "¡Gallego, sos un pelotudo!" Or when that "chaparro" from Mexico says under his breath "¡Pinche conquistador!"

But on the other hand, when I call my parents every weekend, the first thing that comes out of my father's mouth is, "¿Cómo está el Americano?" Or when I check my inbox, it is filled with subjects like "¡Qué pasa Obama!" or "¡Hey gringo!" Confusing? Yes. But this is my new reality.

I know that I'm not from here, but every year I go back to Spain I feel that my life doesn't belong there anymore. So, what's the place in which people's brain function in both English and Spanish? Where does one celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and "arroz con frijoles y maduros"? And where do people watch the Spanish soccer league while drinking some Bud Lights?

It's a place between here and there, a place filled with people who, like me, ended up in their own nowhere land.

Nowhere land is becoming quite populated (anyone seen those Census numbers??). What does this mean for marketers? For one thing, it means being aware that your target is not just a Mexican that lives in the U.S., or a Spaniard who misses "la madre patria." These Latinos live in a world that is a fusion of both "lo Americano" and "sus orígenes" but which is, at the same time, not either of those places, and which is not understood or even recognized by those who haven't lived the immigrant experience.

Understanding the fundamental tension of the immigrant experience, that feeling of being from "neither here nor there" is one of the keys to being able to communicate convincingly with those Latinos who are living it every day.

As marketers, we love to celebrate Latino identity. We tout the benefits of bilingualism and the range of cultural traditions and norms Latinos have to choose from. We tell our clients about how cool it is that Latinos can go from listening to Los Tigres del Norte to Taylor Swift without missing a beat, how they play both football and fútbol, and how comfortable they are switching back and forth from their favorite novela to "Dancing with the Stars."

Depending on the situation, the brand, or the medium, we speak to them either as people from Latin America or as part of U.S. culture. However, there's very little in the way of music, television, or advertising that recognizes the experience of being neither from here nor there. In order to create meaningful relationships with Latino consumers, it's essential that we not only celebrate Latino identity, but that we also empathize with and show an understanding of the unique tensions of this "nowhere land" experience.

"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

3 comments about "Nowhere Land ".
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  1. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, April 21, 2011 at 12:19 p.m.

    Thomas Wolfe wasn't fooling around when he wrote "You can't go home again". Your experience brings up a powerful point on how diverse Latino consumers are well. Transplants from Spain and Mexico, for instance, share the language but bring unique cultural perspectives with them. Acculturated Latino-Americans have a different perspective than the newly transplanted Latinos. Older Latinos are very traditional while younger Latinos are slightly ahead of the curve within social media.

  2. Carolina Madrid, April 21, 2011 at 7:43 p.m.

    What an excellent way to describe us, Ruben. I used to have a blog titled "Somewhere in Between" which focused solely on these type of insights. "Somewhere in Between" was what I usually used to describe my feelings of nostalgia towards my Mexican roots mixed with the unmatched homeyness of my U.S. life. It's a cultural tug-of-war. Here, you're the foreigner who has an accent and doesn't understand all the idioms -- and back home you're the "gringo." It really is some sort of nowhere land as you've put it.

  3. Harold Cabezas from Cabezas Communications, April 28, 2011 at 1:42 p.m.


    Well-written, I had similar experiences being born here in the US to Colombian parents when I would go to Colombia often as a child, and then when I would return home to the US.

    It is very true that although we can go from one culture to the other, it often affects us deeply. I'm very familiar with Nowhere Land...

    Un abrazo fraternal,

    - hc -

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